Research examines workplace stress in aftermath of Covid pandemic

Chronic stress is associated with a wide range of health disparities, but the examination of workplace stress has been minimal in many occupations.

A new study from the University of Cincinnati examined the impact of workplace stress and provided insights for organizations to explore ways to reduce workplace stress for a better and healthier working environment.

The study had two parts: a survey in which respondents described their experiences of workplace stress during the COVID-19 pandemic and a quantitative study using saliva cortisol as a biomarker of stress along with a stress diary to find out where and when workplace stress commonly occurred.

The first part of the study, published in the Annals of Work Exposures and Health, detailed increased stress levels, stressor events and other perceptions of stress from at-risk workers during COVID-19.

“Stress is often overlooked in the workplace, and we tend to look at traditional health hazards like chemical exposure to gases and particles or physical hazards like falls, cuts and burns,” says Jun Wang, PhD, of the Department of Environmental and Public Health Sciences in the UC College of Medicine and faculty mentor on the study.

“Stress, even though not as ‘tangible’ as chemical or physical hazards, can deeply affect workers’ mental health and lead to workplace injury and illness. Workplace stress issues were amplified during COVID-19 because many people worked from home. Many health care professionals were also overloaded due to the increased number of patients and less resources.”

Wang says measuring cortisol changes may provide insights into types of occupational stressors and how these may be minimized. The goal of subsequent research in this area is to establish a measurable baseline for stress, with an emphasis on high stress occupations such as home health care workers or firefighters.

“In the future we will try to include a way to measure the baseline for each person so when they are comparing their stress level, they are comparing to their baseline,” Wang says.

“Stress is something that has been understudied in the past. A lot of people don’t take stress as critical as other aspects of the workplace environment. When people have stress or a mental health issue, like depression, a lot of times people don’t talk about those things. Moving forward, it is critical to build a healthier workplace with fewer hazards and less stress.”

This study is sponsored by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) through various mechanisms, although the study conclusions do not necessarily represent the official stance of NIOSH. NIOSH’s largest research office is located several miles from the University of Cincinnati campus. In recent years, NIOSH has been closely collaborating with researchers at the University of Cincinnati on solving emerging workplace issues.

Lead photo/Elisa Ventur/Unsplash

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