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Workplace Stress Impacts Health Care Workers

Arnetz

Stress can adversely affect a physician’s decision making, Bengt Arnetz and colleagues found in a recent study supported by the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation. The research team is now planning to apply for a National Institutes of Health grant to expand that study.

In the general workforce, about 10 percent of employees are depressed, Arnetz said. In his own profession, it is more like 30 percent, which he attributed to the high stress among health care workers and lack of a systematic strategy to build energy and recover from work stress.

“Burnout is huge in the practice of medicine,” he said, “and burnout affects the quality of care.”

Over the years, he has studied how stress affects the work of police officers, emergency room workers, journalists and others, and he found the results are similar, whatever the profession. “We looked at almost everybody,” he said. “The basic needs are
very similar.”

Arnetz has been studying psychophysiology – the relationship between the brain and the body – since 1983 when a hospital in his native Sweden hired him to look into the health of its medical providers. The Swedish telecom company Ericsson later commissioned him to research the cause of physical problems among white collar employees in its research and development department.

Backed by a database of more than 600,000 workers, Arnetz developed a tool – a questionnaire validated by biological data – to measure the stress level of workers.

Stress, he found, was adversely affecting the health of the workers and contributing to lower productivity. After Ericsson took steps to reduce the stress, the productivity of its workers improved, as did their health. “It changed my perspective to look at not only individuals, but at populations of workers,” Arnetz said. “What are the management characteristics that contribute to productivity and health?”

- excerpted from College of Human Medicine, MD magazine 2016

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