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Stress in the American Workplace: Alternatives for the Working Wounded.

DeCarlo, Donald T. and Deborah H. Gruenfeld, Stress in the American Workplace: Alternatives .for the Working Wounded. Horsham, PA, LRP Publications, P.0. Box 980, 1992, 188 pp., bibliography. $19.95, paper.

The authors of Stress and the American Workplace contend that "corporate America is under siege." The enemy is stress and it has caused problems of epidemic proportions in the workplace. Claims for mental stress are increasing under workers compensation law and in civil court cases. As a result of these civil cases, an increasing number of workers are being compensated for mental disabilities resulting in pain and suffering and loss of life enjoyment.

Workers compensation awards have followed these trends in allowing compensation for a wider variety of job-related mental injuries. While States vary in recognizing the compensability of job-related stress disorders, some States such as California, Michigan, and Oregon have held that a wide variety of mental disability claims are potentially compensable-- even those related to cumulative stress resulting from daily job pressures. According to the authors, Donald DeCarlo and Deborah Gruenfeld, this willingness by some States to adopt a more subjective standard for evaluating stress claims may ultimately increase the right of workers to receive compensation for mental injuries on the job and also change the legal liabilities of companies who hire them.

The authors point to various sources of stress in the workplace, many of which have been the subject of newspaper accounts during the 1980's. Mergers and corporate breakups, the migration of jobs overseas, and stock market and banking crises have contributed to a feeling of powerlessness and a rise in levels of stress. In addition, many aspects of the workplace contribute to stress. These include problems in the physical environment such as noise pollution or crowded offices, and psychological reasons such as excessive workload or the ambiguity of roles of work or authority in the corporation. The authors point out that stress may arise from many seemingly contradictory sources and affect individuals differently. A common thread running throughout, however, is a sense of powerlessness--the feeling that workers are robbed of control over how to do their jobs.

Much of the effort to control and alleviate stress in the workplace has focused so far on the individual. Employers, alarmed at escalating health care costs, accept a degree of responsibility for employee health. Management solutions have focused on stress reduction with various types of self-help programs, physical fitness programs, and/or employee assistance programs that focus on counseling, mental treatment, or substance abuse. This has fit with the recent emphasis on individual responsibility. It also reflects a corporate desire to relieve management of ultimate responsibility for the problem and provide solutions that do not interfere with business operations.

De Carlo and Gruenfeld conclude that corporate efforts have so far been only partially successful. They believe that the ultimate solutions for alleviating stress in the workplace can be accomplished by restructuring the workplace, aiming at the feeling of powerlessness and lack of control by re-emphasizing the value of labor. Necessary reforms of corporate culture might include training and retraining workers, redesigning jobs with more autonomy and control, supporting democratic rather than authoritarian management practices, and leveling and simplifying corporate hierarchy.

In short, the authors support a cooperative workplace in which management and labor work together to achieve corporate goals while guarding and promoting workers' health.

--Pat Nielsen

Office of Field Operations

Atlanta Region

Bureau of Labor Statistics
COPYRIGHT 1993 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Nielsen, Pat
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 1993
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