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Workers’ Comp Claims High? Try Cutting Workplace Stress

December 5, 2016

Every job comes with a certain amount of stress. Too much of it, however, could result in more workplace accidents and higher workers’ compensation claims.

workers' comp
CCIG’s Steve Doss.

That’s the central finding of a new study from the Center for Health, Work & Environment at the Colorado School of Public Health.

Typically, all sorts of what are known as health risk factors can be found in a workers’ compensation claim. These risk factors include high blood pressure, use of tobacco and other items that increase the likelihood of developing a disease or injury. Stress, however, was the single most important factor in predicting workers’ compensation claim occurrence and cost, the researchers found.

In Colorado, stress itself is not covered by workers’ compensation but stress that manifests itself as a physical claim could fall under workers’ comp.

The center’s recommendation? That employers try to do more to help workers who may be experiencing more stress than is healthy.

How work affects Americans’ physical and mental health is a question that is getting more attention nowadays. Human resources experts agree that behavioral health problems are eroding corporate bottom lines as never before. As many as 90 million workdays are lost each year due to stress-related issues.

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A poll earlier this year asked more than 1,600 working adults how their jobs were affecting specific parts of their lives. Forty-three percent said their job was having a negative impact on their levels of stress. Stress, in fact, was at the top of the respondents’ list, above eating or sleeping habits, above weight levels or social or family life.

The Colorado School of Public Health study, led by Dr. Natalie Schwatka, analyzed the workers’ comp claims of nearly 17,000 employees at 314 various-sized organizations in a number of industries.

Beyond finding that stress at work generally increased the odds of filing a workers’ compensation claim, Schwatka and her team of researchers found that stress at home predicted higher claims costs, while  stress over finances predicted lower claims costs.

How to explain this?

“We speculate that workers who are experiencing stress over finances may return to work sooner to avoid lost wages or job loss,” Schwatka wrote in the study. “On the other hand, workers who are experiencing stress at home may have low social support, an important predictor of return to work.”

What, exactly, is causing all of this stress?

Chicago-based ComPsych Corp., a global provider of employee assistance programs, has a pretty good idea. Its list:

  • Workload (36%)
  • “People issues,” including those attributed to bosses and co-workers (31%)
  • Juggling work and personal life (20%)
  • Lack of job security (8%)
  • Either none of the above or not stressed (5%)

And the reasons for stress at home:

  • Financial issues (24%)
  • Family, friends or relationship issues (24%)
  • Juggling work with personal life (19%)
  • Personal to-do list (14%)
  • Health issues (8%)
  • None of the above or not stressed (11%)

So, what can employers do about all this?

Schwatka suggests businesses begin to address stress management as part of their safety programs.

Some already are. A survey of 133 large employers by the National Business Group on Health found that 15 percent said they plan to offer on-site mental health counseling to employees next year. That’s not a huge number but it’s growing.

One simple approach that seems to be working well gives employees more control over their schedules, helping to reduce burnout and stress while boosting job satisfaction.

The findings, Schwatka said, also suggest that doctors, safety managers and others who deal with injured workers not only provide injury and illness care but also begin to offer advice on how to reduce stress and otherwise improve their health.

Steve Doss is a CCIG Vice President. Reach him at or 720-330-7910.

Read the report: Health Risk Factors as Predictors of Workers’ Compensation Claim Occurrence and Cost.”

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