(Photo:Flickr/ Robert Scoble)

Sometimes an intense work environment can cause a person so much stress that it manifests into physical ailments. Absenteeism, sometimes to relieve stress-induced ailments such as nausea or headaches, is costing the United States $225.8 billion annually. But University of Haifa researchers believe that the best way to relieve workers’ “burnout” symptoms is not through days off or medicine, but through an emotionally supportive supervisor.

“The worker who is given this sort of support is more likely to overcome the somatic stress and continue to work productively, leaving recovery for the normal after-work hours when we recharge our batteries,” said lead researcher Michal Biron.

The study consisted of 241 manufacturing workers in China who were asked to report on common somatic symptoms of workplace stress, such as headaches or muscle soreness, that they experienced over the past month. They were also asked to indicate how often their supervisor provided them with emotional and instrumental support once they experienced these symptoms. Data on sickness absence was also provided.

The results revealed that when the supervisor reacted in a supportive manner to the worker’s stress, such as lightening their workload or enrolling them in stress management training, the worker was more likely to refrain from taking sick leave. The researchers conclude that it is because the worker felt more inclined to reciprocate the supportive treatment by keeping their work effort high.

The data also revealed that support early on plays an integral role in stopping the somatic effects of stress before absenteeism even becomes a problem.

“We see from this study that employers can provide concrete support for employees experiencing somatic stress symptoms, but can also encourage co-workers to support one another in the first place and minimize the effects triggered by their workload,” Biron said. “With the enormous economic losses due to absenteeism and with this still being a poorly understood phenomenon, the results of this new study are shedding light on those factors influencing sickness absence and which can be considered in the effort to reduce the losses without compromising work ethic and commitment.”

Source: University of Haifa

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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