Dallin Worthington-Counseling and Work Stress

My goal while researching counseling and work stress was to start thinking like a Human Resources Manager overseeing employees that have stress caused by work. Human Resources representatives are called upon to advocate for employees while keeping the best interest of the company in mind. Counseling is one of the most popular ways to deal with stress and some companies offer employees counseling through Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs). EAPs can help people because counseling is free through employers when it is an EAP. As a future Human Resources Manager I want to find out if I should push for my employer to offer EAP services to the people I am hired to advocate for. I set out to answer a few important questions that are related to the purpose of a Human Resources Manager and that will help with my understanding of the effectiveness of using counseling to combat work stress.

  • How common is work-caused stress?
  • Does work stress affect the lives of people outside of the workplace?
  • Do people suffering from excess work stress have a decrease in their daily work efficiency?
  • Will counseling help people overcome their work stress?
  • If it doesn’t help them overcome the stress altogether then does it minimize the effects of it?

To gain clarity on these questions, I decided to interview people in white and blue-collar jobs to learn a little more about their stress and how it affects them. First off, I interviewed MacKenzie who used to work at a health insurance company processing claims that people sent in when they wanted something covered by the insurance company. Covid caused her to work remotely, but the company was not totally prepared to make that transition and MacKenzie claimed that the communication among different levels of the company broke down causing confusion and stress. I asked MacKenzie if there was counseling offered where she worked and she said that there was but that it was not made clear to her or most other employees that it was an option. MacKenzie claimed that counseling may have helped her situation and that if she had known that resource was available to her, she would have taken it. We also talked about if she talked to the human resources department. She told me that she reached out to them when her higher-ups were being impossible to communicate with and that each time talking with them the problem would get better for a few days and then it would revert back to its poor state.

You can listen to MacKenzies Interview here:

After studying the causes and side effects of stress caused by white-collar jobs, I wondered about blue-collar jobs. To preface this section about blue-collar workers I will state that the bulk of my own work experience has been done in blue-collar fields such as home building, landscaping, and excavating. My experience as a laborer in this industry has taught me that most companies do not value their employees because they see them as replaceable. No blue-collar company I have worked for has had a human resources department and if you get upset with your work environment or how you are being treated by the boss you either have to just live with it or quit. Neither of those options is good for someone who feels they should be treated better, but otherwise like their job and financially rely on it.

I interviewed Spencer to expand my own understanding of what blue-collar workers experience on a day-to-day basis and what causes them the most stress at work. Spencer has worked in construction, road maintenance, car care, and window washing. He indicated to me that he has had a mixed experience with these jobs, some of them he liked and some he loathed. Like me, Spencer also has not worked in a blue-collar field that offered him a human resources department, and in many instances, the reason he did not like certain jobs was because the bosses were not good at certain aspects of communicating or caring for employees. I asked Spencer how the work stress caused by these employers negatively affects his life and he told me “Frequently you end up working late even when you have plans to do things in the evening like go grocery shopping or things of that nature and then you feel like you do not have the time to get those things done and that causes a lot of stress because you lose the time to every day activities”. Spencer points out something very integral right here because irresponsible employers can cause stress at work but then they cause that stress to bleed into your private life by depriving you of your schedule.

I asked Spencer if he has done any counseling for his work stress and he said no, but he told me he sought out counseling for stress involved with his mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints which was free to him through the church (similar to an EPAs). He shared that he got a clearer mind and more clarity because he was provided this help. He told me that he was able to work better once his mind was cleared.

You can listen to Spencer’s interview here.

Talking with MacKenzie and Spencer gave me amazing insight into whether I should suggest to my employer as a Human Resources Manager that he/she should implement some sort of EPA option for them. The main aspect that swayed me from these interviews is that in both of them, the subjects of the interviews said they would have been more productive had they been freed from their stress through counseling. This shows that if a company is a certain size it may actually 6save a company money because their employees seeking assistance through EPA counseling will help them work more productively and add happiness to their lives.
According to the American Institute of Stress, 83% of workers suffer from work stress and more than 50% of workers are not engaged at work due to the weight of that stress. These statistics support the conclusion that employers would benefit from their employees being treated by counselors. The mental health of employees is of utmost importance so when I am in human resources in the future I look forward to pushing employers to provide EPAs. EPAs provide counseling but sometimes even just having that option in place proves to people that their employer cares for their well-being. Businesses may not see the value in providing service for their employees but when counseling is provided the company can run more smoothly. While I do believe companies should provide EPAs I also understand that it is not cheap for a business owner so if I work in a smaller company for human resources I would just give my best effort to advocate for employees and help them with any problems they bring to me.

For the last part of my research, I wanted to talk to a counselor about their experiences with clients who they work with. This counselor was happy to let me interview them, but they preferred to stay anonymous because having these opinions and talking about clients can damage the careers of counselors. Below is a Q&A I had with this counselor. The format of the Q&A is below:

  • How often do people you work with mention that they struggle with work stress during all your sessions?
    • No matter what we are meeting about work stress comes up in at least 80% of all the meetings I have.
  • How often is work stress the main reason for a client seeking counseling?
    • It is hard to tell because there are usually a large number of reasons someone chooses to seek help. Still, I would say half of the people I meet with talk about their struggles with stress at work during their first session with me which would indicate that it probably had a considerable hand in pushing them to want to meet with me.
  • Does the size of a company affect the probability that said company will provide EPAs to its employees?
    • It depends on the benefits package and the size of the company. Companies that have good healthcare plans and place a high value on the wellness of those that work for them usually provide EPAs unless it is not within their budget to do so. Jobs at hospitals and within the government almost always provide them because they have the means and usually give their employees great benefits packages. 
  • When people talk to you about their work stress how often do they tell you that it has a negative effect on their home life and overall mental health?
    • Work stress almost always has some sort of negative impact on the lives of people going through it. Something that I hear a lot is that people believe stress from work affects how they interact with people and in turn, this hurts their relationship with that person. Nearly every person I talk to about work stress feels like they carry that burden home with them every day.
  • Does counseling and talking through problems at work help mitigate the negative effects that stress causes them to have?
    • Almost always. I can’t say that people walk out feeling cured or like all their problems have gone away, but when I am done with a session with someone they usually leave my office with tools to deal with the stress they will inevitably continue to experience. During follow-up visits, people will tell me that home life has improved for them and that they do not take the negative effects of stress home with them as frequently.
  • Does work stress push people to indulge in addictive behaviors like smoking, drinking, or drugs?
    • Yes, the most common of which is drinking alcohol. I specialize in addiction recovery counseling and one of the main triggers for relapse is stress. Stressful work lives often keep people feeling frustrated and stuck. People who feel stuck will lean on habitual comforts that make them give them relief in the moment but make life harder for them in the future. When we talk with clients we try to give them alternative tools to manage stress that will help them increase the quality of their lives.

Talking with people who have experienced work stress in both blue and white-collar jobs helped me understand how stress is perceived from an employee’s perspective. That paired with what I have learned from talking with a counselor has helped me understand the importance of counseling when working through stressful situations in life. At the beginning of this research, I set out to answer 5 questions that would help me as a future Human Resources Manager decide whether to push for an EPA program as part of an employee benefits package. These questions were:

  • How common is work-caused stress?
  • Does work stress affect the lives of people outside of the workplace?
  • Do people suffering from excess work stress have a decrease in their daily work efficiency?
  • Will counseling help people overcome their work stress?
  • If it doesn’t help them overcome the stress altogether then does it minimize the effects of it?

Seeking to find the answers to these questions led me to discover that work stress is present for almost everyone and that counseling will almost always help people work through it. When I am in Human Resources I will always advocate for the company I represent to provide a benefits package that includes counseling because my research has taught me that it would not only help the employees, but in the long run those employees will work more efficiently with a lighter load of stress and the company as a whole will benefit because they provided that service.