2018 | 1 | 107-128
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Stress at Work: Its Impact on Sustainable Growth

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This paper aims to show the importance of stress at work for the economy. Stress, which until recently was considered mainly in psychological or social terms, has a direct impact on human capital and labour, which are the basic factors of economic growth (as well as natural resources, technology, physical and financial capitals). The quality and quantity of human capital directly affects the growth of the economy. An increase in investment in human capital can improve the quality of the labour force, hence its productivity. On the other hand, factors that limit economic growth include: poor health and low level of education. People who do not have access to healthcare or education have lower levels of productivity. The economy, therefore, does not fulfil its potential productivity or growth. Stress negatively contributes to changes of these factors. It has become one of the main causes of disability and inability to work in recent years.The first part describes the overall situation in which stress has become an issue for companies and the economy. In the second part I present the different research findings that demonstrate how the meaning and importance of work, and workplace conditions, have evolved. I refer, as well, to quantitative findings proving that companies should invest in preventing stress at work as excessive stress affects performance and productivity. The third part briefly portrays the example of Belgium, where the problem of stress and its economic consequences have been quite thoroughly investigated. The costs of excessive stress were regarded as undue, and as a result, Belgium adopted a law protecting employees against stress and burnout at work. Under this law, employers are obliged to introduce specific internal rules and preventative measures. Based on the Belgian experience, I provide several arguments demonstrating that improving the workplace by mitigating stress levels is beneficial not only for a company itself but for the economy in general. It impacts positively human capital, employability, leads to improved productivity, and in the end, contributes to sustainable economic growth. At the end of the paper, in an annex, I present a case illustrating the problem of excessive stress at work. It is an example of the great pressure and stress imposed on employees during the time of the ongoing business changes in one of the financial companies based in Brussels. The purpose of this article, however, is not to exhaust the topic of the impact of stress on economy, but rather to induce discussion on the magnitude and importance of this problem.
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