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Putting work stress in the tank
by Sarah Cooper
Jul 30, 2009 | 1295 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Courtesy photo/Kim Stoll
Northern Nevada Medical Center CEO Mark Crawford waits to see if employees can throw a ball accurately enough to dunk him during one of the hospital’s monthly barbecue luncheons.
Courtesy photo/Kim Stoll Northern Nevada Medical Center CEO Mark Crawford waits to see if employees can throw a ball accurately enough to dunk him during one of the hospital’s monthly barbecue luncheons.
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Tribune/Debra Reid - 
Massage therapist Dawn Crowder helped local businesswomen relax at a networking event at The Sanctuary in Reno last week. The facility offers Pilates, yoga, meditation, Tai Chi and other health services.
Tribune/Debra Reid - Massage therapist Dawn Crowder helped local businesswomen relax at a networking event at The Sanctuary in Reno last week. The facility offers Pilates, yoga, meditation, Tai Chi and other health services.
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After 40-plus hours a week filled with tense moments, workplace pressures and a few life and death situations, employees at Northern Nevada Medical Center were ready to huck a ball at their CEO.

“It was a great deal of fun,” Patty Downs, director of human resources for Northern Nevada Medical Center, said of the event. “The staff is still talking about it.”

To let off some work-week steam, Northern Nevada Medical Center, the sixth largest employer in Sparks, hosts a monthly barbecue and fair for its 450 employees. July’s event featured a dunk tank where employees could toss a ball, hit a target and hopefully dunk Northern Nevada’s CEO, Mark Crawford.

The free event is just one of the ways that the employer is tackling a workplace stress epidemic.

About 32 percent of Americans experienced “extreme stress” because of their jobs in 2007, according to a study by the American Psychological Association. Job stress in the United States also accounts for $300 billion in losses, according to a recent University of Southern California Marshall School of Business study.

With continuing economic strain, stress in the workplace has entered the crosshairs of many human resources managers.

“There is a lot of stress in peoples’ lives,” Downs said. “Our 401k is not worth what it was … we have to deal with economic stress, etc.”

Downs has to be particularly careful. Those in the healthcare and education industries have the highest levels of extreme stress, according to the APA report.

More than 40 percent of workers in these industries report experiencing extreme levels of stress during the last month, compared with 32 percent across all industries. About 57 percent are concerned about their stress levels.

Northern Nevada management’s approach to the stress problem, according to Downs, is a strict open door policy, a carefully designed benefits package and a third-party heath helper.

Northern Nevada uses the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), a workplace well-being service run by the Corporate Family Network.

“As a manager, I think you have to recognize that this (work) is not the only stress in their lives,” Downs said.

According to the APA study, home and family responsibilities interfered with job performance for 43 percent of Americans. On the other side of the coin, worries at work hurt home and family life for 53 percent of Americans.

The EAP program provides wellness coaching for asthma, diabetes as well as a monitoring program for pregnancy and a walking program among other services. It also provides three free counseling sessions for the super stressed, Downs said.

Representatives from the Corporate Family Network did not return calls for comment as of press time.

Northern Nevada’s second approach to workplace stress involves making the hospital rounds.

“Administration makes rounds every week,” Downs said. “Listen to what your employees are saying. Visit to see how things are going on. If you are visible and attentive you know what they want. The goal is employee engagement.”
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