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Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Use employee stress checks wisely

Rika Kayama

I would like to start this week's column with a question: To those of you who are employed at companies or other such organizations, have you taken a stress check?

Stress checks were made mandatory for workplaces with 50 or more employees on Dec. 1, 2015. The first round of checks was to have been conducted by Nov. 30 this year. Employees' stress levels are evaluated from their written responses to surveys, and the results are then handed back to them. The results are considered personal information, meaning that they need to be secured in places that can only be accessed by the medical staff handling the surveys and no one else in the company, including the president or the employee's boss.

The problem, however, comes after the results are returned. If the employee just receives their results that say, "Your stress level is about this much," and that is where it ends, there would be no point. Some employees, however, will have it written on their results that they are recommended to receive counseling. It is then necessary for these people to go to the company health department or equivalent, meet with a doctor, consider their options like reducing their work schedule, and, depending on the case, perhaps get examined at a third-party clinic.

The main meaning of these checks is to uncover people with high stress levels and to have them go see a doctor, but this meeting with the doctor depends on the employee taking action. The medical staff or others handling the stress checks are, in general, forbidden from explicitly asking the employees to go see a doctor.

When I asked workers at the health departments of some companies, they told me only few people have come for a meeting with a doctor after seeing their stress test results. I think someone who received a health check result saying there was a problem with their liver would probably get it examined, but when it comes to mental health, even if they were asked to be seen by a professional, people tend to dismiss the request. There may also be people who ignore their stress check results because they worry that if it became known that they had been examined for stress, it could affect their careers.

It is understood that the results of the stress check and doctor meeting are to be carefully handled, and not used for things such as personnel decisions. If there are readers who are thinking, "Now that you mention it, my results did say 'Doctor meeting advised due to high stress,'" I hope they will go to have that meeting. For people saying, "I haven't had a stress check yet," why not inform your company that the test is mandatory? I want this new system to be used as much as possible for the benefit of workers. (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)

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