These industry experts outline what steps to take to ensure job-related stresses don’t batter your bottom line. You have undoubtedly seen the signs. An unhappy customer returns an item to your store, complaining about the quality. Instead of politely listening to her complaints, your employee is abrupt, rude, and engages the customer in an argument. Or, a longtime trusted employee begins to make mistakes in handling money or is so preoccupied that she slips and falls. These are among the many potential signs of employee stress - stress that left unchecked can cost you, the retail employer, a bundle. Whether your employees’ stress is directly related to the job or predominantly due to problems at home, failing to address it can result in increased injury, illness, deterioration in performance, and the loss of good workers and customers. According to the American Institute of Stress, job-related stress costs US employers $300 billion per year in absenteeism, employee turnover, reduced productivity, and direct medical, legal, and insurance costs. Numerous studies have found that overtime and extended work shifts increase job stress and its impacts. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reviewed 52 research reports on the association between working long hours and illnesses, injuries, health behaviors, and performance (see sidebar below). Among the many findings: 1. In 16 of 22 research studies, overtime work was associated with increased injury rates, a greater number of illnesses, poorer perceived general health, or increased deaths. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recently reported that its preliminary 2008 data shows workplace suicides were up 28% in 2008 over 2007. 2. Six studies that examined 12-hour shifts combined with more than 40 hours of work per week found deterioration in performance, a slower pace of work, or an increase in health complaints. 3. Four studies reported that the ninth to 12th hours of work in 12-hour shifts were associated with increased fatigue, feelings of decreased alertness, lower cognitive function, declines in vigilance on tasks, and increased injuries. Retail work can be very stressful in and of itself, particularly at this time of the year. NIOSH notes there is increasing evidence that stress plays a role in several types of chronic health problems, especially cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal disorders, and psychological disorders. In extreme situations, job-related stress can result in workplace violence, such as an incident that occurred in Montana where a discount store employee shot a co-worker in the head during an alleged argument over the length of the co-worker’s work break.