Workplace stress is considered a growing problem around the world that affects the health and well-being of employees. It also reduces the workplace productivity of a company or an organisation. Workplace stress can be caused by various factors. While some people may consider it as a positive stress that acts as a type of challenge to motivate them to learn new skills and master their jobs, there are certain people who may have a hard time coping with it. Challenges energise us physically and psychologically, but prolonged workplace stress will wear us out. Anyone can experience workplace stress at any point in their career.
What is workplace stress?
Workplace stress or work-related stress is the harmful physical and emotional response that can happen when the demands and requirements of the job do not match with the knowledge, capabilities, resources, or coping abilities of the worker. This type of stress becomes more serious when the employees are having very little support from their supervisors and colleagues, as well as having very little control over their work processes.
What are the causes of workplace stress?
Workplace stress can be caused by various factors such as difference in personality, coping abilities or working conditions. Some of the more common causes are listed as per below:
Unsatisfactory working conditions
Long working hours and shift work with infrequent rest breaks, hectic and routine tasks, monotony and meaningless tasks are potential stressors that contribute to workplace stress.
Conflicting or uncertain job expectations with too much responsibility may put workers in stressful situations.
Unpleasant working environment
Poor working environment with constant exposure of noise, air pollution, unpleasant smell or exposure to dangerous physical conditions.
Workplace culture that may limit open communication and growth may affect the worker’s performance thus causing stress at work.
Lack of support
Lack of processes, support and proper training and guidance may lead to confusion and uncertainty, which could result in a poor social environment that required for conducive growth.
Having little opportunity for growth advancement or promotion, overall job satisfaction and drastic changes in responsibilities without adequate time for workers to be prepared will lead to job insecurity and increase in their stress levels.
How to manage your stress levels at work?
Work-related stress does not just disappear when you head home for the day. A person who constantly suffering from work-related stress can help themselves in a number of ways, including:
Track your stressors
Work-related stress can be caused by various situations and conditions. Keeping a journal for a few weeks or months can help to identify which situations create the most stress and your response towards them. You may record your thoughts, feelings and actions, including the people who were involved in that situation. All this information can help you to find patterns and identify your stressors, and change your reactions towards them.
Plan your task ahead to stay organised
Being organised can avoid the negative effect of clutter, being more efficient with your work and less rushing in the morning to avoid being late. It can also lessen the feeling of being overwhelmed
Develop healthy responses towards stress
Sometimes when stress is unavoidable, what we can do is try our best to make healthy choices when tension arises instead of attempting to fight stress with unhealthy eating habits like fast food or alcohol. For example, we can make time for hobbies or any favorite activities that bring us pleasure. Any kind of physical activity is also a good stress reliever. Yoga or any relaxation method can help us to calm our mind and take care of our mental health as well. Getting enough good-quality sleep is also an important part of stress management.
Creating a comfortable working environment
It is not a surprise when an uncomfortable chair can be a potential stressor at work. Physical discomfort especially where you perform most of your daily tasks such as your chairs and desks can cause health issues such as back pain and in turn can be distracting and affect workplace productivity.
Although some people do not mind blending their work and home life together, establishing some work-life boundaries for yourself is a good way of managing work-related stress. By creating clear work and life boundaries, such as not checking email or answering phone calls after working hours may help to reduce potential work conflict and the stress that comes along with it.
Be realistic and reward yourself
There are certain people who aim for perfectionism and try to do everything perfectly. While sometimes this is possible, we need to be realistic that we might not be able to do everything perfectly every time. Try to do your best and reward yourself such as having your favorite dessert after a meal or watching your favorite movie to congratulate yourself in your effort.
Get support from colleagues or friends and families
Whenever you are feeling overwhelmed with your job, seek help from your supervisors. Having an open conversation with them as they may have stress management resources available including online information or counseling from mental health professionals. Your company may also offer courses such as time management courses or training that are relevant to your job scope. This can help you perform at your best and help to manage your stressor that you have identified. You should reach out to trusted friends and family members to help you cope with your stress levels.
Besides managing individually, companies and employers should also try and create a low-stress work environment for their workers and provide support to keep stress levels at work to a minimum. Here are some examples of how employers can support their employees:
- Provide physical and emotional support when employees are having trouble with their work or if they are having any difficulties such as dealing with family issues
- Provide opportunities for career development and recognition of employees for good work performance
- Cultivate an organisation culture that values all individual employees
- Creating a quiet, comfortable, and soothing workspace for employees
Employers should watch out for changes in behaviour that leads to a drop in work performance resulting from stress e.g.
- Feeling withdrawn or isolated from others
- Neglecting responsibilities
- Increase in sick days
- Problems with interpersonal relationships with colleagues and superiors
- Impatient behaviour
- Making mistakes & errors in judgements
What are the outcomes of long-lasting work-related stress?
Just like any other stressor, work-related stress can have an impact on our overall health. Experiencing stress in the long run will constantly put our body in preparation for the fight-or-flight response, or the stress response.
When stress response is activated for a long period due to chronic stress, it will cause wear and tear on the body. Long-lasting work-related stress not only causes physical and mental health damage to our health, changes in behavior of an employee will also affect their work outcome and in turn reduce the productivity of the company. It will also affect their quality of life.
Outcomes of prolonged work-related stress may include:
- Muscle tension
- Having difficulty sleeping
- Constantly falling sick with poor immune system
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
- Problems with the gut such as constipation or diarrhoea
- Unable to think clearly and having trouble paying attention
- Increasing forgetfulness and irritability
- Feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope
- Feeling of discouragement
Stress management in the workplace is important and companies should take steps to ensure their employees are not subjected to unnecessary stress. In some countries, stress management is included as a significant health and safety issue in ensuring the staff wellbeing.
- American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Coping with stress at work. American Psychological Association. Retrieved December 1, 2022, from https://www.apa.org/topics/healthy-workplaces/work-stress
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved December 3, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/99-101/default.html#:~:text=done%20about%20it.-,What%20Is%20Job%20Stress%3F,poor%20health%20and%20even%20injury
- World Health Organization. (n.d.). Occupational health: Stress at the workplace. World Health Organization. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from https://www.who.int/news-room/questions-and-answers/item/ccupational-health-stress-at-the-workplace