Stress at the workplace has matured into one of the biggest, silent, yet effective killers of this generation as it preys upon millions of lives on a daily basis. Much of it happens because we cannot differentiate between pressure (which can motivate) and stress (which can deflate); it is a thin grey line indeed. Understanding stress requires understanding one key fact- often, stress is our response to change. Just as change can be managed, so can stress!

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), stress at the workplace is the response people may have when presented with work demands and pressures that are not matched to their knowledge and abilities and which challenge their ability to cope. Stress occurs in a wide range of work circumstances but is often made worse when employees feel they have little support from supervisors and colleagues, as well as little control over work processes. There is often confusion between pressure or challenge and stress, and sometimes this is used to excuse bad management practices.

Pressure at the workplace is unavoidable due to the demands of the contemporary work environment. Pressure perceived as acceptable by an individual may even keep workers alert, motivated, and able to work and learn, depending on the available resources and personal characteristics. However, when that pressure becomes excessive or otherwise unmanageable it leads to stress. Stress can damage an employee’s health and the business performance. Work-related stress can be caused by poor work organization (the way we design jobs and work systems, and the way we manage them), by poor work design (for example, lack of control over work processes), poor management, unsatisfactory working conditions, and lack of support from colleagues and supervisors. Downsizing, layoffs, mergers, and bankruptcies occur in industries and companies of all types; this means big changes for workers. Even when job loss does not occur, employees may face increased responsibility, higher production demands, fewer benefits, pay cuts, and more. In general, this creates an environment of stress around the office. While there may be a host of other minuscule factors, the above ones pretty much sum it all up!

Research findings show that the most stressful type of work is that which values excessive demands and pressures that are not matched to workers’ knowledge and abilities, where there is little opportunity to exercise any choice or control, and where there is little support from others. Workers are less likely to experience work-related stress when the demands and pressures of work are matched to their knowledge and abilities, control can be exercised over their work and the way they do it, support is received from supervisors and colleagues, and participation in decisions that concern their jobs is provided.

There are two types of stress hazards at work- Work content and Work context.

Work contents includes job content (monotony, under-stimulation, meaningless of tasks, lack of variety, etc); workload and work pace (too much or too little to do, work under time pressure, etc.); working hours (strict or inflexible, long and unsocial, unpredictable, badly designed shift systems); and participation and control (lack of participation in decision-making, lack of control over work processes, pace, hours, methods, and the work environment).

Work context includes career development, status, and pay (job insecurity, lack of promotion opportunities, under- or over-promotion, work of low social value, piece rate payment schemes, unclear or unfair performance evaluation systems, being over- or under-skilled for a job); the worker’s role in the organization (unclear role, conflicting roles); interpersonal relationships (inadequate, inconsiderate or unsupportive supervision, poor relationships with colleagues, bullying/harassment and violence, isolated or solitary work, etc.); organizational culture (poor communication, poor leadership, lack of behavioural rule, lack of clarity about organizational objectives, structures and strategies); and work-life balance (conflicting demands of work and home, lack of support for domestic problems at work, lack of support for work problems at home, lack of organizational rules and policies to support work-life balance).

Symptoms of Work Stress

In recent decades, researchers have studied the relationship between job stress and physical illness. Examples include sleep disturbances, upset stomach, and headache, as well as compromised relationships with family and friends. Other symptoms include high blood pressure, hypertension, indigestion, depression…the list goes on. These signs are easy to recognize, but the effects of stress on chronic diseases are less obvious because these ailments develop over time and can be caused by many different factors. However, data is beginning to show that stress plays an important role in many common but serious health problems.

Stress affects people differently – what stresses one person may not affect another. Factors like skills and experience, age, or disability may all affect whether a worker can cope. Thus, everybody has their own cure for their particular set of stressors and there is no one-size-fits-all all policy that will magically cure it. While talking to your coworkers and colleagues definitely helps, we will look at how to deal with stress in another blog!

Blog you later!