The workplace is one of the greatest causes of stress in our lives. At times we feel overwhelmed as we consider everything we need to accomplish. It becomes an even greater challenge as obstacles arise and keep us from progressing in our day-to-day assignments.
As business executives and managers, it is our job to recognize and manage occupational stress. A completely stress-free workplace is almost impossible to achieve, but in order to keep your organization moving forward, your employees need be healthy and satisfied with their work.
Stress is a growing problem in many organizations and is having an increasingly negative impact on employees. Not only does it affect a person’s health and how much he or she is able to work, but it also affects performance. It is important to promote the health and well-being of those who work in our companies in order to reduce negative effects on productivity.
Causes of stress
The stress response is a double-edge sword. When stress is working properly, it helps you to stay focused, energetic and alert. However, beyond a certain point, stress stops being helpful and can cause damage to your health, relationships and productivity.
There are two main types of stress. The first is acute stress, which is short-lived and often the result of unexpected stressors. The second is chronic stress, which is a state of ongoing physiological agitation from an unresolved issue or situation.
There are three main areas that influence the level of chronic stress felt in the workplace:
- Job demands. The terms and conditions of a job can be a major source of stress. Job demands can be thought as consisting of intrinsic task requirements, the levels of uncertainty, time pressure, and the rate, amount and difficulty of work.
- Individual differences. Individual differences are important because they affect how we make decisions, handle conflicts, respond to stressors and attempt to cope with stress. Many people with the same job and physical setting may not perceive their environment as having the same level of stress. One person may see a challenge as motivating and a chance for self-improvement while another may see it as a serious threat.
- Social demands. Too much or too little social stimulation can be stressful: too little and you could feel lonely or isolated; too much and you could become overwhelmed. What defines the adequate level of social demand also differs with each individual. Social demands can originate outside as well as within the organization. While social demands can be distressing, social support from friends, colleagues and family can benefit psychological well-being by “buffering” the negative impacts of stressors.
Stress in the workplace
It is important to realize that our bodies do not distinguish between physical and psychological threats. If you are stressed about a project, a busy schedule, balancing home and work life, a pile of bills or a fight with a friend, your body could react just as strongly as if you were facing a life-or-death situation.
Small episodes of stress have little risk to the health of a person. However, when stress is prolonged, the body is in a state of constant activity, or stress overload. Gradually the body’s defence system is worn down and the person is left increasingly susceptible to illness.
The key to stress management is taking breaks. When we are dealing with chronic stressors, it is important to find things that will help us to take a break from whatever it is that is causing us stress.
“Improving communication and assigning appropriate workload are two of the most important preventive measures management can instil in an organization to reduce chronic stress.”
Below is a list of some of the common warning signs and symptoms of stress. The more signs and symptoms you notice in yourself or your colleagues, the closer you may be to stress overload:
- Thought or reasoning symptoms:
- Memory problems.
- Inability to concentrate.
- Poor judgment.
- Negative attitude.
- Anxious or racing thoughts.
- Constant worrying.
- Physical symptoms:
- Aches and pains.
- Diarrhea or constipation.
- Nausea, dizziness.
- Chest pain, rapid heartbeat.
- Loss of sex drive.
- Frequent colds.
- Emotional symptoms:
- Irritability or short temper.
- Agitation, inability to relax.
- Feeling overwhelmed.
- Sense of loneliness and isolation.
- Depression or general unhappiness.
- Behavioral symptoms:
- Eating more or less.
- Isolating yourself from others.
- Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities.
- Using alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax.
- Nervous habits (e.g. nail biting, pacing).
Stress can be evident in many different ways depending on the person. That is why it is important to learn how to recognize how you, and the people around you, react to stress.