Stress in the Workplace

  | James Innes

Stress in the Workplace

Over the past decade, stress has become arguably one of the most common causes of absence from work often leading to long-term absence or even resignation or redundancy on health grounds. Many employers are becoming aware of the importance of the well-being of their staff to maintaining productivity levels and are therefore introducing specific policies to ensure the effective management of stress in the workplace.

There are a number of factors recognised as being triggers of stress and stress-related illnesses and these can be found both at home and in the workplace. The symptoms range dramatically from person to person and can be relatively minor as well as severely debilitating. There are also many effective techniques that both an individual and their employer can use to prevent, reduce and manage stress within the workplace.

The Causes

Different people respond in different ways to the challenges that arise in the workplace and what is a major stress factor for some may be a simple problem easily overcome by others. It is important to remember that it is not a sign of weakness to feel the effects of stress more than your colleagues do and making comparisons between yourself and your peers can actually increase stress levels further still.

Most jobs involve some unavoidable pressures and demands that can cause feelings of stress. A certain level of stress can be seen as positive because it can improve motivation, performance and job satisfaction while also providing you with an overall sense of achievement. However, excessive stress is particularly damaging. Positive stress can be caused when an effective manager expects high standards and sets reasonable targets to facilitate their achievement. It can also be the result of productive working relationships with colleagues. Negative stress factors are numerous and include the following:

  • Conflicting Demands
  • Job Insecurity
  • Confusion over Job Responsibilities
  • Inflexible Timetable
  • Working Long or Unsociable Hours
  • Conflict Between Individuals
  • Feeling Undervalued or Unappreciated
  • Lack of Management Support
  • Poor Working Conditions
  • Changing Management Infrastructure
  • Unreasonable Workload
  • Bullying or Harassment
  • Unfair Treatment
  • Working in Isolation
  • Reduced Responsibility

The Effects

The effects of stress can appear as either mental or physical symptoms with varying degrees of severity. Some of the many physical symptoms include:

  • Change in Dietary Habits
  • Insomnia
  • Excessive Tiredness
  • Frequent Crying
  • Panic Attacks
  • Fidgeting
  • Headaches
  • Digestive Problems

The most common mental symptoms include:

  • Irritability
  • Apathy
  • Loss of Concentration
  • Withdrawal
  • Anxiety
  • Mood Swings
  • Suppressed Anger

Now that employers are more aware of the seriousness of stress and stress-related illnesses, many organisations are adopting a more proactive approach to combating the causes of stress. By identifying the symptoms of stress as early as possible, the more serious symptoms, i.e. those leading to long periods of time off work, can be avoided. There are a number of training courses available for managers to enable them to identify the first signs of stress and an open, friendly management style is one that can encourage employees to discuss their concerns or problems before they get out of control. By reviewing existing policies, management and communication systems, and by implementing subsequent improvements, an employer can effectively remove many of the stress triggers. Also, it is helpful to provide workshops and training courses to help employees themselves learn effective stress management techniques.

If you do start to recognise the symptoms of stress, there are a number of ways which can help to prevent it becoming more serious. It is particularly helpful if you are able to identify your own particular stress triggers so that you can then take positive steps towards dealing with it effectively. There are specific lifestyle changes you can make that are believed to reduce stress levels and these include:

  • Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet
  • Taking regular exercise
  • Reducing alcohol consumption
  • Stopping smoking

In the workplace, it is also possible to organise your day in such a way as to reduce the impact of stress triggers, one of which is to simply adopt a positive attitude. If possible, prepare a list of your daily responsibilities and arrange this in an order of priority. Tackle the most challenging tasks first and the sense of achievement you experience upon their completion should make handling the rest of your work much easier. Take regular breaks, even if it is just to stare out of the window for five minutes. However, if you feel bogged down with too much work outstanding, try to delegate if possible. There is no shame in asking for help – your manager is more likely to prefer a job to be done well than for it to have been rushed. Also, relaxation techniques such as meditation and breathing exercises can help.

Stress is now recognised as a particularly serious illness with symptoms that are often difficult to manage. It is essential to seek professional help from a doctor, counsellor or even from your personnel manager if the symptoms you experience are becoming more serious. It is also important to remember that your manager may be just as concerned about your health and wellbeing as you are and, if you communicate your concerns with them, you will probably find that they will go out of their way to help you.

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