Stressed Out at Work? Deal With Stress in the Workplace

The modern workplace is a stressful place indeed. The world has progressed a great deal over the last few decades, and because of this progress, the pace of life and the number of things the average person needs to achieve each day are both increasing. This busy backdrop is accompanied by similar changes in enterprise, and these changes are likewise happening quickly; more is expected of each employee, resources are tight (not helped at all by a strained economy) and things seem to be ever more bureaucratic, results-based and competitive. It is as if we are all becoming less regarded as human beings, and simply cogs in a bigger machine which does not appear to care.

This is not simply speculation, as the data shows stress to be, now in the current age, a very significant problem with many negative consequences. The consequence on individual health and wellbeing is obvious, but economic consequences are also significant, a problem that is costing the U.S. economy hundreds of billions of dollars each year [1].

The Causes and Consequences of Workplace Stress

The underlying causes of stress are due to aforementioned changes in working life, and the changes to life in general. However, it has been shown that by far the biggest source of stress in American adults is due to their working environment, and less because of the general nature of our modern lives. Furthermore, this stress has quickly elevated over the last few decades.

A study into the main causes of workplace stress by The American Institute of Stress sheds a revealing light on the issue. Almost 50% [2] of respondents who identified themselves as under workplace stress stated that workload was the primary problem, while almost 30% stated that interpersonal issues were the primary problem. Smaller proportions noted the work/life balance and lack of job security as the main cause. Other well-known causes include a negative, competitive, restricting and bureaucratic working environment, and relationships between employees and their closest managers. Workplace bullying, while fairly uncommon, is acutely responsible for stress when it does occur [3].

The main consequences of workplace stress are reduced productivity due to sick-leave, and physiological problems. Long term stress can change the brain’s chemical balance, which can lead to anxiety, depression and sleep problems [4]. The brain has a powerful influence on the body’s physiology, and this is why long term stress can also cause high blood pressure, weakness and lethargy, cardiovascular problems and even cancer. There are also clear links between brain health and the strength of the immune system, which is why stress is so often the precursor to general illnesses like the common cold.

Stress accounts for a large amount of sick-leave, and an estimated 1 million Americans are off of work because of stress every single day. Stress therefore has a clear negative impact on the economy. In severe, prolonged cases where stress leads to tangible health problems, the victim may be able to claim against the employer’s insurer, which in turn increases insurance costs and again has a negative economic impact.

Getting to the Heart of the Problem

It is true that stress is not a clear cut issue, but this is just one of the reasons why research into workplace stress needs to continue, and why new methods are being introduced help people spot the signs of stress [1]. For commercial organisations there are definite benefits – both ethical and commercial – in recognising and managing stress in the workplace.

The improvement of corporate stress-management investment, better awareness for and between employees, and the implementation of stress management service providers will have an impact on employee job satisfaction and productivity.

HR Managers and team leaders can play an integral role in the issue of stress in the workplace. Ensuring the fair allocation of workload, having the right staffing level to manage the work, and effective communication across the whole organisation are not insurmountable problems. Communicating with employees about how to recognise stress and offering Time and Stress Management Courses are also practical solutions, as is providing access to Employee Assistance Programs.

Solutions to workplace stress can be surprisingly simple, and the simple solutions are always best because simplicity precludes calm and peacefulness. Simply talking to each other about stress and related problems, like almost all problems in life, is a fantastic way to salve the worst of it and instil confidence and optimism. While we can pick apart each cause, symptom, and relationship surrounding stress, and implement a rigorous, fact-based stress management strategy and use the results to help future sufferers, sometimes all we need is a session with a counsellor, an open discussion with a colleague or manager, or a chat with a friend.. The fact that we are humans with emotional needs tells us half of what we need to know already without relying on science and statistics.

Knowing how to cope with stress and alleviate the problem is what people need the most, and giving them the support and the tools they need to achieve this will hopefully make things better for the future. It would be naïve to say that the root causes of workplace stress will disappear, but we all have cause to hope that the solutions will get better.

Author Biog

Joanna Fishman runs a counselling practice in Sydney which connects clients to clinicians through a broad network of psychologists, psychotherapists and relationship therapists across the greater Sydney area. A large part of their business is the provision of EAP Employee Assistance counselling, which offers business’ access to counselling and trauma relief for their staff. You can read more about Joanna’s EAP service on her website.

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