Every year in most modernized countries thousands of workdays are lost because of workplace stress. Records show that workplace stress is one of the primary causes of employee absences each year. Because we live and work in an ever more competitive world where long hours are increasingly the norm, handling workplace stress has never been more important.
So what exactly is workplace stress?
From the outset we must distinguish the difference between workplace stress and the daily challenge that work often presents us in our normal working environment. Many people actually seem to thrive on their workplace stresses and often find them rewarding to the extent that they feel fulfilled when they’ve overcome particular challenges.
However, workplace stress is very different and is often caused by the feeling that the job demands are overbearing or unattainable, a burden that can result in physical and mental effects on an individual. Many work-related accidents can be directly attributed to unchecked stress levels, which often cause exhaustion or mental burnout as a result of feeling unable to meet targets or what are perceived to be unreasonable work demands.
What causes stress in the workplace?
Many things can act as a trigger and something that triggers stress in one person may not affect another. It is quite common to have two or more people working under what would appear to be similar circumstances and yet only one person may succumb to workplace stress. Usually this is a cumulative effect of a number of factors.
These factors may include:
• Excessive and unreasonable demands with regard to managing workload versus time
• Long shifts and insufficient work breaks
• Poor communication within the company and bad management practices
• Low staff morale and lack of cooperation between work colleagues
• Poorly defined work roles or uncertain job expectations
• Career concerns such as job insecurity and lack of career development
• Poor environmental conditions
Workplace stress management
As workplace stress becomes more common or at least more recognizable, many companies are taking steps to reduce the factors that can lead to it. Training should be given to managers at all levels and HR professionals to help reduce stress, and such workplace stress management should include ensuring that each individual’s workload is in line with his or her abilities and resources.
Companies and managers who engage workers in decisions that affect them will help to foster a culture of open communication. Methods to boost staff morale should be explored as a motivated staff will help to reduce or collectively manage workplace stress.
Coping as an individual
If you are feeling the effects of workplace stress, tell your colleagues. Don’t bottle up the feelings and keep them to yourself; it will only make the situation worse. Most workers will be reluctant to address their concerns to their manager or employer for fear that this may affect their job or promotional prospects.
Unfortunately, sometimes you are going to have to say “no” to unreasonable requests. If that happens, just explain your reasoning calmly and clearly but be firm.
Keeping a healthy balance in your personal life, along with a balanced diet, some exercise and regular sleep patterns, will go a long way to help to prepare both body and mind for the stress of the work environment. Find time for relaxation with your friends and family and pursue things away from work in your free time.
Eamonn Sadler is a writer and a columnist for Safety 360. He is based in Jakarta and was formerly a firefighter in Britain.