What is Stress?
Stress can most simply be defined as our body’s reaction to any environmental change. These reactions can be physical, emotional, or mental. When we think of stress itself, we often think of it as a harmful component of our lives. However, stress can be positive as well, and it’s a normal part of everyone’s life. Positive stress can initiate motivation, desire, and alertness. Stress becomes a negative aspect when someone is continuously faced with challenges or hardships and is not granted relief. With that said, this article will focus on the causes and remedies of negative stress in the workplace, as well as the associated health and safety impacts.
Sources of Stress in the Workplace
Since factors affecting the level of stress that an individual is feeling are variable and completely situation-dependent, it is difficult to pinpoint one singular cause of stress. However, we have put together a list of sources that have been known to increase stress levels amongst employees.
The type of assignment and context of the task will have a significant impact. These factors encompass how heavy the workload is, how much time is granted to complete the job, whether or not an employee feels valued at their workplace, how connected or isolated an employee is at the office, the decision-making capabilities a worker is given, and the overall relevance of the task at hand.
A worker’s position within the company will also have an impact on their stress levels. Employees in managerial and supervisory positions will likely be required to deal with more conflicts and a broad spectrum of duties. Furthermore, with more responsibility likely comes increased pressure regarding decision making and longer, more demanding working hours.
How an organization is structured, including the level of communication, performance recognition, and employee engagement, also plays a considerable role in how stressed employees are. Failure to involve employees in key decision-making processes can create feelings of unfairness, lack of support, and lost control, which contributes to increased stress levels at work.
The perceived level of safety at the workplace is an additional contributing factor. The extent to which employees are exposed to hazardous or dangerous conditions at work directly correlates to their stress level. Undesirable conditions can include anything from ergonomic hazards, loud noises, or offensive smells to the presence of dangerous gases or flammable materials. If an employee feels that their safety or comfort is being compromised, their stress will naturally increase.
The last factor that I would like to discuss is job satisfaction. Fear of unemployment or job loss is a huge creator of stress. This could stem from increasing automation and machine learning that has the potential to displace some workers. If an employee feels that they do not have significant growth and development opportunities, this could negatively impact the amount of stress felt as well.
How Stress Affects Worker Health and Safety
Prevalent or continuous stress can result in distress, which can have serious negative impacts on our health. Typical symptoms of excessive stress include headaches, fatigue, muscle pain or tension, higher blood pressure, increased heart rate, chest pain, upset stomach, heightened cholesterol, weight loss or gain, and a compromised immune system. These symptoms are only physical, but stress can have negative consequences for our mental health, as well. Instances of forgetfulness, anxiety, depression, carelessness, or anger may become increasingly more common.
When working from home, the line between your personal and professional life can become increasingly blurred, which can make it difficult to “turn off” and relax. To maintain your emotional and physical well-being while practicing social distancing, here are some additional tips on our previous blog article to keep your two worlds balanced.
How Employers Can Mitigate Workplace Stress
Given the extremely unfavorable outcomes of stress in the workplace, it is worthwhile for an organization to understand the steps it can take to reduce stress for employees. First and foremost, employers need to identify and evaluate potential sources of stress in their workplace to take mitigation seriously. Companies should continuously treat workers fairly and respectfully, always keeping a close eye on symptoms and warning signs of stress. Ensuring that staff is adequately prepared to perform their duties is essential. This can be done through proper training and available support systems. It is also important to make sure that job hours and expectations are reasonable. One of the primary sources of stress for employees stems from unattainable deadlines, unreasonable hours, or unclear duties. Lines of communication must also be kept open, as well as allowing for regular involvement of employees in decision-making processes. Lastly, establishing an evident appreciation for your employees is essential. Health and wellness programs show employees that they are valued and that their mental and physical health is critical to the organization. Direct input from employees via surveys or questionnaires can provide useful feedback about the current state of your workplace.
Managing Personal Stress
In addition to steps that employers can take to help cultivate a reduced-stress work environment, it is important to discuss ways that employees can mitigate stress personally. A healthy work-life balance is something that most individuals in the workforce struggle to find. In general, a healthy work-life balance entails working reasonable hours and prioritizing other aspects of your life – not just your job. A balance helps to lower the chance of becoming burnt out and reduces stress while playing a large part in cultivating a healthy work environment. Furthermore, employees need to be clear on task duties so that they know exactly what is expected of them. Staying organized and planning ahead of time is also important. This will help with time management and reduce the need to multi-task – which can be stressful! Outside of the workplace, maintaining physical health by exercising regularly and eating a well-balanced diet is advantageous. Cultivating and nourishing your mental health will aid in minimizing stress and will benefit you greatly in your workforce. If you are working from home here are best practices you can implement to your daily routine.