Stress in the Workplace – An Overview

by stresswinner on December 23, 2009

“My father taught me to work; he did not teach me to love it”. Abraham Lincoln

The shrill blaring of the alarm drills into your brain and jolts you out of your restless sleep. With eyes heavy as lead, you drag your aching body to work. Nowadays, with half the people gone, you have to go flat out or risk being downsized next – but your incompetent boss doesn’t really care. You stay late, then there’s a traffic jam, heavy rain, and more bad news on the radio. Getting home is no relief – usually when you see your spouse it’s one big fight – mostly about money. The kids are a worry too – and thinking about work stops you sleeping again.

Sounds like a bad dream? It is, but parts of it are reality for many people today. Workplace stress can wreck your health and career and jeopardize personal and family happiness. Stress is very bad for business, it’s a major factor in injuries, absenteeism and illness – costing an estimated $2600 per year per employee!

Certain jobs such as air traffic controller have always been considered stressful, but research shows that secretaries actually suffer more stress than controllers. Why? Little control over a heavy workload, a vague role, low status – and low pay. Work stress is not related to any specific occupation, but to how well we are suited to our work – and how much control we have. An incompetent, unappreciative or vindictive boss can make any workplace intolerable. On the other hand, people cope pretty well with even the toughest, dirtiest job if there’s some meaningful result at the end of the day – a product, a worthwhile service – or a big pay cheque.

Stress is really a situation in which our problems seem bigger than we are – for more than a short time. To cope, we must become equal to our problems, if possible by reducing them but also by making ourselves stronger. What aspects of your job give you most stress? Is it excessive workload; rapid changes; uncertainty about your role; lack of support and feedback from management; boredom; dealing with difficult people; shift work; commuting and travel; noise, pollution, danger; balancing work and family commitments – or all of the above? Listing problems on paper helps you find creative solutions.

How can workplace stress be alleviated?

Employers must recognize the massive human and financial cost. Although most employers say they can’t afford programs to reduce it, the reality is that they cannot afford not to – there’s good evidence that reducing harmful stress will improve productivity and reduce losses. Effective options include: listening to employee’s concerns and actually doing something; changing stress producing policies; identifying , educating, elevating or replacing toxic managers; providing information and opportunities for dealing with work, personal and health problems – and assisting people in balancing work and family commitments.

Society should find ways to enable a parent to interrupt their career to raise young children – without loss of seniority or benefits and without excessive financial penalty. Children are our most valuable investment!

Individuals must take responsibility for their health, time, money, relationships and their responses to workplace problems. Will stress destroy us – or present an opportunity for personal growth and greater happiness? It’s our choice!.

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