Job Stress: Your complete guide to office survival
Humans are difficult. We get stressed out looking for a job when we don’t have one, and then once we get a job, we blame our stress on all the work. In short, for one reason or another, we are always stressed out, which is why it’s important to know how to face it head on and learn to cope. Learn everything you need to know about job stress, what is it, types, causes, signs, and symptoms, how does it affect productivity, prevention and more.
What is Job Stress?
Job stress is very common in the industrialized society, where the pressure to succeed and increase productivity becomes a priority. This increased pressure can cause physical and/or mental strain in workers, affecting their health. All types of work stress appear when work demands exceed the worker’s ability and he can’t cope or control them. They lead to physical and mental exhaustion as well as irritability and depression.
The International Labor Organization refers to job stress as a “dangerous disease for industrialized and developing economies; harming production, by affecting the physical and mental health of workers.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) also stresses the importance of this type of stress, treating it as a “growing global epidemic” and is bound to become the new epidemic of the 21st century.
Job stress can sometimes be confused with a challenge when people say a bit of stress is good for you. A challenge energizes us psychologically and physically, and it motivates us to learn new skills. It is an important component for healthy and productive work. However, challenges can become a problem when they become job demands that can’t be met, turning into job stress.
What causes Job Stress?
Job stress originates from the interaction between the worker and his work conditions. There have been many theories, among them, there is the belief that personality and coping styles contribute greatly to job stress. This train of thought establishes that not all stimuli are stressful for everyone, making individual differences the main difference between experiences of job stress. This viewpoint establishes preventions strategies that focus on the workers and ways to help them cope with their work environment.
Other scientific evidence suggests that it is the work conditions contribute more to job stress. Excessive workload, conflicting expectations, and over time are the main reasons why job stress is so common. Their aim is to prevent job stress by job redesign into friendlier work conditions.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) takes into account both viewpoints, however, establishing that work conditions play a primary role. Stressful working conditions or job stressors can influence a worker safety and health. However, it’s not limited to this, but personal problems and other situations can interfere with job stress.
NIOSH established a model where Job Stress is explained. They also proposed 3 factors to help reduce the effects of stressful working conditions.
These three factors are:
- Balance between work and family or personal life
- A support network of friends and coworkers
- A relaxed and positive outlook
Job Stress- Types
Types of work stress are divided into two categories.
1. Job stress according to its duration and scope.
- Episodic work stress: this type of stress is produced in a punctual way, so it is characterized by its brief duration and sporadic nature. Some examples are a spike in temporary work, a discussion with your superiors or peers, a dismissal situation, etc. In many cases, it is a situation limited in time, so its effects are usually not very prominent and usually pass as soon as this situation is solved.
- Chronic work stress: it happens because of repeated and prolonged exposure to several stressors in the work environment. It can also happen as an evolution of episodic work stress, which has been increasing in the employee. Some situations that can produce this type of stress such as continuous discussions with superiors and coworkers, work instability and continuous transfers, and constant pressure on the job. Chronic work stress is more harmful and can have serious consequences in the long and medium term, so in these cases, it is advisable to go to a specialist.
2. Job stress whether it’s positive or negative.
- Eustress (positive): is an effective and positive response to stress by our body, which is prepared to face new situations or require greater concentration. This kind of work stress is beneficial because it motivates and increases our capabilities and productivity. This video explains how we can see stress as something positive and use it to face different challenges, as long as it does not overwhelm us, of course.
- Distress (negative): This kind of work stress happens when stressful situations outweigh us or when they are repeated continuously. This type of stress is harmful to the body and reduces our ability to work.
If negative and chronic job stress can not be solved in time, it can have very harmful effects on the worker, so it is best to end it by changing our work situation or by going to a specialist who can teach us how to manage it.
Job Stress- signs and symptoms
Constant pressure and chronic job stress can lead to the following symptoms:
- Sleep disturbances
- Concentration Problems
- Short Temper
- Cardiovascular Disease.
- Musculoskeletal Disorders: back and upper- extremity musculoskeletal disorders.
- Psychological Disorders: mental health problems, anxiety symptoms, depression, reduced attention, etc.
- Workplace Injury
- Suicide, Cancer, Ulcers, and Impaired Immune Function
Job Stress and Productivity
There is a constant belief that for a company to be great it must pressure its employees to perform twice as hard as before, setting aside the workers needs and personal life. However, research shows that job stress and stressful work settings are related to more absenteeism, tardiness and quitting intentions. A healthy organization is one that has low rates of illness, injury, and disability but is also competitive in the marketplace. Some of the characteristics a company should have are:
- An organizational culture that values the individual worker
- Management actions that are consistent with organizational values
- Recognition of employees for good work performance
- Opportunities for career development
Companies that care for their workers are more productive. Companies that invest in their worker’s education, updating knowledge or even cognitive abilities have less quitting intentions and high feelings of belonging. CogniFit offers the possibility to train your employee’s cognitive skills in a fun and dynamic way, reducing pressure through brain games.
St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Company conducted several studies on the effects of stress prevention programs in hospital settings. They applied a few of these suggestions and noticed a 50% decline in medication errors. In a second study, there was a 70% reduction in malpractice claims in 22 hospitals that implemented stress prevention activities. In contrast, there was no reduction in claims in a matched group of 22 hospitals that did not implement stress prevention activities.
According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers who must take time off work because of stress, anxiety, or a related disorder will be off the job for about 20 days.
Job Stress and Company Prevention
If your company seems to be going down positions in the marketplace it might be because your workers are suffering from job stress or anxiety due to excessive work pressure. Here are a few tips you company should do to tackle this issue:
1. Identify the Problem
The first thing is to identify what is happening and in what department. Holding group discussions with employees, surveys, job perception, stress, and satisfactions tests are all tools that will allow for your workers to speak their mind without fear. These tools provide rich sources of information and can help you track down and remedy the stress problems in the company.
2. Design and Implement Interventions
The first thing you need is an objective, you need to target the source of stress in order to be able to change it. Plan out your intervention, dividing it into stages where you have laid out each step towards your general goal. Communicate your intervention to the employees so that they are aware something is being done and quitting intentions can be lowered. Implement your intervention plan with the human resources department as help, so that tasks are divided and efficiency increased.
3. Evaluate the intervention
Apart from evaluating your job, it’s important to receive feedback from your employees. You have evaluate if the effects desired were achieved. Therefore if a satisfaction scale was performed initially, apply it again and compare results. If the plan was efficient the score will rise. These evaluations should be short and long term, seeing as it’s important to see if the changes remain in time. If the desired outcome was not reached, start over and design another intervention and strategy.
Job Stress and Workers
If you feel like you are suffering from job stress do not despair here are a few tips to help you overcome job stress.
1. Wake up early
Most of us think that waking up early is the heart of all of our problems. But, as contradictory as it seems, try to wake up and eat breakfast, take a shower, and maybe even get some exercise in. This way we’ll start the day relaxed and ready to work, without any of the stress. As they say in the movies, it’s just crazy enough to work.
2. Eat a good breakfast
Try to get some Vitamin C, oranges, lemons, raspberry, etc. Vitamin C helps your body stave off stress. Eating well will also keep your brain in tip-top shape. Keep in mind that getting up to get coffee every 15 minutes doesn’t actually count as breakfast and having that much caffeine doesn’t help calm you down.
3. Make priorities
Figure out what is more important and make sure to do those things first. Once you get those things done, you’ll feel less stressed and in a better mood. Unfortunately, checking your Facebook or the score from the game last night falls at the end of the list.
If your in the position to do so, share some of your workload with others and free yourself up a little bit. Today, most bosses have learned how to delegate work to their subordinates which really does give them more free time, even though all they’re really doing is pawning their work off onto someone else, or what the experts call “the circle of life”
5. Take action
Chronic stress can destory your confidence, concentration, and well-being. Stress pops-up when you feel like you can’t control what’s going on around you. That’s why you have to realize what things are in your control and what are not. Once you do this, focus on the things you know you can do. As for the rest, take a pointer from Frozen and let it go.
6. Take deep breaths
Inhale for 5 seconds, hold it, and exhale for another 2 seconds. Breathing techniques can come in handy for managing stress and keeping focused.
7. Avoid interruptions
Calls, e-mails, text messages… ignore all this while you’re working, because these interruptions can affect your concentration and quality of work. Plan some times to check your phone and try to control all the distractions that you can. It goes without saying that watching cat vidoes is pretty far down on your list of priorities.
8. Take a break
The more time we spend at the office, the less we are able to concentrate. This is why it’s so important to take breaks to achieve maximum productivity. Each hour, take a 10 minute break. Take advantage of this time to stretch and get rid of the tension you’re feeling. This is a good excuse to go back to the coffee machine, but remember to try to control your caffeine impulses. We don’t want you getting a caffeine high.
9. Identify self-imposed job stress
Sometimes we look for approval from others and we work more than we should. This isn’t healthy. Try to feel good about yourself without seeking approval from others, but that doesn’t mean you should show up to work in your pjs.
10. Organize your work day
A wise man said to “expect the unexpected”. It’s true that you never know what little surprise your boss will come up with next. But if you have your day planned and you know what to expect from her, you’ll be more relaxed and ready to face any job stress
Hope you enjoyed this article and feel free to leave a comment below!
Alejandra is a clinical and health psychologist. She is a child specialist with a diploma in evaluation and intervention in autism. She has worked in different schools with young children and private practice for over 6 years. She is interested in early childhood intervention, emotional intelligence, and attachment styles. As a brain and human behavior enthusiast, she is more than happy to answer your questions and share her experience.
This post is also available in: Spanish