Occupational Health: The Problem of Stress in the Workplace


In the contemporary world, stress is characterized as an important factor that has an extraordinary impact on individual health and can be defined from three points of view:

  • As the stimulating approach that determines stress as a characteristic of stimulation in the human environment;
  • As the medical, physiological approach that defines stress as a reaction of the organism to stimuli from the environment;
  • And as the psychological approach that defines stress as an interaction between an individual and the environment.

Workplace stress: What exactly is it?

Workplace stress or job stress is a special kind of stress that has been in the middle of the debate for decades as a leading health problem. The condition of workplace stress is defined as the totality of harmful physiological, psychological and behavioral responses that affect the individual in situations where the job demands are not a match with their abilities, capabilities and needs.

Work-related stress affects everybody. 74% feel stressed when overwhelmed or unable to cope. It impacts employees’ family life, relationship inside and outside of work, their work-life balance, and of course, their productivity.

What one employee may view as stressful, another may view as challenging. Therefore, it is a matter of workplace health and safety, and employers should focus on reducing workplace stressors and their impact.

Stress in the workplace has been associated with high levels of:

  • Staff turnover
  • Unplanned absences, including sick leave
  • Poor product quality
  • poor performance
  • Withdrawal and presenteeism
  • High level of workers’ compensation. Between 2010–11 and 2014–15, about 91% of the claims involving a mental health condition were associated with work-related stress.

Causes of job stress

There are many factors that may cause workplace stress. Some of which are manageable if the right strategies are in place.  A risk management approach can help pinpoint stressors that exist, what causes them, and the best way to restraint them. Some of these factors include:

  • Job insecurity
  • Discrimination
  • Over supervision
  • Tight deadlines
  • Long hours
  • Lack of proper resources
  • Poor relationship with bosses or colleagues
  • Changes to duties
  • Few promotional opportunities
  • Changes within the organization
  • Poor working environment

Signs of workplace stress

The signs of job stress can be behavioral, physical, and psychological, and some are obvious.  They include:

  • Being late at all time
  • Lower tolerance of frustration and impatience
  • Gastrointestinal upsets such as constipation 
  • Distancing from other people at home and at work
  • Getting angry or upset easily
  • A drop in work performance
  • Heart palpitations
  • Feeling edgy at work
  • Cognitive difficulties, such as inability to make decisions.
  • Not wanting to participate in staff events or meetings
  • Feeling overwhelmed and unable to complete tasks

Long-term exposure to work-related stress combined with a lack of mental strength results in depression, anxiety, and burnout syndrome. The symptoms of job burnout are most often investigated in occupations whose domains are:

  • Mental and physical health (nurses, doctors)
  • Education (teachers, educators, defectologists)
  • Human resources management
  • Computer technology
  • Military and police

The consequences of occupational stress have often been investigated by healthcare staff due to their work characteristics.

Apart from healthcare, stress is also present in many other activities, so it is not surprising that this plague’s research is a subject of interest to many experts. Such research aims to spread awareness of the way human functioning works in both personal and professional roles. It also focuses on changes in individuals related to activation, excitement, tension, anxiety, conflict, emotional change, frustration and others, all under the influence of stress.

Triggers of stress

Stress is determined by the totality of emotional, thought, physical, and behavioral reactions caused by the assessment of an event that is dangerous or disturbing, or because of the unsatisfactory requirements. Stress is a state of affairs that occurs when an individual experiences a failure in balancing demands and desires on the one hand, and knowledge of the possibilities of acting on the other side, and at the same time experiencing the sequence of this disbalance as a threatening one.

Workplace stress can be defined as the totality of harmful physiological, psychological, and behavioral responses to situations where job demands are not in accordance with the afflicted person’s capabilities and needs.

Job stress poses a disparity between workplace and environment requirements against the individual’s ability, wishes and expectations to meet the requirements set. The seriousness of stress in the workplace and the adverse consequences of stress is also indicated by the alarming fact that in developed countries this type of stress is the second most common problem associated with affecting many workers after spinal pain.

External and Internal Stressors

External stressors

Sources of stress can be differentiated both as external and internal. Outside stressors are those that derive from the characteristics of the work environment, organization of work, the role and the means of communication in the organization. They include timing of deadlines, lack of influence and power, unclear specific investments, and insufficient number of collaborators in relation to task expectations.

Other external workplace stressors  

  • Unclear sharing of responsibilities
  • Overlapping of responsibilities
  • Unclear conditions of promotion, rewarding and using annual vacations
  • Lack of privileges
  • Job insecurity
  • Lack of a vocational training system in accordance with the changing organization’s needs
  • Lack of feedback
  • Emotional exhaustion
  • Physical assault threats and other aggression
  • Poor psychosocial climate and other unfavorable circumstances.

Internal stressors

Workplace stressors that depend on an individual, or internal stressors, are characteristics of an individual. In this sense, individuals who often have unrealistic job expectations and fail to adapt to the real situation, have a need for oversight of the situation and perfectionism, identify with the job so that it becomes the only area of ​​affirmation, ineffective working hours, do not have a list of working priorities so important to them, they feel professional incompetence, and so on.

Stressors can arise from the characteristics of the work environment, work organization and way of communicating in the organization The characteristics of individuals, as well as numerous other everyday factors that are difficult to qualify in certain categories because they are too dependent on the whole set of relationships in the overall social situation in which they occur.

The Stages of Burnout

The process of burnout at work is characterized by great beginner enthusiasm, in which the person does not use any “emotional protection.” After which, they become vulnerable, emotionally withdraws, lose interest, start blaming others, become cynical, and ultimately “burnouts.”

Phase 1: Work enthusiasm

The first phase —work enthusiasm is characterized by unrealistic expectations of rapid achievement, over-investment in business, and uncritical dedication to work. At that stage, workers work much longer than normal working hours. The gap between invested professional effort and its effects often leads to personal disappointment and is the first sign of helplessness.

Phase 2: Stagnation

At this stage, the worker feels that the achievement in the job is not what they imagined. New consciousness leads to a state of frustration, feelings of disappointment, suspicion of their own competence, the appearance of negativism, and the difficulty of communicating with both co-workers and the clients. Emotional vulnerability of the worker is a characteristic of this phase.

Phase 3: Emotional withdrawal and isolation

The phase of emotional withdrawal and isolation follows shortly after the stagnation stage. The burnout process also accelerates the physical discomfort that occurs at this stage (headaches, chronic fatigue, insomnia, allergies, and the like). Burnout itself is beginning to help the worker create additional stressors and lead to the last stage of burnout at work.

Phase 4: Apathy and loss of life interests

The last phase is the phase of apathy and loss of life interests. This phase appears as a kind of defense against chronic frustration at work. Initial compassion and enthusiasm at this stage have been replaced by cynicism or indifference to problems. Depression indicators in people are clearly visible, and job motivation and personal resources are exhausted.

Benefits of preventing stress on the job

It does pay to prevent stress in the workplace, and with the right approach, employers can ensure employees aren’t subject to unnecessary stress. These are some of the guaranteed benefits to proper management of job stress:

  • Reduced costs to the employer
  • Greater job satisfaction
  • Lower number of sick leave, staff turnover, and absences
  • Reduced symptoms of physical health and poor mental
  • Increased work engagement
  • Better employee health
  • Fewer lost time, injuries and illnesses

Workplace stress is a management issue

Employers have a mandate to recognize that job stress is a weighty health and safety problem and should strive to ensure workers aren’t victims of unnecessary stress. Employers who don’t take any action to curb the impact of stress on work should be ready to battle increased absenteeism, reduced productivity, high turnover rates, and increased healthcare costs.

According to Healthline, job stress costs the U.S. $300b annually. The University of Melbourne and VicHealth further reveals that excessive pressure at work due to job stress costs Australia’s economy $730 million annually. This shows how bad stress is to employees’ health and the financial wellness of any business.

Some of the things employers can do to shield their employees from stress include:

  • Encourage an environment where employees have more say over their safety, duties, and promotional prospects.
  • Ensure everyone is well trained for the job
  • Provide safe working environment
  • Discussing grievances with their workers and taking the necessary actions
  • High more staff to lower the need for overtime
  • Develop a stress management policy
  • Help employees achieve a comfortable work-life balance
  • Strive to have a supportive human resource manager
  • Consult health professional, if necessary
  • Recognition of employees for good work performance

Employees too have a role to play

While employers carry the huge burden of relieving employers workplace stress, employees too have the ability to maintain good mental health and reduce stress in their own lives. Without the commitment and involvement in the process, no matter how hard an employer may try to, the outcome may not be that favourable.  Thankfully, there are many ways employees can achieve this, including:

  • Taking short breaks throughout the day
  • Managing time well
  • Learning to relax
  • Meditating regularly
  • Maintaining a healthy life— for, example, making healthy food choices
  • Communicating effecting with co-workers
  • reaching out for support when necessary. The earlier, the better.

Workplace stress will never be eradicated entirely. However, with effective strategies in place and proper coordination between employees and employers, the impact of job stress can be greatly lessened. And that will go a long way to improve employee morale, health and, of course, their productivity.  

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