Stress at Work

Stress at Work

A wide range of causes can be responsible for mental health problems, e.g., death of a loved one, trauma, violence, genetic factors or unemployment. The list of causes is almost endless.

Today, I want to focus on a factor that may be the most prominent of all: Stress.

It is during the darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.  – Aristotle Onassis

What is stress? Most of us experience stress at work or at home on a daily basis. For instance, we get stressed out when we have too much on our plate, when someone makes an unreasonable demand or when we feel that we don’t have control over the situation. Stress is mostly connected to negative life events and therefore it is not surprising that most stress definitions carry a negative connotation. For example, the Oxford Dictionary defines stress as “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances”. However, stress does not always have a negative impact on us. It can have positive short-term effects on our body and performance, e.g., burst of energy, heightened memory or an improved immune system. Nevertheless, stress has obvious negative effects on our physical and mental health. Severe stress that lasts over a long time period can lead to depression or anxiety, just to mention two of the most common mental health problems people face.

There are a lot of different sources of stress, but today want to focus on stress at the workplace. Pressure at the workplace is unavoidable due to the demands of most work environments, but when that pressure becomes excessive it can lead to stress. Work-related stress can be divided into two basic categories: Task stressors and environmental stressors. Task stressors are stressors which are connected to the nature of a task, whereas environmental stressors are connected to the environment individuals work in.

Let’s have a closer look at some of the most common task stressors:

-Job content: Job characteristics have a big impact on our stress experience. Demands of a task may be too high or too low. Jobs with high demands are sometimes overwhelming us, whereas jobs with low demands are monotone, lack stimulation or variety which can also cause stress.

-Work load: Most of the time when we have too much to do, we experience time pressure due to deadlines we have to meet. On the other hand, too little to do may also cause stress as we feel a lack of challenge. Please have a look at one of my previous articles if you want to find out more about how to prevent stress by using effective methods of time management.

-Participation and control: Most employees want to have a voice in their organisation. A lack of participation in the decision-making process and a lack of control over work processes can lead to stress. It may sound absurd, but too much control can also stress some people out. Not everyone likes to take a lot of responsibility for processes at work. Therefore, organisation should match applicants’ or employees’ skills and skills required by the position. You want the right people in the right places. At Capacity Trust we help organisations to select the ideal person for a position by using a variety of psychometric and other assessments. Check out our website if you want to find out more about it:

Stress at the workplace is not only caused by stressors connected to tasks, but also by the environment we work in. Therefore, let’s have a closer look at the most common environmental stressors:

– Role conflict and role ambiguity: All of us have more than one role in our life, e.g., one may be a father or husband at home, but also a manager or team member at work. Role conflicts can occur when people’s expectations regarding one role are different or when roles are in conflict with one another. For instance, one of your co-workers gets promoted and acts as your supervisor now, but he is also a good friend of yours. In this example the role as a supervisor and the role as a friend and former co-worker may cause conflict as he has to give you orders and make decisions which may not be in your favour. Role ambiguity occurs when a person is not sure what is expected of him/her. A recently appointed junior manager may not know what his duties are.

-Development, Status and salary: When I asked my granddad why money matters so much to most people, he answer was: ”Money makes the world go around.” However, a high salary is not the most important characteristic of a job for most employees. Most people want a fair payment and appreciation for their work. It is also matters how much the people around us earn as money is connected to status. Researchers asked people to answer the following questions: Would you rather earn 20000 NAD per month while your co-worker (same position) earns 22000 NAD? Or would you prefer to earn 18000 NAD while your co-worker earns 16000 NAD. Interestingly, most people chose the second option which we would consider to be an irrational decision, because the absolute amount of money is smaller than in the first scenario. But it makes total sense when you consider the importance of status, because in the second scenario the individual would earn more than his/her co-worker.

– Interpersonal relationships: Maintaining good interpersonal relationships is important for two reasons: Firstly, good relationships and social support help to prevent stress. Secondly, a solid network keeps your business going and may open new doors for you. It’s important to note that a relationship does not grow if you don’t invest in it. However, it is not always that easy to maintain good relationships and sometimes co-workers or manager don’t treat their fellow colleagues or subordinates the way they should. Bullying and sexual harassment at the workplace are still major problems nowadays. Victims are often too afraid to speak up for themselves as they are scared of the person who did those things to them. Bullying and sexual harassment can have a serious impact on a person’s mental health and should obviously not happen at the workplace or anywhere else. Therefore, watch out for your subordinates and co-workers and report bullying and sexual harassment to your employer.

Taken together, stress is a major threat to our mental health and there are plenty of sources of it at work. In some of my other articles I will show you how you can prevent stress at work by using simple methods such as time management, but also what managers and organisations can do to tackle risks of stress and how to improve their employees’ mental health. I hope you enjoyed reading this article and you are more than welcome to share your insights and questions in the comment section below.

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Why EQ Training?

A comprehensive meta-analysis of the relationship between Emotional Intelligence and health was conducted by Martins, Ramalho & Morin in 2010 where they showed that emotional intelligence is a plausible predictor of health. Ciarrochi, Deane & Anderson (2002) proved emotional intelligence as a distinct construct that is important in understanding the link between stress and mental health.

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