Workplace stress is the harmful physical and emotional responses that can happen when there is a conflict between job demands on the employee and the amount of control an employee has over meeting these demands.
Can "workplace stress" be defined?
We hear a lot about stress, but what is it? Taber's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary defines stress as "the result produced when a structure, system or organism is acted upon by forces that disrupt equilibrium or produce strain". In simpler terms, stress is the result of any emotional, physical, social, economic, or other factors that require a response or change. It is generally believed that some stress is okay (sometimes referred to as "challenge"or "positive stress") but when stress occurs in amounts that you cannot handle, both mental and physical changes may occur.
"Workplace stress" then is the harmful physical and emotional responses that can happen when there is a conflict between job demands on the employee and the amount of control an employee has over meeting these demands. In general, the combination of high demands in a job and a low amount of control over the situation can lead to stress.
Stress in the workplace can have many origins or come from one single event. It can impact on both employees and employers alike. As stated by the Canadian Mental Health Association:
Fear of job redundancy, layoffs due to an uncertain economy, increased demands for overtime due to staff cutbacks act as negative stressors. Employees who start to feel the "pressure to perform" can get caught in a downward spiral of increasing effort to meet rising expectations with no increase in job satisfaction. The relentless requirement to work at optimum performance takes its toll in job dissatisfaction, employee turnover, reduced efficiency, illness and even death. Absenteeism, illness, alcoholism, "petty internal politics", bad or snap decisions, indifference and apathy, lack of motivation or creativity are all by-products of an over stressed workplace.
From: Canadian Mental Health Association, "Sources of Workplace Stress" Richmond, British Columbia.
.I have heard stress can be both good and bad. Is this true?
Some stress is normal. In fact, it is often what provides us with the energy and motivation to meet our daily challenges both at home and at the workplace. Stress in these situations is the kind that helps you "rise" to a challenge and meet your goals such as deadlines, sales or production targets, or finding new clients. Some people would not consider this challenge a type of stress because, having met the challenge, we are satisfied and happy. However, as with most things, too much stress can have negative impacts. When the feeling of satisfaction turns into exhaustion, frustration or dissatisfaction, or when the challenges at work become too demanding, we begin to see negative signs of stress. What are examples of things that cause stress at the workplace?
In the workplace, stress can be the result of any number of situations.Can stress cause health effects?
Yes, stress can have an impact on your overall health. Our bodies are designed, pre-programmed if you wish, with a set of automatic responses to deal with stress. This system is very effective for the short term "fight or flight" responses we need when faced with an immediate danger. The problem is that our bodies deal with all types of stress in the same way. Experiencing stress for long periods of time (such as lower level but constant stressors at work) will activate this system, but it doesn't get the chance to "turn off". The body's "pre-programmed" response to stress has been called the "Generalized Stress Response" and includes:
- increased blood pressure
- increased metabolism (e.g., faster heartbeat, faster respiration)
- decrease in protein synthesis, intestinal movement (digestion), immune and allergic response systems
- increased cholesterol and fatty acids in blood for energy production systems
- localized inflammation (redness, swelling, heat and pain)
- faster blood clotting
- increased production of blood sugar for energy
- increased stomach acids
- sleep badly
- over-medicate themselves and/or drink excessively
- feel depressed
- feel anxious, jittery and nervous
- feel angry and reckless (often due to a sense of unfairness or injustice)
- become momentarily (but dangerously) distracted
- make errors in judgment
- put their bodies under physical stress, increasing the potential for strains and sprains
- fail in normal activities that require hand-eye or foot-eye coordination.
Luckily, there are usually a number of warning signs that help indicate when you are having trouble coping with stress before any severe signs become apparent. These signs are listed below.
How do I know if someone is (or if I am) having trouble coping with stress?
There are many different signs and symptoms that can indicate when someone is having difficulty coping with the amount of stress they are experiencing:
Physical: headaches, grinding teeth, clenched jaws, chest pain, shortness of breath, pounding heart, high blood pressure, muscle aches, indigestion, constipation or diarrhea, increased perspiration, fatigue, insomnia, frequent illness.
Psychosocial: anxiety, irritability, sadness, defensiveness, anger, mood swings, hypersensitivity, apathy, depression, slowed thinking or racing thoughts; feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, or of being trapped, lower motivation.
Cognitive: decreased attention, narrowing of perception, forgetfulness, less effective thinking, less problem solving, reduced ability to learn; easily distracted.
Behavioural: overeating or loss of appetite, impatience, quickness to argue, procrastination, increased use of alcohol or drugs, increased smoking, withdrawal or isolation from others, neglect of responsibility, poor job performance, poor personal hygiene, change in religious practices, change in close family relationships.
Below is a quiz from the Canadian Mental Health Association of Ontario you can take to help identify your stress levels: