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Stress at Work


stress at work

How Can Company Leaders Reduce Stress at Work?

Regardless of personal temperament or occupational suitability, no one is immune from the adverse effects of stress at work. The human body maintains its primitive fight or flight response to stressful situations that sometimes overrule intellectual solutions. These can be triggered just as easily sitting at a desk while experiencing psychological duress as in the wild. Once the brain perceives a stressor, a physical and emotional response can prove unhealthy for workers.

The American Psychological Association recently published a study indicating stress at work increased from 64 percent in 2019 to 70 percent in 2020 based on the responses of more than 3,000 respondents. But by identifying the telltale signs and understanding the nature of stress at work, industry leaders enjoy an opportunity to implement thoughtful policies and introduce mindful strategies to improve workplace wellness.

What Are the Signs of Stress at the Workplace?

It’s essential for employers and employees to distinguish between experiencing short-lived and pervasive stress at work. One would expect some degree of occasional discomfort that arises from workplace challenges and occasional friction with a co-worker or a supervisor. Infrequent stress typically poses no significant health or wellness risk. But ongoing adversity and unresolved personal issues tend to wear everyday people down mentally, spiritually, and physically.

When otherwise good people are thrust into workplace situations rife with stress and feelings of anxiety, the body can respond by heightening its activity. In other words, stress at work causes the biological systems to race without a physical reason. That’s why ongoing stress at work usually results in signs that include the following.

  • Fatigue
  • Headaches & Muscle Pain
  • Nausea, Diarrhea or Constipation
  • Insomnia
  • Mood Disorders
  • Strained Relationships
  • Chest Pains & Rapid Heart Rates
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Shallow Breathing & Sweats
  • Memory Loss or Confusion

Other signs of stress at work may prove more difficult to identify. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that serious conditions such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, ulcers, impaired immune function, and increased risk of suicide have roots in stress at work.

What Triggers Stress at Work?

To some degree, what triggers stress at work can be very subjective. Some people thrive in fast-paced environments and those that place significant responsibility on their shoulders. A person’s personality type may make them better suited than others to work as an airline pilot, attorney, or customer care representative. Although matching the right employee to the task can minimize occupational stress, some workplace stressors apply regardless of the fit. These include the following.

  • Unreasonable Expectations: When employers require team members to meet unrealistic deadlines or productivity measures, employees often find themselves suffering heightened and ongoing stress. Dedicated employees may endure longer, unpaid hours or take work home to comply. This only exacerbates workplace stress.  
  • Lack of Support: Staff members must have all the tools and resources in place to complete projects on time. Without that support, everyday people feel hamstrung throughout the process. Lack of support creates a constant state of stress at work.

Poor communication also leaves an information and expectation gap between staff members and supervisors. As a result, employees experience stress at work each time they try to move forward with a task because they carry a daunting feeling of uncertainty and insecurity.

Stress at Work or Employee Burnout?

Although stress at work and employee burnout are considered different conditions, the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Under stressful conditions, a person struggles to manage the challenges and duress. These conditions certainly put staff members on the road to employee burnout unless they are corrected. But when people pass a mental tipping point, they experience a physical sense of fatigue and psychological disillusionment. Basically, they have run out of professional gas when burnout occurs.

Stress at Work vs Pressure at Work?

It’s not uncommon for business professionals to misinterpret feelings of stress at work versus pressure. When carrying out a pressure-filled task, many of the mental and physical traits appear similar. Rapid heart rates, anxiety, and a general sense of being overwhelmed can accompany both.

But the critical difference stems from the short-term nature of workplace pressure. A team member may have an impending deadline or need to work at a high level to produce an outcome that exceeds industry standards. After completing the pressure-filled task or project, the person may feel elated about their success or disappointed if they missed the mark. Either way, the pressure fades into the ether.

People who suffer pervasive stress at work rarely get the mental relief that comes with project completion. Many are like ducks on the water who appear relatively calm on the surface despite the fact they are internally paddling a mile-a-minute.

How to Deal With Stress at Work

Ranked among the common pitfalls that stressed-out employees fall into involves skipping scheduled breaks and lunch to get caught up. More than a few stressed staff members bring work home to complete on nights and weekends in an effort to lower stress at work. Unfortunately, such strategies usually backfire because they erode the professional and personal life barriers needed for robust health and wellbeing.

People experiencing stress have options inside and outside the workplace. One of the tried-and-true strategies involves setting boundaries between their professional and personal life. For example, take scheduled workday breaks, leave tasks in the office, and communicate to direct supervisors when additional support to complete tasks is required.

How to Handle or Manage Stress at Work

Lowering stress at work requires something of a team effort between management and staff members. Employees can help provide valuable information by taking the time to track their stressors. Creating a journal or spreadsheet regarding workplace stressors can be an invaluable resource. Articulating the need to have the following items in place can also help reduce stress at work.

  • Time to Recharge After a Pressure Situation
  • Spaces Employees Can Relax Away from Workplace Influences
  • Increased Support to Accomplish Goals More Efficiently

Other healthy responses to stress at work involve utilizing time during breaks to practice yoga, mindfulness, and meditation. These practices can help steady both biological and emotional responses to pressure and stress. It’s crucial for today’s industry leaders to consider creating a work environment that fosters personal growth and wellbeing while eliminating unnecessary stress.

How to Overcome Stress at Work

Overcoming stress at work requires a concerted effort on behalf of company leaders to transform the environment into a healthy professional space. The Wall Street Journal published a piece called “How to Deal With Stress at Work” that urges CEOs and other business professionals to lead by example in terms of empathy and compassion. Identifying the telltale signs of stress and discussing them in an open, nonjudgmental fashion can quickly reduce tension.

Leaders Have An Opportunity To Minimize Stress at Work

Decision-makers would also be well-served to implement structured mindfulness and meditation opportunities, so their valued employees can recharge. The outcomes of a healthy work environment that minimizes stress typically increase productivity, collaboration, and improved goal achievement.



Caring For Remote Employees

Many organizations continue to work in remote and hybrid models as the pandemic winds down, but many employees, when given the option to return to work, would actually prefer to continue working remotely. Our new guide, Taking Care of Remote Employees: The Key To Business Success Beyond the Pandemic, gives you actionable steps to ensure that your employees feel supported no matter where they are working. 

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