Navigating workplace stress is a universal challenge faced by both employees and managers. While we may believe we understand stress, a closer examination of its origins and implications is imperative to get the full picture. According to guidelines from Cal/OSHA, detrimental workplace stress isn’t solely confined to imminent stressors like tight deadlines, overflowing inboxes, or the daily commute. It is deeply rooted in jobs that demand a significant commitment from employees while affording them minimal control over how their responsibilities are carried out. Additionally, organizational practices that exclude employee participation or input contribute significantly to the stressors within the workplace.
This broader definition emphasizes the critical aspect of having too much responsibility for workplace issues over which employees have little control. For instance, managing an international banking consortium might not be as harmfully stressful as working in a mailroom with inefficient equipment, showing that stress is not exclusively tied to the magnitude or scope of the job.
Numerous studies underscore that perceived high demands and limited control are correlated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease among workers. Shockingly, today’s US workers put in longer hours than ever before, working three months per year longer than their German counterparts and one month longer than workers in Japan, as reported by The American Institute of Stress. This extended working time leaves ample room for stress to manifest and take a toll on both physical and mental well-being.
External and Internal Factors Contribute to Stress
The American Psychological Association Center for Organizational Excellence reports that a staggering 65 percent of employees cite work as a significant source of psychological symptoms of stress. These symptoms range from depression and anxiety to chronic stress, which manifests physically with symptoms such as low energy, headaches, upset stomach, tense muscles, chest pain, insomnia, and frequent colds and infections.
While external factors such as job pressure, co-worker tension, and work overload undoubtedly contribute to stress, Laurie Erdman, a business coach, challenges the conventional understanding. Erdman argues that stress begins in our minds through thoughts and beliefs. She posits that stress doesn’t solely come from the external environment but is a result of the intricate relationship between the individual and their surroundings. This perspective emphasizes the need for a holistic approach to addressing workplace stress.
A Joint Effort to Manage Workplace Stress
To empower employees in managing workplace stress, it’s crucial for individuals to take ownership of their mental well-being. Practical strategies include training oneself to neutralize stress by understanding its origins, practicing stress exposure to desensitize the body’s biological response, replacing harmful thoughts with positive, gratitude-filled thoughts, and prioritizing activities like meditation, exercise, and maintaining a healthy diet.However, the responsibility doesn’t rest solely on the shoulders of employees. Managers play a pivotal role in mitigating workplace stress and fostering a healthier work environment. Actively listening to employees’ concerns, encouraging workplace camaraderie by making time for socialization during and after business hours, helping employees strategize workflow to replace multitasking with “serial mono-tasking,” limiting unplanned overtime, and considering more flexible work options are managerial interventions that can significantly enhance employees’ sense of control.
Stress as a Catalyst for Change
The stakes are undeniably high in the battle against workplace stress, given its deleterious effects on employee health, morale, and productivity. Recognizing helplessness and lack of control as formidable adversaries prompts both managers and employees to identify and address some of the root causes. By collectively addressing these core issues, workplaces can cultivate an environment where stress is not just managed but transformed into a catalyst for positive change, leading to improved overall well-being and heightened productivity. In this collaborative approach, employees and managers can work together to create a workplace that thrives on a culture of well-being and resilience.