Written by Lauren Helm, M.A.
Workplace Stress and Anxiety
“One-fourth of employees view their jobs as the number one stressor in their lives” -Northwestern National Life
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Stress and anxiety typically occur when there is a perceived threat and a lack of resources to cope with this threat. Unfortunately, it is often the case that our jobs become a major source of stress and anxiety in our lives, and are a source of stress over which we may have limited control. Job or workplace stress may affect not only our quality of life, but our ability to do well in our careers. Many workers suffer from excessive stress and anxiety as a result of various job-related stressors. The importance of learning to reduce and manage workplace stress cannot be ignored, particularly when we remember that our jobs may affect multiple domains in our lives, including our time, energy, financial security, and possibly even our sense of satisfaction or purpose in life.
What makes a job stressful? Generally, job stress is a result of an interaction between the worker and the working conditions. In other words, certain people will be more stressed by certain jobs. The personality or coping style of the individual may not be a good fit for the demands of a particular type of job. Some people thrive in fast-paced settings, and others are worn down by them. When the job is not a good fit for the person, typically job stress will occur.
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Though unique worker characteristics often affect a person’s sense of stress in the workplace, for most people, feeling overtaxed, overworked, and minimally supported are universal recipes for increased job stress. Other sources of job stress may be certain workplace conditions that lead to stress, as identified by the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (see NIOSH job stress article here), including the design of tasks (i.e. workload, breaks, length of workdays, tasks that don’t having meaning or provide a sense of control),management style (i.e. poor communication, not involving employees in decision-making), interpersonal relationships (i.e. lack of support from coworkers or supervisors, conflict with coworkers), work roles (i.e. unclear expectations or too many job responsibilities), career concerns (i.e. job insecurity, no room for growth), and environmental conditions (i.e. potentially dangerous working conditions, including crowding, noise, pollution, ergonomic problems). Universal psychological factors discussed in this APA blog that often lead to job stress include a sense of powerlessness and traumatic events that occur while on the job.
“Three-fourths of employees believe the worker has more on-the-job stress than a generation ago” -Princeton Survey Research Associates
Unfortunately, workplace stress can have a profound impact on our physical and emotional well-being. Research on job stress, as summarized by NIOSH, has found that job stress can lead to increased risk of workers developing cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal disorders, psychological disorders, workplace injuries, and possibly even increased risk of suicide, cancer, ulcers, and impaired immune function.
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“According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers who must take time off work because of stress, anxiety, or a related disorder will be off the job for about 20 days.” - Bureau of Labor Statistics
Stress not only affects the quality of life of workers, it also compromises their ability to perform optimally (or sometimes even adequately) at their jobs. NIOSH has found that job stress may lead to an increase in absenteeism, tardiness, and intentions by workers to quit their jobs, which negatively impacts the bottom line. Essentially, more burnout from stress leads to more sick days and performing poorly at work. Ultimately, the business suffers as well as the employee. The NIOSH task force also identified characteristics possessed by “healthy” organizations that are low in job stress and high in levels of productivity, which include: a recognition of employees for good work performance, opportunities for career development, an organizational culture that values the individual worker, management actions that are consistent with organizational values. When employers or organizations take preventative actions by taking good care of their employees, this often benefits the business in the long run.
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A combination of stress management training and organizational change is typically needed to prevent and reduce job stress and its consequences on workers and workplace productivity. Organizational change directly targets the systemic sources, or environmental “triggers” of job stress, and stress management training helps employees to learn better approaches to coping with stress. Stress management workshops often focus on teaching the worker how to better understand what causes stress, how it affects their well-being, what coping techniques are optimal (such as relaxation exercises or mindfulness practice), and how they can better manage their time (i.e. time management skills). These types of trainings often lead to an immediate reduction in workers’ stress, anxiety, and sleep difficulties. Other stress-reduction programs may focus on other aspects of health and well-being, such as nutrition, exercise, assertiveness, and social skills training. However, without complementary organizational change, stress management training may not have a long-term impact on employees’ well-being.
Ultimately, stress both inside and outside of the workplace can have a significant impact on our ability to thrive. Selecting the most supportive work environment possible, and learning how to effectively manage stress, can potentially tremendously impact not only psychological and physical well-being, but work-performance and success as well.
Are you currently experiencing workplace stress that you would like additional help with? Contact us here to set up an appointment with one of our therapists, who use evidence based approaches to stress management and reduction.
In the meantime, here are additional job stress-reduction tips from APA’s blog article “Mind/Body Health: Job Stress”:
- Make the most of workday breaks. Even 10 minutes of "personal time" will refresh your mental outlook. Take a brief walk, chat with a co-worker about a non-job topic or simply sit quietly with your eyes closed and breathe.
- If you feel angry, walk away. Mentally regroup by counting to 10, then look at the situation again. Walking and other physical activities will also help you work off steam.
- Set reasonable standards for yourself and others. Don't expect perfection. Talk to your employer about your job description. Your responsibilities and performance criteria may not accurately reflect what you are doing. Working together to make needed changes will not only benefit your emotional and physical health, but also improve the organization's overall productivity.
Are you an employer who would like to learn more about reducing stress in your workplace? CSAM is proud to offer stress management workshops and trainings to businesses in the San Diego community. If interested in scheduling a stress management workshop for your business, please contact us at 858-354-4077 or click here.
Sauter, S., Murphy, L., Colligan, M., Swanson, N., Hurrell, J., Scharf, F., Sinclair, R., Grubb, P., Goldenhar, L., Alterman, T., Johnston, J., Hamilton, A., Tisdale, J. (1999) Stress...at work. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/99-101/
Miller, L. & Smith, A. Stress in the workplace. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/workplace-stress.aspx
Weiss, S. & Molitor, N. Mind/body health: Job stress. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/job-stress.aspx