Stress levels are on the rise among workers. According to recent studies in the US, nearly 80% of people commonly suffer from work-related stress. With increased workloads and tighter deadlines, some employees find it difficult to adapt to the demanding nature of their roles and often take sick leave to give themselves the space they need. In this blog article, we will go over the main causes and symptoms of stress in the workplace and, better yet, share some tips to help you deal with it!
What is stress?
Stress is a normal human reaction when we experience change or challenges, making us feel under pressure. In general, workplace stress is not necessarily a bad reaction, as it helps us stay focused, perform at our best, and reach our goals. However, if it is not dealt with effectively, the discomfort can snowball, and short-term stress can become chronic, impacting our physical and mental well-being, and potentially leading to depression or burnout.
Workplace stress can have a range of symptoms that can manifest in various ways. These include:
- Physical symptoms such as fatigue, chest pain, muscle aches or headaches, digestive problems, panic attacks, and nausea.
- Mental and behavioral symptoms such as trouble remembering or focusing, anxiety, irritability, mood swings, depression, overeating or undereating, social withdrawal, difficulty sleeping, and substance abuse.
What causes stress in the workplace?
Workplace stress can result from a variety of factors, including:
- Excessive or insufficient workload: when employees are burdened with an overwhelming workload or feel that their skills are not being used effectively. A lack of challenge can be just as stressful as an excessive workload!
- Lack of control: when workers feel they have no control over their tasks or decision-making processes.
- Unrealistic deadlines: when unreasonable deadlines force employees to work long hours, sacrifice personal time, and rush their work.
- Inadequate pay: when employees feel undervalued or unfairly compensated for their work.
- Poor working relationships or lack of support: when managers do not provide support or workers feel isolated due to conflicts with colleagues.
- Bullying or harassment including verbal or physical abuse, discriminatory behaviours, sexual harassment, etc.
- Lack of communication: when employees are not informed about important decisions, which can create feelings of confusion or uncertainty.
- Poor physical environment: when the work environment is uncomfortable or inadequate, such as excessive heat or cold, uncomfortable seating, or other factors that may affect employees’ productivity and focus.
- Adapting to change: it can be in the form of a new team structure, new management or new processes that require employees to learn new skills, adopt new technologies, or adjust their working styles.
Fortunately, employers and leaders can take proactive steps to reduce workplace stress and promote a healthy work culture. By acknowledging the sources of stress and working to address them, organisations can create a supportive environment that promotes employee well-being, engagement and productivity.
How can leaders help reduce the impact of stress?
Leaders can play a significant role in reducing the impact of stress in the workplace. Here are some practical strategies:
- Erase the stigma surrounding mental health: foster a culture of openness around mental well-being by discussing signs of stress in your meetings and providing employees with a range of resources to support their mental health, such as counselling sessions or seminars on stress management.
- Encourage open communication: creating an open and supportive work environment by encouraging employees to share their concerns can help them feel valued and reduce their stress levels.
- Implement a non-toxic management strategy: give your managers tips on how to offer constructive criticism to help employees improve their skills. An effective tip for giving constructive criticism is to provide actionable feedback with specific examples of how they can improve. By giving actionable advice, the focus shifts from dwelling on the past to finding solutions for the future!
- Involve employees in taking personal protective measures: encourage employees to participate in wellness programmes and promote work-life balance by offering flexible work schedules, remote work, or time off when needed.
How can employees minimise the effects of stress in the workplace?
While leaders can create a supportive work environment, employees also have a role to play in managing their stress levels. Below are some tips for managing stress on an individual level:
- Understand triggers: keep a journal to find out which situations cause the most stress, and practise swapping unhealthy coping strategies for healthier ones, such as deep breathing or mindfulness.
- Invest in healthy relationships: getting to know your colleagues can help you work together more effectively and support each other during challenging times.
- Maintain a strong work-life balance: make room in your schedule for activities you enjoy, and set clear boundaries when working from home. This may include taking breaks or not working after a certain time of day.
- Set realistic goals: setting achievable goals can help lower stress levels and increase motivation. Break down large tasks into smaller, manageable tasks so you do not feel overwhelmed.