Stress has been endemic for centuries, with the term conjuring images of frantic, hyper-aroused or solemn, withdrawn individuals. While the study of stress and its effects date back to the 1900s, its popularity in both academic and pop culture settings has been rapidly flourishing.
Over the years, stress has been emerging as a grave concern for organizations, bearing a severe economic burden as employees respond to demands or pressures placed on them. Workplace stress has significant effects. For the individual, it leads to an increase in depression, anxiety and sleep disorders or lowered self-esteem and self-efficacy. For the organization, it often means increased attrition rates, absenteeism, reduced productivity and general organizational dysfunction.
Additionally, job stress often is noted as an antecedent factor in the development of burnout, a more extreme stress reaction marked by physical and emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, cynicism and detachment from the workplace (Colligan & Higgins, 2005).
The sources of workplace stress are diverse. At an interpersonal and intrapersonal level, these sources can include life events or daily hassles, conflict management or communication styles, time management, personality traits and perception factors. At an organizational level, common factors that contribute to workplace stress include role ambiguity, role conflict or role overload, decreased autonomy and lack of support from coworkers, supervisors and others.
Stressful life events, whether positive (such as marriage) or negative (such as divorce), and daily hassles can lead to the activation of the flight-or-fight response. The degree of the perceived stress as well as the frequency with which it occurs has been associated with occupational disability and increased mortality risk. The association between life events and stress-related disorders is so strong that Holmes and Rahe (1967) developed the Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS) to help individuals identify major life events that increase susceptibility to illness.
Conflict management and communication styles also can have a major impact on workplace stress. Conflict management refers to the ways that employees manage the stresses of parties seeking to accomplish incompatible goals. Mehrad, Zangeneh, Dokoushkani and Razali (2014) demonstrated that there is a positive correlation between conflict styles and burnout and that conflict management styles can predict later burnout in managers.
Time management also has been found to play an integral role in workplace stress. With the increasing use of technology in organizations, there is now little distinction between the home and the workplace. Organizations expect information and results more quickly than ever. As a result, many employees find themselves constantly crunched for time, rushing to meeting deadlines or constantly working, even on vacation and days off.
Each employee’s attitudes, values and personality traits also have an effect on workplace stress. Researchers Friedman and Rosenman (1974) purported that individuals belonged to either two categories of behavior or personality, Type A or Type B. They purported that Type A personality types were ambitious, competitive, impatient and often aggressive. Type B usually manifested a relaxed and calm attitude, choosing to focus on relationship-building rather than ambitious pursuits. Type As often are seen as workaholics.
Individuals must engage in protective or self-care techniques that can help to mitigate the experience of stress. While organizations should also strive to manage the factors that precipitate and perpetuate stress, the forthcoming changes are often slow, leaving the individual to cope alone. Greenberg (2013) provides some useful tips that can help to attenuate the experience of workplace stress:
- If possible, identify and eliminate the sources of hassles. For example, iron and lay out clothes the night before. Leave home a few minutes earlier to avoid rush hour. Minimize distractions that take away from tasks.
- Identify what you can and cannot change. Often we grumble about things that cannot be readily addressed, such as workplace bureaucracy. Instead, focus on what you can control, such as removing workspace clutter and creating an aesthetic workspace environment
- Create a support group. Social support operates in two ways: by serving as a buffer from the effects of existing stressors or by providing resources that can directly affect the stressor or its effects (Cohen & Wills, 1985). In the workplace, supervisor and coworker support have been found to play an integral role in minimizing one’s risk of job stress. Support by coworkers can be tangible, such as pay, rank or increased influence over decisions, or intangible, such as sharing knowledge, providing encouragement through cheerleading, or demonstrating empathy.
- Engage in physical self-care. This can involve starting an exercise program, changing your diet (such as limiting excess sugar) and curbing bad habits, such as drinking too much caffeine or smoking.
- Engage in psychological self-care. This can include relaxation, meditation or yoga, attending assertiveness or social skills training workshop, or seeking professional help from a psychologist or counselor.
- Find humor every day. Humor has significant health benefits such as producing natural killer cells, immunoglobin and T-cells. Using humor can help to change distress to eustress, helping to mitigate mood disturbances.
Colligan, T. W., & Higgins, E. M. (2005). Workplace Stress: Etiology and Consequences. Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health, 21(2), 89–97.
Friedman, M., & Rosenman, R. (1974). Type A behavior and your heart. In: Alfred, A., (ed.). New York, NY: Knopf.
Holmes, T. H., & Rahe, R. H. (1967). The social readjustment rating scale. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 11, 213.
Mehrad, A., Zangeneh, M., Dokoushkani, F., & Razali, A. (2014). Effect of Conflict Management Styles on Managers’ Burnout at Governmental Guidance Schools in Tehran, Iran. International Journal of Technical Research and Applications, 2(3), 8–10.