Introduction: I can’t think of a time that I wasn’t under some type of work-related stress, much of it probably my fault; but anyone who can perform their daily work tasks successfully without stress must have nerves on steel! This article describes ways that both the employee and employer can improve this problem. pat

Addressing Work-related Stress

You feel overloaded at work and they changed your shift schedule again without warning. You can’t get work off of your mind and are having trouble sleeping. To top it off, your stomach is acting up and those nagging headaches are back.When the demands and pressures of your job are too much for you to handle, and you don’t have much control over the situation, you may experience work-related stress (stress caused or made worse by work). If left unchecked for a prolonged period of time, stress can make you sick.

Why it’s important
Work-related stress is widespread. In the European Union, work-related stress is second only to back pain as the most common work-related health problem, affecting 28% of workers. According to a surveyby the American Psychology Association released in early March 2013, one-third of American employees experience chronic stress at work.

Whether it originates from within or out, the pressure to work at optimum pace and performance can take a toll on, and negatively impact, both the organization and the employee. Studies show that stressful working conditions are associated with increased absenteeism, tardiness, high staff turnover, reduced productivity and product/service quality, and increased compensation costs – all of which have a negative effect on the bottom line. The impact of stress on workers may include tobacco, alcohol or drug abuse, violent/bullying behaviour, sleep problems, anxiety, depression, inability to concentrate, and irritability. Chronic stress can also cause health issues such as back problems, heart problems, stomach ulcers, and hypertension, and can weaken the immune system.

Everyone has different thresholds for and triggers of stress, however some workplace factors are more likely to lead to stress than others.

Examples of potential causes of work-related stress include:

  • Training:  lack of training to equip employees for their jobs
  • Job design:  the job is not matched to worker skills and abilities; poor work shift design
  • Role:  lack of clarity about responsibilities and/or expectations; conflicting roles and/or multiple supervisors
  • Culture:  poor communication, poor social environment, lack of support and respect
  • Relationships:  constant discord, bullying, harassment or open aggressive behaviour
  • Control:  no control over planning and deciding how work should be completed, or solving problems
  • Demands:   unreasonable or unrealistic performance targets
  • Physical environment:   excessive noise, poor air quality, uncomfortable temperatures

Although some of these factors may occur in a workplace without leading to stress, the risk for stress increases when these factors occur in combination and/or for prolonged periods of time.

What employers can do

  • Treat all employees in a fair and respectful manner.
  • Match the workload to workers’ capabilities.
  • Assess the risks of work-related stress by looking for pressures at work that could cause high and prolonged levels of stress.
  • Take appropriate action to prevent the pressures from becoming negative stressors.
  • Design meaningful jobs that are stimulating and provide opportunities for employees to use their skills.
  • Allow employees to have control over the tasks they do as much as possible.
  • Clearly define roles and responsibilities.
  • Provide employees with the training, skills and resources they need to do their jobs.
  • Establish work schedules that are compatible with demands and responsibilities outside the job.
  • Involve employees in decision-making and seek their input on issues affecting their jobs.
  • Improve communications and reduce uncertainty about career development and future employment prospects.
  • Value and recognize individuals’ results and skills.
  • Provide opportunities for social interaction among employees.
  • Provide access to Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs).

What employees can do
Often the source of the stress is something that you cannot change immediately. Therefore, it is important to find ways to help maintain good mental health and be proactive in dealing with stress. In the workplace, you may find some of the following tips to be helpful:

  • Try to relax; take several deep breaths throughout the day, or have regular stretch breaks.
  • Take 10 minutes at the beginning of each day to prioritize and organize your day.
  • Be constructive and make practical suggestions.
  • Be realistic about what you can change.
  • Take your breaks. Go for a walk at lunch or do something you enjoy that is not work-related.
  • Take constructive critism for what it is; do not resent it.

Respectful workplaces that encourage good communications and healthy work systems are more likely to have a healthy and productive workforce.

Workplace Stress fact sheet, Health and Safety Report, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety

Note: In reference to the Physical Environment of the workplace, employers must ensure that their employees have the proper personal protective equipment to protect their workers from excessive noises, respiratory problems, and hot/cold environments.