This paper will discuss the topic of work-related stress and its management. It will present a general introduction or definition of stress and will discuss several subtopics related to work stress. This paper will present several subtopics including a model of stress known as the General Adaptation Syndrome, the causes of stress, the consequences of stress, and how to manage work-related stress. A solution for the problem of work-related stress will be presented. This paper will present a solution that entails how to cope with stress, and how to eliminate, or at least reduce, the amount of work-related stress. In general, this paper will present what stress is, what causes work-related stress, what the consequences of stress are, and how to deal with stress in the workplace.
Work-Related Stress and its Management
What is stress? Stress is generally defined as “an adaptive response to a situation that is perceived as challenging or threatening to the person’s well-being.” Stress is also a physiological and psychological condition that prepares an individual to adapt to an environment that is hostile or threatening. Although stress is usually thought of as a negative experience, there is actually another type of stress that is necessary and beneficial. So there are really two types of stress – distress and eustress. Distress is what is commonly known as a negative experience. It is the amount of difference between healthy and unhealthy physiological, psychological, and behavioral functioning. On the other hand, eustress activates and motivates an individual to accomplish and succeed in challenging goals in life. In other words, eustress is a necessary part of one’s life.
For example, if an employee is working on an important and challenging project at work, he or she will certainly have some stress. However, this type of stress could be eustress. This employee is motivated to accomplish the goal and also realizes that the stakes are high. The pressure of getting the job done right and on time will cause this person to have eustress. This “good” type of stress will activate and motivate the employee to get the job done and do his or her best on it. In general, distress can be thought of as “bad stress” and eustress can be thought of as “good stress” (Glinow & McShane, 2012, p. 83-84). This paper will be discussing distress in the workplace and how to cope with it. Stress is a general term that could apply to other environments in life; however, this paper will focus on work-related stress or “occupational stress.”
An important model of stress that explains the stress experience in more detail is known as the General Adaptation Syndrome. Stress is how an individual responds to a stressor. A stressor is something real or imagined that causes stress (Wikipedia, 2012). Stressors can be physical or emotional events that are perceived as threatening to an individual (The Free Dictionary, 2008). Acute stressors affect someone in the short-term and chronic stressors affect someone in the long-term. The General Adaptation Syndrome is a model that explains the stress experience of an individual over a period of time. This model consists of three stages – Alarm, Resistance, and Exhaustion (the third stage could be Exhaustion or Recovery). The first stage, Alarm, consists of two phases – Shock Phase and Antishock Phase. In the Shock Phase, an event or situation occurs that shocks the individual. In the Antishock Phase, a person will respond to the stressor or threat once he or she realizes what the stressor is. In this phase, the person is in a state of alarm.
The person’s level of resistance to this stressor drops below normal (Wikipedia, 2012). The immune system is also weakened in this stage which can make an individual more prone to sickness (The Free Dictionary, 2008). The second stage, Resistance, is when an individual’s level of resistance to the stressor increases above normal. The individual is able to adapt to the stressor. However, if the stressor persists, then the individual will not be able to handle the stress for long. In this stage, the individual’s energy is being depleted. The third and final stage, Exhaustion, is when an individual’s level of resistance to the stressor decreases dramatically until it goes below the normal level. In this stage, an individual’s energy has run out and he or she is unable to maintain normal body functioning. If the stressor continues, long-term damage could occur to the person’s body. The body’s immune system is weakened which can result in being more prone to sickness. An alternative to the Exhaustion stage is the Recovery stage. This stage occurs when an individual is able to successfully cope with and overcome the stressor (Wikipedia, 2012).
This paper will be specifically discussing and analyzing work-related stress. So, what is work-related stress? Work-related stress, also known as occupational stress, is stress related to the workplace. Work-related stress can occur in an individual when his or her workplace has a highly demanding environment or job and he or she does not have the ability to completely deal with the demanding workplace or complete the demanding job (Wikipedia, 2012). There are several other factors that can cause work-related stress which will be presented in this paper.
Now that a definition and model of stress have been presented, this paper will focus on the causes of stress, known as stressors, as it relates to the workplace. There are several factors that cause or contribute to work-related stress. Work overload is one particular cause of stress at work. An individual can be stressed when his or her workload is too demanding and there is a high amount of time pressure. In other words, having a difficult or large amount of work that has to be accomplished in a short period of time can cause stress in a worker. An employee can be stressed by feeling pressured to get a difficult job done by a certain time that her or she feels is too soon. If the performance expectations and the time allocated to complete a particular job are unrealistic, this can stress out an employee. Stress can also occur in situations where there is too much work for the number of employees. Low task control is another cause of stress at work. An individual can be stressed when he or she does not have enough control over his or her work. For example, an employee has low task control when he or she does not have enough control or influence over how the work is organized and performed or does not have enough say in work-related decisions. Stress also occurs when the individual does not have enough control over setting the deadlines for when jobs should be completed, does not have enough say in what level of performance should be expected, and so on.
Bad work relationships can also be a work-related stressor for an individual. Most occupations involve dealing with other people. Therefore, if an individual does not have good relationships with fellow co-workers or supervisors, this can be a cause of stress. If an individual is not treated fairly and is not well supported by his or her co-workers or supervisors, he or she will have occupational stress. If a supervisor aggressively manages the workplace, does not have good leadership skills, is not understanding and supportive, finds faults in employees most of the time, or harasses employees, this can cause his or her employees to have stress. If employees are not understanding and supportive, harass others, do not perform their fair share of the workload, or take the credit for others’ work, this can cause their co-workers to have stress. Employees who feel isolated at work also have stress. Job insecurity is another cause of work-related stress. People prefer to have a high level of job security, not a low level of job security.
People would like to feel assured that they will have a job for a long period of time and be able to physically survive. Job insecurity and job changes cause stress in individuals. A feeling of job insecurity and the stress that results from it can be caused by having a non-permanent job (such as a fixed or temporary term contract), and expecting future job changes. Lacking a good work-life balance can also be a stressor in one’s life. If there is not a good balance between the amount of work and personal life, then the pressures of a difficult workload can affect an individual’s personal or home life. As a result, the health of an individual’s personal or home relationships (such as family and friends) can be jeopardized. The factors that can cause imbalance between work and life include long work hours (including working at home), demanding work schedules that are inflexible, and lots of work-related traveling. These factors can interfere with an individual’s personal life and jeopardize his or her relationships at home. An inadequate level of resources and communication is a factor that can cause work-related stress.
In order to efficiently and effectively work in an organization, employees need an adequate amount of training, communication, equipment, and resources. Employees need to be trained in order to know what they’re doing and effectively perform their job and they need to have the right equipment and resources available. In addition, employees and supervisors need to be involved in an adequate level of communication with each other. Employees need to know what is going on in the organization so they have the appropriate knowledge to work effectively. Employees also need to have feedback provided to them about their performance in order to know if they are performing well or poorly. This feedback information can help employees know why they are doing well or know how to improve their performance if they are performing their jobs poorly. If any of these factors related to resources and communication in an organization are lacking or are not at an adequate level, then the individual or individuals working in this organization will experience occupational stress. An inadequate amount of salary and benefits could cause an individual to experience stress.
If an employee is working hard and not receiving what he or she deserves, then he or she will be stressed out. Also, certain factors of a job itself and the work environment can cause stress in an individual. These particular factors include a steady job that will not change in a long period of time, uncomfortable or hazardous physical working environment, fear of physical violence, close monitoring of job performance, the organization changing for no rational reason, a job that is boring and repetitive, dealing with customers and clients that are difficult or nasty, and a lack of job satisfaction. All of these factors can be work-related stressors in one’s life (University of Cambridge, 2009). Other factors that can cause stress include long work hours (at work and/or at home), having a job that is either too easy or too hard, and not feeling valued as an employee (Bupa, 2011). A major source of work-related stress is workplace harassment. Harassment is inappropriate verbal or physical workplace conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or disability (mental or physical).
Harassment in the workplace can create a hostile, intimidating, and offensive work environment that interferes with the work performance of an employee. An employee can be harassed by managers and/or co-workers. Harassment can be a major stressor that induces stress in an individual (Federal Communications Commission, 2012). Another source of work-related stress is workplace incivility. Workplace incivility is defined by The Academy of Management Review as “low-intensity deviant behavior with ambiguous intent to harm the target.” In other words, incivility is inappropriate behavior with intent to harm an employee. Workplace incivility involves behavior or conduct by a manager or co-worker that is rude and disrespectful towards an employee or co-worker. Incivility includes such inappropriate behaviors as insulting comments to an employee, degradation of an employee’s work, spreading false rumors, socially isolating an employee, and bad manners. In general, workplace incivility is conduct or behaviors that are uncivilized. Workplace incivility is a stressor that can induce stress in an individual (Wikipedia, 2012).
Now that the causes of stress or stressors have been covered, the consequences of work-related stress will be analyzed. Stress induced in an individual by adverse conditions at the workplace that have been discussed can cause an individual to suffer consequences. Work-related stress can lead to consequences that affect both the individuals in an organization and the organization itself. Work-related stress can lead to consequences that effect individuals in four areas or dimensions – physical, emotional, intellectual, and behavioral.
The first category of consequences of work-related stress includes physical problems. Stress at work can cause an individual to have sleep problems (such as sleep disturbances), headaches, gastrointestinal upset, and raised blood pressure which can lead to cardiovascular disease. The second category of consequences of work-related stress includes emotional problems. Stress at work can cause an individual to experience anxiety, irritability, depression, and emotional liability. The third category of consequences of work-related stress includes intellectual problems. Work-related stress can cause an individual to experience a lower concentration level, lack of motivation, difficulty in thinking clearly, loss of memory, and making poor or unwise decisions. The fourth category of consequences of work-related stress includes behavioral problems. Work-related stress can cause an individual to conduct substance misuse (such as alcohol abuse), inappropriate behaviors, social isolate oneself, and to not be prompt or precise (unpunctual).
In addition to affecting individuals in an organization, stress can lead to consequences that affect the effectiveness and efficiency of an organization. These adverse organizational consequences include high absenteeism, high labor turnover, poor time keeping, inefficient performance and productivity, low workplace morale, lack or low level of motivation, more employee complaints, and more reports related to ill-health and accidents (University of Cambridge, 2009).
Now that a definition and model of stress, the causes of work-related stress, and the adverse consequences of stress have been presented, this paper will now discuss how to manage work-related stress. In other words, solutions of how to cope with the problem of work-related stress will be provided. There are several solutions on how to cope with work-related stress that will be discussed. There are three fundamental steps that can be taken in order to cope with work-related stress. These steps will help employees reduce the amount of work-related stress they are experiencing. First, employees need to be individually responsible for improving their physical and emotional health. Second, employees need to identify and eliminate bad habits and negative attitudes that will increase their stress. Third, an individual needs to learn and use better communication skills in order to improve relations with his or her managers and co-workers. There are several important solutions or tips that employees can implement in order to effectively cope with work-related stress.
This paper will discuss six important solutions an individual can use in order to cope with work-related stress – recognize warning signs of excessive stress at work, reduce job stress by taking care of his or herself, reduce job stress by prioritizing and organizing, reduce job stress by improving emotional intelligence, reduce job stress by breaking bad habits, and learn how managers or employers can reduce job stress. Each solution will now be discussed in more detail. The first solution is that employees need to recognize signals of excessive work-related stress. If an individual feels overwhelmed at the workplace, he or she will lose confidence and become upset or feel withdrawn. This will cause the employee’s work performance and effectiveness to decline. Therefore, it is essential that employees identify warning signs of work-related stress and not let them get out of hand. Remember, not only will intense or chronic work-related stress result in poor work performance, it will also cause an individual to have poor physical and emotional health.
Therefore, employees need to learn to recognize signs of excessive work-related stress. Examples of signs of excessive work-related stress include feeling anxious, irritable, or depressed, losing interest in work, having sleep problems, experiencing fatigue, having trouble concentrating, experiencing muscle tension or headaches, having stomach problems, experiencing social withdraw, and using alcoholic beverages or drugs to cope with stress. Employees need to be aware of these tell-tale signs of occupational stress. Examples of causes of excessive work-related stress include the fear of being laid off, having to work more (such as working overtime), being pressured to have higher work performance, and being pressured to have the best work performance on a regular basis. The second solution is employees need to take care of themselves in order to reduce occupational stress. Occupational stress is a serious problem that can reduce an individual’s work performance, cause personal life problems, and reduce his or her physical and emotional health. Therefore, employees need to do something about occupational stress.
Taking care of his or herself means an individual needs to be aware of the condition of and improve his or her physical and emotional health. Having good physical and emotional health is essential to coping with stress. If employees have strong physical and emotional health, then they will be able to better manage and cope with work-related stress. There are four tips employees can follow in order to improve their physical and emotional health and thereby effectively manage and cope with occupational stress. First, they need to exercise regularly. Although regular exercise can be difficult and boring, it is actually a very effective tool that relieves stress. The best thing to do is aerobic exercise (this increases the heart rate and sweat) which will improve a person’s mood, energy level, focus level, and level of physical and emotional relaxation. Second, employees need to eat properly.
They need to eat healthy foods that will help them cope with stress more effectively. Implementing a healthy diet can help an individual deal with stress each day at work. Third, employees need to avoid drinking alcohol and smoking. Drinking too much alcoholic beverages can increase anxiety. Drinking too much can also result in alcohol abuse and dependence. Nicotine, the stimulant in smoking products, can also increase anxiety. Fourth, employees need to get enough sleep. Not getting enough sleep can result in being more vulnerable to experiencing stress. If employees are well rested, then they will be better able to cope with stress. It is recommended that an individual sleep eight hours a night. The third solution is employees need to prioritize and organize in order to reduce work-related stress. In order to effectively cope with stress, employees need to prioritize and organize their various job responsibilities. An employee needs to decide which tasks are more important or urgent to complete and organize those various tasks. There are four solutions related to time management that will help employees reduce stress in the workplace. First, they need to create a balanced schedule. An employee needs to create a schedule in order to organize when he or she will do various job tasks. The schedule should also be well balanced. There needs to be a good balance between job tasks and downtime (such as personal life and work breaks).
Second, employees shouldn’t over-commit themselves. Employees shouldn’t give themselves too much to do in a given period of time (such as a day). Various tasks employees assign themselves may take longer than they think and they may end up getting overwhelmed and therefore have stress. If a given schedule has too many tasks for a given amount of time, then either put unimportant tasks at the bottom of the list or eliminate them. Third, leave early and get to work early. Don’t show up on time or late because this will cause an individual to be in a hurry and get stressed. Instead, employees should get to work early (even if it is only 10-15 minutes early) so that they can get started with work in a more relaxed mood and thereby reduce stress. Fourth, employees need to plan regular breaks at work. Throughout the day at work, take short breaks every so often in order to take a rest and reduce stress. Relaxing at regular intervals will actually help an employee work more productively, not less. There are also four solutions related to task management that will help employees reduce stress. First, prioritize tasks by making a list of tasks that need to be completed in order of importance (with the most important at the top and the least important at the bottom of the list). Complete the most important tasks first, and then do the others.
Also, it is a good idea for an employee to complete difficult or unpleasant tasks first because this will make the rest of the work day more pleasant when he or she knows that a difficult task has been accomplished and is out of the way. Second, employees need to break projects into small steps. Take a large and difficult task and divide it into smaller projects or steps. Complete the task one step at a time rather than trying to do it all at once. This will result in being less overwhelmed and thereby reduce stress. Third, employees need to delegate responsibility. An individual doesn’t always have to do every little thing his or herself. If there are steps that others are capable of doing, then let them do it. Trying to have too much control over every little step can overwhelm an employee and result in stress. Fourth, be willing to compromise. If an employee asks others to change their plans related to job tasks, then he or she should be able to change his or her tasks plans to accommodate others’ schedules. If an employee and another co-worker can compromise a little then both of them will reduce their own stress. The fourth solution is to improve emotional intelligence in order to reduce work-related stress.
Emotional intelligence is the ability of an individual to manage and use his or her emotions in a positive and appropriate way. Emotional intelligence involves effectively communicating with others, resolving differences with others, understanding the feelings of others, and ultimately reducing stress. Emotional intelligence is the ability of an individual to perceive and manage his or her emotions and the emotions of others. There are four components or aspects of emotional intelligence – self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. Self-awareness is an individual’s ability to perceive his or her emotions and their influence, and using his or her gut feelings to make decisions. Self-management is an individual’s ability to manage his or her emotions and behavior and change with changing circumstances. Social-awareness is the ability to effectively influence others and their emotions and manage conflict. There are five important skills that employees need to learn and use in order to gain more emotional intelligence and effectively manage work-related stress.
The first skill employees should have is an awareness of when they are stressed. An employee needs to know when he or she is stressed, know how he or she responds to that stressor, and know what sensual cues calm and energize his or herself. The second skill an individual should have is to know his or her internal emotional experiences in order to effectively manage his or her emotions. Employees need to manage their own emotions because those emotions affect their own thoughts and behavior. The third skill is to be aware of and use nonverbal cues and body language. What a person says is not always as important as how that person says it. How an individual says something also includes the nonverbal content of his or her message which includes eye-contact, facial expression, tone of voice, posture, gesture, and touch. People to whom a person speaks with can interpret the nonverbal content of that person’s message in a positive or negative way. Therefore, it is essential that employees know how to effectively communicate with others using these nonverbal cues. This skill also means that a person should be aware of others’ use of nonverbal cues and understanding the meaning of those nonverbal cues in relation to the message they are sending to him or her.
The fourth skill is to deal with challenges using humor. Humor and laughing are very effective tools that reduce stress in a situation. Of course, there are times when humor or laughter is not appropriate such as when an employee laughs at someone else’s expense. The fifth skill is to resolve conflicts positively. Resolving conflict with others in a positive and appropriate way can help others build trust in an individual and reduce stress. When attempting to resolve a conflict, avoid focusing on past hurt feelings, but instead, focus on the present. An employee should understand his or her emotions and listen to both the words and nonverbal cues being used in the situation. The fifth solution is to break bad habits in order to reduce work-related stress. There are certain habits (negative thoughts and behavior) an employee may have that add to his or her stress at work. It is essential that these bad and self-defeating habits are removed. There are four things employees need to do to eliminate self-defeating habits. First, they need to avoid perfectionism. No task is perfect; therefore, don’t get stressed trying to do every task with a level of perfection.
Instead, an individual should try to do his or her best on each task. Second, employees need to be neat and organized. Don’t be a time waster. Get to work early. Employees should ensure that their area in the workplace (such as their desk) is not messy and disorganized. Clean the area up and get it organized. Messiness and disorganization only add to an employee’s stress at work. Employees need to plan what tasks they will do each day using a lists of items to do. Third, employees need to stop thinking negatively about everything. In other words, thinking negatively about every situation and task can cause stress. Instead, employees should think positively about their work. This will help reduce stress. Fourth, do not try to control what is uncontrollable. Many situations and individuals at work are beyond an employee’s control. Therefore, don’t stress out about them. Instead, an employee should only focus attention on things he or she does have control over. There are four ways to dispel stress. First, employees need to take a short break once in a while to get away from work. Second, an employee needs to talk about his or her situation to someone.
Informing someone an individual trusts about his or her thoughts and situation can help reduce his or her stress and help him or her feel better. Third, an employee needs to develop relationships with others at work. Being involved in a friendship with a co-worker can help an individual reduce stress at work. If an employee discusses his or her situation with another co-worker, then he or she needs to be willing to listen to that co-worker’s problems. Fourth, employees and employers need to use humor at the workplace, because humor can help reduce stress. Of course, humor needs to be used appropriately. The sixth solution is to learn how managers or employers can reduce work-related stress. Managers should do their best to reduce the stress of their employees at work. Managers should also be an example to their employees. If a manager handles situations and problems calmly and keeps his or her cool, then the employees will have an easier time doing the same. There are three important changes in an organization that managers need to implement in order to reduce work-related stress in the workplace. First, managers need to improve communication with employees. Managers need to communicate information to their employees to prevent them from feeling job uncertainty.
Managers need to clearly define the responsibilities and roles of each employee. Managers also need to communicate with their employees in a friendly and professional way, not in a mean and disrespectful way. All of these communication practices are very effective at reducing stress. If these communication principles are not followed, then stress in the workplace will escalate. Second, managers should consult with their employees. In other words, managers and employees need to be involved with each other a lot in decisions in the workplace. Managers should let employees be involved in decisions that will affect their career. Managers need to get advice from and negotiate with employees about important decisions at the workplace such as schedules, work rules, the workload, and so on. Managers should ensure that the workload is reasonable and not impossible for employees to accomplish.
Managers need to show their employees that they are valued by offering rewards and incentives, complementing excellent work performance, and providing opportunities for employees to work their way up in their careers. Managers also need to give employees more control over their tasks at work. Third, managers should cultivate a friendly social climate. Managers need to ensure that the atmosphere of the workplace is friendly, social, and professional. Managers need to encourage social interaction among employees in the workplace. Managers should have no tolerance for workplace harassment. Finally, the actions of managers should be consistent with the values of the organization. These actions and behaviors by managers are essential in order to reduce stress in the workplace and increase the job satisfaction of employees (Segal, Smith, Robinson, & Segal, 2012).
Work-related stress is a serious issue that tarnishes an employee’s work performance and job satisfaction. Even worse, stress can harm an individual both physically and emotionally. Therefore, it is essential that both employees and managers implement certain practices and solutions in order to reduce or eliminate workplace stress and increase the performance and job satisfaction of employees. Several practical solutions that employees and managers can use in the workplace to reduce or eliminate stress have been discussed. Stress should not be the norm in the workplace. It is a problem that needs to be solved appropriately. By following the solutions presented in this paper, this problem of stress can be dealt with.
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