Feeling stressed at work? You are not alone. Studies indicate workplace stress is on the rise (American Institute of Stress, 204) with increasing pressure to perform, toxic work environments, and the demands brought on by technological advances and job insecurity. Workplace stress occurs when the demands of the job are perceived to exceed the available internal and external resources the employee needs to perform.
Workplace stress is often associated with physical health problems such as headaches, upset stomach, and muscle tension; and psychological problems such as depression, anxiety, and burnout. All of which may contribute to overall career frustration. According to the American Institute of Stress (2014), workplace stress costs organizations over $300 billion annually in lost productivity due to absenteeism, turnover and healthcare expenditures.
A 2009 survey by the American Psychological Association indicated that 69% of employees reported that work was a significant source of stress for them and substantially interfered with their responsibilities at home. Studies indicate that across occupational categories (blue-collar, white-collar, and helping professions) the social environment of the organization played a significant role in predicting depression and burnout. Characteristics of such included negative work relationships, interpersonal conflicts, lack of peer support, and social isolation.
There are several proven strategies that can be implemented to reduce workplace stress and its associated consequences:
For organizations and managers, creating an environment that is conducive to effectively coping with work stress results in significant economic benefits to the corporation.
· Reduce workplace stressors such as work overload, job insecurity, and limited resources:
Provide reasonable work demands and manageable work schedules. Increase employee control over the nature and timing of their work performance as well as decision-making within the organization. Enhance social support in the workplace; support from both supervisors and colleagues has been shown to be effective in reducing workplace stress.
· Offer stress management programs that enhance employees' coping strategies:
Programs designed to teach employees how to implement effective coping strategies in the face of workplace stress, including time management, conflict resolution, mindfulness meditation, relaxation and yoga, have been found to be effective.
Researchers from the Schools of Medicine at Duke University and the University of Pennsylvania argue that "in order for stress management programs to be effective, they have to be accessible, convenient, and engaging to the employees", as well as cost-effective and economically sustainable for the organization. These same researchers conducted a randomized controlled trial examining the effectiveness of therapeutic yoga and mindfulness-based stress reduction programs in reducing stress, enhancing emotional well-being and work performance. The trial enrolled 239 employee volunteers who were randomly assigned to one of three interventions: yoga, mindfulness meditation, or a control condition that provided the participants with a list of insurance-provided resources (fitness center discounts, wellness coaching opportunities etc.) They found that compared to the control condition, the therapeutic yoga and mindfulness based programs both lead to significant improvements in perceived stress levels and reduction in sleep problems; suggesting these strategies are viable interventions to implement in the workplace.
For individuals, enhancing your own coping strategies and resilience in the face of workplace stress can reduce your risk for depression, anxiety, and burnout.
· Adopt a healthy lifestyle: Under times of stress, a balanced diet, exercise, and sound sleep can lay the foundation for effective stress management.
· Identify what is stressing you out: Awareness of your triggers, thoughts, and feelings when stressed is a first step towards taking action to control or manage your stress.
· Avoid or learn how to manage stress more effectively: Some stressors are under your control and can be avoided or changed (e.g., learning how to say to no to unreasonable requests; prioritizing/managing your time more effectively; or shifting your thoughts/beliefs about the situation), while others (e.g., an unexpected and urgent deadline) may require acceptance and a reorganization of your priorities for the week.
· Seek out support: Studies show that support from family, friends, and coworkers can also help buffer the negative effects of work stress.
· Seek professional help: If you find that your workplace stress is too much to handle on your own, seeking support from a trained professional can be beneficial. They can help you to identify the sources of your stress and develop strategies for dealing more effectively with work-related stress.
Workplace stress takes a significant toll on the health and well-being of employees and organizations and has far-reaching social and economic consequences. By implementing an integrated and comprehensive stress-reduction approach that works at the organizational, team, and individual level, corporations can promote work conditions that foster resilience, well-being and organizational functioning.
· American Psychological Association (2009). Stress in America 2009. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2009/stress-exec-summary.pdf
· American Institute of Stress (2014). Workplace stress. Retrieved from http://www.stress.org/workplace-stress/
· Colligans, T.W. and Higgins, E. M. (2006). Workplace Stress: Etiology and Consequences. Journal of workplace behavioral health, 21, 2, 89-97
· Tennant, C. (2001). Work-related stress and depressive disorders. Journal of psychosomatic research, 51, 697-704.
· Wolever, R. Q., Bobinet, K. J., McCabe, K., Mackenzie, E. R., Fekete, E., Kusnick, C. A., & Baime, M. (2012). Effective and viable mind-body stress reduction in the workplace: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of occupational health psychology, 17(2), 246.