In today’s world, it seems that the demands on workers are growing exponentially on a day-to-day basis. The expectations placed on employees continue to increase, even though compensation usually doesn’t. And job insecurity hangs over the heads of many, as they fear downsizing and layoffs.
Most employers would say that they need to raise expectations in order to meet growing demands for productivity. They would say that employees just need to find a way to adjust to a more fast-paced environment and more demands. But the bulk of research suggests that excessive job stress has a directly negative impact on employee productivity. Workers just make more mistakes when they are stressed. Employers also pay the price through frequent employee sick days, high turnover, and workplace accidents.
And job stress means more than just a passing annoyance or a lower bottom line. Studies have shown that it can lead to a host of chronic illnesses which are life-threatening, such as heart disease and severe depression. It can also cause sleep disturbances, musculoskeletal disorders, relationship problems, obesity, and stroke.
In analyzing the causes of workplace stress, some people articulate the idea that different personality types are better suited for different jobs and work environments. Perhaps some people enjoy a fast pace and like challenges, while others need something more low-key. There are also some professions which are considered inherently more stressful than others, such as law enforcement. But recent research strongly suggests that personality differences and the choice of a certain profession really have very little to do with stress. Regardless of profession or personality, there are certain qualities of a workplace environment which cause stress to just about anyone.
One of the greatest predictors of high job stress are unclear expectations. Often, stressed workers feel that they have little control over their work environments. The organization’s goals are not clearly articulated and expectations on the workers are vague. This situation causes employees to feel that their work is meaningless. Another common workplace stressor is a hostile environment. Workers may feel isolated from coworkers and unable to gain social support. Frequent conflict can contribute to high levels of stress. Finally, long hours for little reward is a major stressor for employees. As work continues to get piled on, workers feel overwhelmed and afraid that they won’t be able to manage it all.
What to do if the health is adversely affected by the job? There are many stress management techniques which have been proven effective in the workplace. Take restorative breaks during the workday and learn to walk away from a conflict if you’re feeling angry. Set reasonable expectations for yourself and others. Talk to your employer about your job description and make sure expectations are clear and realistic.
However, sometimes organizational and systemic changes are needed to cultivate a work environment that is less harmful to the health of employees. Maybe the workplace needs to clearly define its goals to give workers an increased sense of purpose. Listening to employees’ concerns and involving them in important decisions can also help decrease stress.
Every workplace is different but they all can benefit from a base of happy, healthy employees. Investing in workers’ well-being helps everyone because a healthy worker is also a productive worker.
- “Mind/Body Health: Job Stress.” The American Psychological Association, 2016, http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/job-stress.aspx.
- “STRESS…At Work.” Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 14 June 2014, https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/99-101/.