The Silent Killer
We experience stress on a regular basis, in different amounts and triggered by different activities such as work-related stress and the demands of everyday life. Stress can also result from traumatic events and major life changes. Coming from the Latin word “stringi” which means “to be drawn tight”, stress is a psychological or physiological stimulus which produces mental or physical tension in an individual.
Research has shown that stress has a tremendous negative effect on one’s health. It is the leading cause of illnesses and health problems. Stress can, in fact, kill you. According to the research conducted by the American Institute of Stress, job pressure is the number cause of stress in adults in the U.S., followed by money, health, and relationships. These are the findings gathered from the study:
Stress statistics in the U.S.
76% of adults cited money and work as the leading cause of stress in their life
77% of adults regularly experience stress-related physical symptoms
73% of adults regularly experience stress-related psychological symptoms
48% of adults feel that their stress increased over the last five years
48% of adults report that they lie awake at night because of stress
33% of adults feel they have too much stress in their life
The impact of stress in the U.S.
48% say that stress negatively impacts their professional and personal life
31% of employed adults say they experience difficulty in managing work and family life
35% of adults are stressed with jobs that interfere with their personal or family time
54% say that they fought with people close to them due to stress
26% report being alienated from loved ones due to stress
30% of employed adults say they are always stressed at work
$300 billion annual cost of employees due to missed work and stress-induced health care
The connection between work and stress has been clearly established. According to the American Psychological Association, money and finances continue to be major causes of stress for Americans every year. The World Health Organization considers stress as a modern health epidemic. American businesses are losing up to $300 billion a year due to stress-related health problems, lost or diminished productivity, absenteeism, employee turnover, accidents, medical/insurance costs and workers’ compensation awards.
Work-related Stress: Causes and Effects
Work-related stress, also known as occupational stress, can be caused and triggered by different factors. Job stress makes employees more susceptible to illnesses and personal problems, affecting the organization’s health in the end. Different occupations have different kinds of workplace stressors. According to the WHO, the causes of work-related stress and hazards can be divided into two categories:
Job content: monotony, lack of variety, meaningless tasks, lack of stimulation
Workload and pace: too little or too much to do, time pressure
Working hours: inflexible or very strict hours, improper design of shifting schedules, unpredictable hours, very long hours
Participation or control: lack or no participation in decisions at the workplace, lack or no control over pace, work processes or methods, hours and work environment
Career development, pay, and status: job insecurity, unfair/unclear performance evaluation methods, being overqualified/underqualified for the job, lack of opportunities for promotion or growth
Role in the company or organization: conflicting role, role not clearly defined
Relationships in the workplace: bullying, violence, harassment, lack of proper or adequate supervision, lack of good relationship with colleagues, solitary or isolated work
Culture in the organization: poor or lack of leadership, poor or lack of communication, no clarity when it comes to objectives and strategies
Work-life balance: lack of policies and support for work-life balance, conflict of demands in the home and workplace, lack of encouragement for work-life balance
Workplace stress can cause physical, emotional and behavioral problems. Prolonged and chronic stress can suppress or disrupt the digestive and reproductive system, sleeping patterns and the immune system. Stress can make a person prone to viral infections, such as the common cold or the flu. Too much stress in the workplace can cause physical problems such as excessive sweating, muscle tension, stress-related rashes, eating disorders, muscle tension and may even lead to diseases like hypertension or high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Aside from the physical symptoms and problems, occupational stress can also affect the emotional and mental health of an individual. Someone who is not coping well with work-related stress can become noticeably aggressive, easily confused, suffer from poor memory and have difficulty concentrating. A person may experience unexplained mood changes, panic, increased anxiety, anger, low self-esteem, increased irritability, loss of motivation and depression. Behavioral changes are also manifested through changes in eating habits and sleeping patterns, frequent tardiness or absenteeism, unfriendly and uncooperative attitude towards colleagues, and increased use of alcohol, nicotine or drugs.
According to the ADAA or the Anxiety And Depression Association Of America, work-related stress and anxiety have consequences, both professional and personal. Although stress itself is not bad, persistent and unmanaged stress can be very harmful. The key findings of ADAA states that occupational stress and anxiety impacts a person’s workplace performance by 56%, relationship with colleagues and peers by 51%, work quality by 50%, relationship with manager or superior by 43%. Men and women deal with occupational stress in different ways, but the common grounds are increased consumption of caffeine at 31%, smoking at 27%, exercising more often at 25%, taking prescription or over the counter medications at 23% and increased alcohol intake at 20%. Unfortunately, many people are not comfortable discussing workplace stress with their superiors out of fear that their boss will interpret it as unwillingness to do the job at 34%, fear being thought of as “weak” at 31%, fear that opportunities for promotion will be affected at 22%, fear that discussing their problems will go on file at 22% and fear that they will not be taken seriously or laughed at 20%. Unmanaged stress in the workplace disrupts and hinders performance at work, causes strained relationships at work and at home, and affects one’s physical, emotional and mental health. As an entrepreneur or a freelancer, it is important to understand that work stress can severely affect your business or career. Occupational stress, when not managed properly, can lead to poor performance and an unhealthy organization.
Managing and Preventing Stress In The Workplace
Workload, job pressures, and organizational cultures have changed over the years and have significantly contributed to the increasing stress experienced by employees all over the world. There are companies who have realized the importance of managing and preventing a stressful work environment. Companies such as Google, Genentech, SAS are setting a good example to other companies in helping employees cope with and manage stress at work through health benefits and fitness perks, unlimited vacation days, telecommuting policies, day care facilities for employees with children, et cetera. The American Psychological Association, or APA, also honors and recognizes employers that successfully implement and encourage work-life balance with their yearly Psychologically Healthy Workplace Awards.
Stress Management In The Workplace
Stress factors within the company or organization should be identified as the first step in working out a plan to properly manage stress in the workplace. More stress equals less productivity. It is also important to note that stress is contagious, making it very important for companies to promote a happier and more comfortable working environment. After the causes have been identified, a practical and appropriate action plan should be developed and implemented to manage and prevent occupational stress.
Reducing Stress In The Workplace
Modern businesses are implementing strategies and programs to help employees cope with occupational stress and make the workplace a healthier environment.
In order to prevent the build up of occupational stress, provide employees more breaks within the day. Working straight and non-stop is counterproductive. Allowing employees to collaborate with colleagues in break rooms can be more fun and more engaging. As a freelancer, learn to manage your time wisely so that you can work more efficiently.
Health and wellness
Companies nowadays are giving importance to their employees’ physical well-being through regular physical activities through team buildings and gym facilities that the staff can use during the workday. Exercise and stress relief has a scientific connection, which is why it is important for employers to encourage their employees to focus on their health and wellness through exercise, consuming healthy snacks in the workplace to help boost immunity and fight stress. Freelancers should also give due importance to proper diet, exercise, and a healthy lifestyle.
Open Door Policy
Stress at work will always be present, but employers should teach employees how to properly manage and cope with occupational stress. Listening to your employees, as basic as it sounds, is one of the best ways to cultivate an honest and comfortable work environment. A good venting session lets employees relieve pent up stress and a good opportunity for employers to get fresh ideas, opinions, and perspectives. If you are working from home, be sure to stay in touch with colleagues for a short chat, and let them know that they can count on you if they need help for anything.
Giving workers flexibility may seem too much, but modern workplaces are becoming more and more flexible with regards to schedules, telecommuting and vacation days to let employees have ample time to take care of themselves on a personal level. A flexible working environment allows employees to better care for their mental health by allowing them to spend more time with their families or simply enjoy life. If you are a freelancer who works from home, make sure to spend your off hours resting and spending time with your loved ones. Stress can affect anyone, whether you are a business owner, or a freelancer working from your home office. A little stress can actually be good for us – it can motivate people to perform. Stress can also increase alertness, activity, and movement, such as an adrenaline rush, which is actually a stress hormone secreted by our adrenal glands. However, long-term and constant stress not only harms the person experiencing it, but also the company organization he or she belongs to. As an entrepreneur, it is your responsibility to keep stress levels at the workplace to a minimum in order to boost employee morale and performance. Freelancers can also benefit from effective workplace stress management by becoming more productive, efficient and effective at work. The solution is to manage and prevent work-related stress, both on an individual and organization level. Open communication, focus on health and wellness, frequent time and space for collaboration as well as flexibility in the workplace all help to reduce and manage work-related stress and organizational problems.