Understanding workplace stress
Have you ever felt stressed out? If so, the feeling probably happened amid tremendous uncertainty and involved something important. People can get stressed out while worrying about being late to appointments, changing jobs, moving to a new city, or experiencing other life-changing events. At its core, stress is a perceptual process that occurs as a reaction to uncertainty about important events. What is stressful to one person might not be stressful to another person—one who does not view the event/circumstances as uncertain or important.
Stress is associated with a wide variety of psychological and physiological reactions. Depression, anxiety, and feelings of helplessness and a lack of control can result from excessive stress. Chronic stress can also lead to coronary disease, high blood pressure, ulcers, and fatigue. Each year, stress-related illnesses cost businesses hundreds of millions of dollars in lost productivity. It is important that managers and organizational leaders understand the causes of stress so that they might help their workers manage stress and control harmful reactions to stress.
In addition to the stress that comes about from major life changes, organizational researchers have identified four types of stress producers, or stressors. They are: time stress, encounter stress, anticipatory stress and situational stress.
Different kinds of stressors
Time stress arises when people perceive that they have too much to do and too little time to do it. The uncertainty that comes with not knowing whether the task will be completed in the allocated time brings about stress. Encounter stress is an interpersonal stress and arises when individuals disagree with others on issues, expectations, or ways of doing things. Being in the presence of someone with whom you have had an important interpersonal conflict can bring about stressful reactions.
Anticipatory stress arises when something unpleasant or unnerving looms in the near future. The uncertainty of not knowing the outcome of the dreaded event creates stress for the person. Situational stress arises when characteristics of the situation and environment overwhelm a person. The old “Calgon, take me away!” commercial is an excellent example of situational stress. The woman in the commercial must simultaneously attend to a crying baby, a ringing telephone, a barking dog, someone at the door, and a boiling pot on the stove. Complexity, rapid change, and information overload contribute to situational stress.
Ways to fight stress
Planning and preparation, time management, reassignment of work, and delegation can help alleviate many job-specific stressors. However, it is unrealistic to think that managers can eliminate all stress from the work lives of their workers. In fact, stress can be motivating to a certain extent. Anxiety about upcoming events can encourage workers to focus on and begin working toward a goal. After a certain limit, however, stress can become distracting and harmful to workers and their performance.
When it cannot be eliminated, it is important that people resiliently cope with stress. Staying healthy through exercise and proper diet, forming supportive mentor and social relationships, developing mental states where difficulties are viewed as challenges and small wins are noted, and maintaining a balanced lifestyle are all ways to help build physical, social, and psychological resiliency to stress and its effects.
If you want to find out about other interesting topics aiming at managers and employers, read “Business Briefs” by Coleman Patterson.