Workplace stress affects three-quarters of working American adults. It is also a major concern for employers, as it costs businesses in the United States an estimated $300 billion per year through absenteeism, diminished productivity, employee turnover and direct medical, legal and insurance fees, according to the American Psychological Association. Employees often feel undervalued and are stressed at work.

Workplace stress is the harmful physical and emotional response that can happen when there is a conflict between job demands on the employee and the amount of control an employee has over meeting these demands. Individuals may underestimate how much control they have over workplace stressors, whether positive or negative, and how much they affect personal and professional behaviors. A goal for employees and employers should be to evaluate the negative stressors experienced daily in the work environment and find ways to manage them.

Workplace stress isn’t always negative. Positive workplace stress is called a challenge. Employers challenge individuals to help them grow and create success. Positive workplace stress can help employees reach deadlines, become well-rounded and increase productivity, but it is the negative stressors that make the workplace a hazardous environment.

Internal and external workplace stressors

There are numerous negative internal and external workplace stressors that affect employees daily. A majority of workplace pressure is due to today’s connected world; mobile e-mail, cellphones and the Internet. It is hard for individuals to leave work at work and disconnect, thus bringing their workplace stressors into their personal lives.

External stressors: These are work environment stressors that individuals may feel are not worthy of their employer’s attention but still cause stress and should be addressed. Common problems include:

  • Loud or noisy co-workers
  • Music
  • Building noises
  • Hard-to-handle customers
  • Uncomfortable desks and chairs
  • Lighting

Internal stressors: These are caused by personal perception. Working longer hours, job redundancy, too much responsibility and too little authority, and inadequate job descriptions are stressors that affect productivity and personal performance and should also be addressed. Feelings of dissatisfaction, irritability and pressure to perform are often developed from:

  • Misaligned responsibilities
  • Lack of prioritization
  • Time-management issues
  • Inappropriate workload
  • Unrealistic expectations

Employers can help reduce workplace stress

Because the root of workplace stress differs greatly per individual and situation, strategies to reduce or prevent it will, too. However, there are many general stress management practices that are helpful overall.

  • Employee-assistance programs can be offered by all organizations to help employees with difficult workplace situations. EAPs offer short-term counseling services, assessment and referral sources to employees.
  • Job descriptions help employees understand their responsibilities within an organization, the purpose of the position, where the job and duties fit into the organizational structure, and the daily tasks that are to be performed.
  • Training on the warning signs of workplace stress is important. While most signs of stress are internal and personal, there are some external signs.
    • Individual seems anxious, irritable or depressed
    • Complaints of headaches, upset stomach or fatigue
    • Drug or alcohol use
    • Low morale or productivity
    • Loss of interest in work and social gatherings

What can I personally do to help myself or a co-worker?

There are numerous ways to help manage stress.

  • Never worry alone. Talking helps individuals feel more in control and can ease the mind because the trusted colleague can reassure that things will be OK and the problem can be solved.
  • Keep a stress inventory for one week. Write down the situations, events and individuals who you believe caused you to feel stressed and your reaction. Did you feel frustrated, angry or nervous? After a week, look at your stress inventory and identify situations that can be managed differently.
  • Talk with your manager. Verbalizing your stress may help your manager see the situation differently and address your concerns.
  • Prioritize. Keep a list of all tasks that need to be completed and then rank them in order of priority, according to deadlines.
  • Take a break. The goal is to reduce stress and restore your energy so you are able to complete the task at hand.

There are many options to help identify and relieve stress, but if you are not able to handle your stress, consult a health care professional. Remember to focus on what you can control in life and try not to stress about what you can’t control. You can learn more about stress in the workplace and the causes, warning signs and solutions by visiting the American Psychological Association or Mayo Clinic.

Brent O’Bryan is vice president of learning and development at AlliedBarton Security Services. AlliedBarton is the industry’s premier provider of highly trained security personnel to many industries including higher education, commercial real estate, health care, residential communities, chemical and petrochemical, government, manufacturing and distribution, financial institutions and shopping centers.

Image credit: OtmarW, via iStockphoto

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3 Responses to “Work: A leading cause of stress among adults”

  1. One way to reduce stress is to find ways of improving your sleep patterns. I have found that wearing a Bioflow Sport magnetic wristband helps a great deal – http://www.bioflowsport.com . Magnotherapy has long been seen as a way of aiding deep, restorative sleep. It works for me!

  2. Mark Cizek says:

    Let’s not forget that a regular exercise regimen can be an effective stress release as well as helping with getting a good night’s sleep.

  3. Al Watts says:

    Thanks for the reminder of the toll that stress takes on workers and their work. Readers might be interested in these signs that maybe it's time to part company with an employer