Stress At Work
Stress at work is a relatively new phenomenon of modern lifestyles. The nature of work has gone through drastic changes over the last century and it is still changing at whirlwind speed. They have touched almost all professions, starting from an artist to a surgeon, or a commercial pilot to a sales executive. With change comes stress, inevitably. Professional stress or job stress poses a threat to physical health. Work related stress in the life of organized workers, consequently, affects the health of organizations.
Job stress is a chronic disease caused by conditions in the workplace that negatively affect an individual`s performance and/or overall well-being of his body and mind. One or more of a host of physical and mental illnesses manifests job stress. In some cases, job stress can be disabling. In chronic cases a psychiatric consultation is usually required to validate the reason and degree of work related stress.
Working on a project on stress at work, Andy Ellis, Ruskin College, Oxford, UK, has shown in a chart how stress can adversely affect an employee`s performance. In the early stages job stress can `rev up` the body and enhance performance in the workplace, thus the term `I perform better under pressure`. However, if this condition is allowed to go unchecked and the body is revved up further, the performance ultimately declines and the person`s health degenerates.
The signs of job stress vary from person to person, depending on the particular situation, how long the individual has been subjected to the stressors, and the intensity of the stress itself. Typical symptoms of job stress can be:
•Loss of mental concentration,
• Substance abuse,
•Extreme anger and frustration,
• Family conflict
• Physical illnesses such as heart disease, migraine, headaches, stomach problems, and back problems.
Causes of Workplace Stress
Job stress may be caused by a complex set of reasons. Some of the most visible causes of workplace stress are:
Organized workplaces are going through metamorphic changes under intense economic transformations and consequent pressures. Reorganizations, takeovers, mergers, downsizing and other changes have become major stressors for employees, as companies try to live up to the competition to survive. These reformations have put demand on everyone, from a CEO to a mere executive.
High Demand for Performance
Unrealistic expectations, especially in the time of corporate reorganizations, which, sometimes, puts unhealthy and unreasonable pressures on the employee, can be a tremendous source of stress and suffering. Increased workload, extremely long work hours and intense pressure to perform at peak levels all the time for the same pay, can actually leave an employees physically and emotionally drained. Excessive travel and too much time away from family also contribute to an employee`s stressors.
The expansion of technology—computers, pagers, cell phones, fax machines and the Internet—has resulted in heightened expectations for productivity, speed and efficiency, increasing pressure on the individual worker to constantly operate at peak performance levels. Workers working with heavy machinery are under constant stress to remain alert. In this case both the worker and their family members live under constant mental stress. There is also the constant pressure to keep up with technological breakthroughs and improvisations, forcing employees to learn new software all the times.
Workplace Culture Adjusting to the workplace culture, whether in a new company or not, can be intensely stressful. Making oneself adapt to the various aspects of workplace culture such as communication patterns, hierarchy, dress code if any, workspace and most importantly working and behavioral patterns of the boss as well as the co-workers, can be a lesson of life. Maladjustment to workplace cultures may lead to subtle conflicts with colleagues or even with superiors. In many cases office politics or gossips can be major stress inducers.
Personal or Family Problems
Employees going through personal or family problems tend to carry their worries and anxieties to the workplace. When one is in a depressed mood, his unfocused attention or lack of motivation affects his ability to carry out job responsibilities.
Job Stress and Women
Women may suffer from mental and physical harassment at workplaces, apart from the common job stress. Sexual harassment in workplace has been a major source of worry for women, since long. Women may suffer from tremendous stress such as `hostile work environment harassment`, which is defined in legal terms as `offensive or intimidating behavior in the workplace`. This can consist of unwelcome verbal or physical conduct. These can be a constant source of tension for women in job sectors. Also, subtle discriminations at workplaces, family pressure and societal demands add to these stress factors
The Survival Sutras
Because change is constant in life, stress is an integral part of it. Since we don`t want to perish under it, we have to adhere to the bottom line for survival—adapt.
Following are some of the long-term tips to survive stress:
•Even if we feel secured in a habituated life, the truth remains that changing with the times makes one`s position more secure. In today`s business climate, you must continually be prepared for changes to avoid stress and survive in the competitive world.
• Find and protect whatever time you get to refresh, re-energize and re-motivate yourself. Spend quality time with your family. This can be an excellent source of emotional and moral support.
• Avoid giving in to alcohol, smoking and other substance abuses while under constant stress.
• Develop positive attitudes towards stressful situations in life. Give up negative mental traits such as fear, anger and revengeful attitudes, which actually germinate stress. Try to revert to holistic relaxation and personal growth techniques such as meditation, breathing and exercises, to remodel your lifestyles. • In case of chronic stress consult a health professional.
• Reduce workplace stress by celebrating your`s or your colleagues` accomplishments.
•Adapting to demands of stress also means changing your personality. Improve your line of communication, efficiency and learn from other`s experiences.
•Don`t be complacent. Be prepared for any change physically, emotionally and financially.
But, when you are under stress at work, some simple practices can help:
•Sit straight and comfortably on your seat, and try breathing exercises. It will relax your nerves and muscles.
• Relax and count backwards (20, 19, 18, 17, 16, 15….)
•Try creative visualization
When under severe stress, an individual fails to take clear-cut decisions, reevaluate and reassess the priorities and lifestyles, and ultimately, tend to fall into unproductive distractions. This can be described as a classic case of `burnout`. The `burnouts` often engage in reckless or risk-taking behaviors. Starting from glamor and sport celebrities to common men, `burnouts` are found everywhere.
Chronic Responsibility Syndrome is a kind of burnout where people get mentally and physically exhausted from their workload. The symptom is often described as "there`s simply too much work to do, and no one else can do it but me". Typically it will occur in hard working, hard driven people, who become emotionally, psychologically or physically exhausted. You are at risk of burnout where:
• you find it difficult to say `no` to additional commitments or responsibilities
•you have been under intense and sustained pressure for some time
•your high standards make it difficult to delegate to assistants
• you have been trying to achieve too much for too long
•you have been giving too much emotional support for too long
Often burnout will manifest itself in a reduction in motivation, volume and quality of performance, or in dissatisfaction with or departure from the activity altogether.
Are You in Danger of Burning Out?
If you feel that you are in danger of burning out, the suggestions below can help you correct the situation:
• Re-evaluate your goals and prioritize them
• Evaluate the demands placed on you and see how they fit in with your goals
• Identify your ability to comfortably meet these demands.
• If people demand too much emotional energy, become more unapproachable and less sympathetic. Involve other people in a supportive role. Acknowledge your own humanity: remember that you have a right to pleasure and a right to relaxation
• Learn stress management skills
• Identify stressors in your life, such as work, or family. Get the support of your friends, family and even counseling in reducing stress
• Ensure that you are following a healthy lifestyle:
1. Get adequate sleep and rest to maintain your energy levels
2. Ensure that you are eating a healthy, balanced diet—bad diet can make you ill or feel bad. Limit your caffeine and alcohol intake
3. Try to recognize your spiritual needs that may have been buried under the mires of worldly pursuits
• Develop alternative activities such as a relaxing hobby to take your mind off problems
Have You Burned Out?
• If you are so de-motivated that for a time you do not want to continue with what you do, then take some time off
• Alternatively, try to switch to another area of activity within your organization. If you come back later, you may find that you have started to enjoy the work again, and can take on only those commitments that you want. You may, however, find that you have absolutely no interest in continuing with what you are doing. In this case it may be best to drop it altogether
• Take support and counseling of near and dear ones to bring change to the current situation
• Enroll yourself with some meditation or yoga classes (to ensure group spiritual practice), gyms, aerobics or sports clubs to switch your focus, and to reorganize your priorities
• If you are in late stages of burnout, feeling deeply de-motivated and disenchanted with your job or life, get help from a good psychologist.
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