A serious problem facing this generation’s workforce is increased levels of workplace stress. This current generation, more than any generation before, is faced with more intense levels of stress and frustration. If not properly confronted and resolved, this could very well lead to a generation of unhealthy, imbalanced employees. The cost of “progress” has been a lesser quality of life. It’s a serious problem that needs to be acknowledged by employees and employers alike. How can this stress be reduced and prevented? Why is it important for companies to be a part of the solution instead of a cause of the problem? How does the health of the individual employee directly impact the “health” of the company he works for? We will show how and why it’s important for companies and employees to approach this as a team effort to ensure the improved health of all involved.
First of all, what is job stress? According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA), “job stress can be defined as the harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources or needs of the worker.”
Job stress is very different from job challenges. Challenges are good. Challenges are obtainable goals. They provide the mind and body with “accomplishment”. Challenge is good because it improves self esteem and increases productivity.
Stress is when the “challenges” are not obtainable and the demands cannot be met. This leads to frustration, tension and panic. Productivity stalls and the employee is faced with “job failure”. Job failure taxes the employee psychologically and physically. This can also lead to illness and injury.
Who has been studying this problem? Many areas are recognizing this as a big problem. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) has studies for cause and effect based on the increase of workplace accidents and incidents. Health insurance companies, both the individuals and corporates via workman’s compensation claims are researching this new “epidemic”. St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Company notes that “problems at work are more strongly associated with health complaints than are any other life stressor – more so than even financial problems or family problems.”
This “stress epidemic” is causing a decline in health, an increase in medical costs and decreased employee productivity. This generates a spiral down effect. The decline of the individual is now showing to become decline in company performance and thus, its profitability.
What are some of the sources of job stress? Some of the sources or causes include: long work hours, demanding work shifts, conflicting or uncertain job expectations, job insecurity, lack of growth opportunity or rapid changes for which workers aren’t properly prepared.
Most tend to believe that short-term exposure to stress poses little long term risk. But if stressful situations go uncorrected, the body can suffer physically and a person’s ability to repair and defend itself can become seriously compromised.
What are the warning signs we need to be aware of? Indicators of stress include: headaches, sleeplessness, difficulty concentrating, short temper, upset stomach, job dissatisfaction and low morale. Stress can also be associated with increased absenteeism, tardiness and intentions of workers to quit their jobs.
So how can we fix this? How can we minimize or eliminate work places stress? Attain, this needs not only to be approached from both the individual perspective but also from the company’s perspective as well.
The two main approaches to help with stress are stress management and organizational change.
Stress management for the individual will help them to better cope with stressful situations. Many companies offer assistance with stress management training or through Employee Assistance programs. Ways the individual can help reduce stress is first to identify what is causing the stress. If the situation cannot be changed, change the way you think about it. Try to reframe your thoughts from negative “I can’t” to positive “this is how I can.”. Replacing self-defeating thoughts with positive ones can be very effective.
Organizational changes may be harder to obtain because it’s a change in the way a business does business. If companies are not committed to improving the health of their company, they may stay trapped in the “status quo” of bad work practices. What organizational changes can help reduce job stress? Re-distribution of workload, to better match the employees skills and capabilities can dramatically improve an employee’s morale and their feeling of self accomplishment.
Clearly defining a worker’s role and their responsibility allows the worker to understand what is expected and how they fit within the company. This gives a feeling of security that in turn allows the worker to be more productive and successful.
One of the most significant, and least costly to a company, is simply to improve communications. In an environment where job security is a major concern, internal restructuring and change is constant, a lack of communication leaves the worker unsure if, how or where they fit. This uncertainty can cause panic and worry. Simply opening up the flow of communication alleviates this stress and the employees can focus on work instead of survival.
Why is all of this important? Why should companies take this seriously? Everything is connected to the whole. If one piece is broken, then the whole is broken. If the broken piece isn’t fixed, the broken can grow larger and the whole becomes less healthy.
The individual needs to understand that stress is a serious problem and can cause serious health hazards. Stress that is not relieved can cause physical harm and psychological harm, medical ailments and self esteem issues.
Companies need to recognize and understand the impact that stress has on their employees. Long term, high stress also damages the company itself. It causes higher absenteeism, higher medical costs and less productive workers. By minimizing stress and utilizing the workers in a more effective way, they are not only improving the health of their employees but also strengthening their company. This makes more productive, happier employees which leads to better working environment and higher profits.
Generations ago, workers would hire on with a company, grow with that company, contribute to the success of that company and later, retire from that company. Today’s generation of companies need to learn from the past. If they would take the time to create employees for life, then everyone can win.