Relax! Managing Stress in the Workplace

The Centers for Disease Control And Prevention estimates the percentage of workers nationwide who are “extremely stressed at work” may be as high as 40. Unfortunately, job-related stress can have a significant impact on overall health. It can cause anything from common colds and flu to heart disease and metabolic issues. Familiarizing yourself with sources of stress can help workers avoid stress and prevent these circumstances from occurring.

Most stress tends to occur in scenarios where workers have minimal control over events and conditions. Often, these types of positions call for too much responsibility coupled with too little authority. It is important that employees have specific, written job descriptions, which will ensure expectations are understood and defined.

Although gainful employment is considered good for mental health, adverse work conditions can have a negative effect on well-being. Job strain, supervisor/co-worker relationships, job insecurity, job control and work hours all are potential stressors.

In some cases, work environments, themselves, create stress. Noise exposure, lack of privacy, poor lighting, and poor ventilation or temperature can all induce stress. Management styles that are overtly authoritarian, laid back or reactive can also be stressful to some workers.

According to the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Stress in the Workplace Guide, “Employees can counteract these pressures through workers’ unions or other organizations, grievance or personnel offices or, more commonly, by direct negotiations with their immediate supervisors.”

Linemen, wiremen and electrical workers experience pressures and burdens that those in many other occupations do not. These daily risks can create added stress. For example, if a worker witnesses an injury or an incident, it can result in long-term mental health issues, such as flashbacks, nightmares and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Unfortunately, many people work at jobs that they don’t like or aren’t good at. According to the Stress in the Workplace Guide, “Most people spend about 25 percent of their adult lives working. If you enjoy what you do, you’re lucky. But if you’re the proverbial square peg and your job is a round hole, job stress hurts your productivity and takes a serious toll on your mind and body.”

Far too often, employees stay at jobs with increased stress levels. This occurs as a result of financial obligations or fear of losing their income, pension or benefits.

The APA states, “The loss of a job can be devastating, putting unemployed workers at risk for physical illness, marital strain, anxiety, depression and even suicide. Loss of a job affects every part of life, from what time you get up in the morning, to whom you see and what you can afford to do. Until the transition is made to a new position, stress is chronic.”

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health’s Science Blog indicates, “Workplace suicide and mental health in general are often underrepresented in workplace health and safety discussions. However, globally, more than 300 million people suffer from depression, the leading cause of disability.”

It is estimated that one in five people in the United States suffers from some form of mental illness. Therefore, being aware of mental health is an important piece of overall wellness. Often, stress can cause these symptoms. Some common workplace issues that negatively affect mental health include stigma and discrimination; effort/reward relationships; job burnout; harassment, violence, bullying and mobbing; and substance abuse at work. If mental hazards are effectively managed, they will lead to reduced absenteeism, employee turnover, grievances, health costs, medical leave, work time lost and workplace injuries and accidents.

Poor nutrition and lack of exercise can adversely affect morale and job safety. Some experts have indicated that unhealthy habits may reduce job productivity as much as 20 percent worldwide. Eating well and regular exercise are a commitment toward ensuring long-term health. Proper nutrition and conditioning also help control weight and reduce the risk of chronic disease, injuries, heart disease and other illnesses. Those pursuits also help reduce stress and fatigue and increase job satisfaction and productivity.

Finally, getting adequate sleep, staying organized and being comfortable while on the job can help prevent stress from becoming overwhelming in the workplace. Workers who don’t get enough sleep or work in disorganized work areas typically experience higher stress levels.

About the Author

Tom O'Connor

Safety Columnist

Tom O'Connor is safety and regulatory affairs manager for Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. Reach him at toconnor@intecweb.com.

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