Work should be a source of happiness and self-fulfillment in an ideal world. It would involve using talents and skills to make meaningful contributions to society. These contributions would bring us a sense of purpose and satisfaction. They would also enable us to achieve financial stability to improve our quality of life. Sadly, this world remains out of reach.
The demanding nature of the modern work environment is becoming mainstream, and workers feel the effects. Many employees ignore their work-life balance to pursue career advancement and achieve professional success. The pressure of this pursuit ends up chipping away at their well-being.
While a bit of pressure can help motivate us to perform better, too much of it can have the opposite effect. Work stress now poses a significant threat to workers’ mental and physical health and, in turn, affects the collective productivity of organizations.
That said, workers can’t escape the pressures of a contemporary workplace. What matters is how they manage it.
So, in this article, we will delve into the causes and effects of workplace stress and share some practical tips for managing and reducing stress levels.
What Is Workplace Stress?
Workplace stress refers to the physical, emotional, and mental strain employees experience due to the demands and pressures of their jobs. It’s one of the most common work-related illnesses affecting professionals and reducing productivity.
One of the primary syndromes of workplace stress is burnout. The World Health Organization explains burnout as an occupational phenomenon and characterizes it in three dimensions:
- Negative feelings toward one’s job
- Reduced performance
Employees and professionals in different fields experience stress as work pressure is unavoidable. The American Institute of Stress surveyed US workers and found that more than 80% experience workplace stress. The institute also reported that over 50% of employees leave their jobs to escape burnout.
According to the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General, 84% of workers said situations in their work affected their mental health to a degree.
Signs of Workplace Stress
Workplace stress manifests in physical and emotional forms. Let’s cover the symptoms.
- Anxiety or worry
- Irritability or anger
- Sadness or depression
- Feeling overwhelmed or helpless
- Lack of motivation or focus
- Decreased job satisfaction
- Withdrawal from social interactions
- Increase in alcohol or drug use
- Muscle tension or pain
- Fatigue or low energy
- Sleep disturbances
- Stomach or digestive problems
- Increased heart rate or palpitations
- Sweating or hot flashes
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Illnesses such as colds or flu due to a weakened immune system
Top 7 Causes of Workplace Stress and Practical Solutions
1. Heavy Workload
Studies have found that succumbing to your workload harms your mental and physical health and hurts your performance.
A heavy workload means you have too much to do in little time. It leads to scheduling chaos, loss of control of your time, panic, and confusion. The pressure of beating deadlines may force you to work longer hours, leading to sleep deprivation, exhaustion, and loss of concentration. Over time, performance will begin to drop, and you may no longer meet deadlines.
You may also feel anxious and tense, leading to physical symptoms such as muscle tension, headaches, and stomach aches.
The WHO reported that 347,000 people died from heart disease and 398,000 from a stroke in 2016 because they worked more than 55 hours weekly.
How to Manage a Heavy Workload
Let’s walk you through different ways of managing your workload.
Capture your workload
The first step is knowing exactly how many tasks you have to handle. That way, unexpected work won’t blindside you.
Know what to keep
Once you’ve cataloged your tasks, determine which ones to handle. Take a deep dive and consider which work is important, urgent, and unnecessary. Task prioritization is a great way to keep your schedule clean and manageable.
You don’t have to work on every single task yourself. Identify tasks that you can pass on to someone else so that you can focus on jobs that matter. However, it’s crucial to remember that delegating doesn’t imply neglecting responsibilities. You should assign tasks to someone who can accomplish them with at least 70% of the quality you would deliver.
Learn to say no
It’s important to understand your capacity and know what you can handle. That way, you can say no to jobs that may jeopardize your routine.
2. Poor Time Management
Research has shown a significant link between time management and work stress. Neglecting time management has dire consequences on any worker’s mental and physical health.
Not planning properly means pursuing deadlines with haste, reducing work quality. You’ll also be handling the right jobs at the wrong time, which can increase panic and anxiety.
How to Get Time Management Right
Better time management practices can help you regain control of your schedule and keep you organized. There are different ways to do that.
Use time management techniques
You can use different time management techniques to manage your workload and complete tasks efficiently. From time blocking and time mapping to using the Pomodoro technique, you can breeze through daily tasks without breaking a sweat.
Use an effective time management tool to understand how you use time
A time management tool, such as a time tracker, can help you understand how and where you spend your time. This data lets you know how to reconfigure your day, plug loopholes, and eliminate time wasters and distractions.
Stick to a daily schedule
A strict schedule gives your day the required structure to help you efficiently manage time. You can get used to how you allocate tasks and navigate a typical workday.
3. Workplace Culture
Workplace culture refers to an organization’s shared values, attitudes, and behaviors. A hostile workplace culture can create a stressful environment that can impact workers’ physical and mental health.
Dealing with things like poor communication, inadequate feedback, and unrealistic expectations can poison the work environment and cause stress among workers. Other issues, such as harassment, murmuring, and bullying, also make work environments unbearable.
How to fix the problem
It’s up to the organization’s leadership to address these issues by setting up effective policies. From establishing clear communication channels to decisively dealing with toxic workplace behaviors such as harassment, managers can clean up the company’s culture and facilitate a healthier work environment.
4. Lack of Support
When employees lack support, they need more resources, encouragement, and guidance to perform tasks effectively. Lack of support can take many forms, including inadequate training, insufficient staffing, and lack of feedback.
The feeling of being unsupported can cause work-related stress in several ways. Workers will grow frustrated when they can’t meet expectations due to a lack of work resources. This feeling leads to anxiety and reduced work satisfaction.
Workers may also feel undervalued if employers don’t show concern about their mental and physical health.
Dealing with a lack of support
Workers can voice their concerns and show employers where they need more support. They can use helpful facts to point out how not getting the support they need affects their work and output.
Employers can resolve the issue by:
- Opening clear lines of communication,
- Identifying areas that require support and providing adequate resources
- Organizing surveys to get workers’ insights
- Providing adequate training and encouraging employee development
- Addressing issues as they occur
5. Poor Management
A lot of work processes and decisions rest on the shoulders of management. That’s why leadership plays a significant role in causing or preventing workplace stress.
When managers fail to provide optimal leadership and engage in harmful practices, it affects employees. Different management approaches can get employees worked up, from micromanagement and lack of support to neglect and issues in communication.
How good management can help
It falls on managers to foster enabling work environments by establishing employee-focused policies.
Alleviate heavy workload
Managers can do the following to reduce heavy workload:
- Get rid of low-impact tasks
- Clarify priorities and reduce work obstacles
- Identify the right person for each task
- Prioritize tasks
- Hire additional staff where possible
- Provide adequate resources
Incorporate the right tools
Technological tools are often the difference between effective and harmful management. For example, organizations can use time management tools to understand how workers use time, eliminate payroll issues, and measure productivity.
It’s also important that managers identify the right tools by aligning the company’s needs and budget with the application that works.
Encourage employee wellness programs
Exercising is among the most effective stress management strategies managers can leverage. Physical activity diverts employees’ attention from work-related stressors and helps them concentrate. Moreover, exercise stimulates the production of neurotransmitters that promote a positive mood and sense of well-being in the brain.
Allow employees to work remotely
You brought your employees on board because you trust their competence and efficiency, so allow them to demonstrate it. Don’t make the workplace feel like a prison. Instead, create a productivity-focused work environment. Workers should know that you recognize success through work quality and the ability to beat deadlines.
As such, wherever they work from should be fine as long as they can deliver.
6. Job Security
Job insecurity is a feeling experienced by workers in organizations with high employee turnover.
Uncertainty about whether one’s job is secure can lead to anxiety and fear, impacting mental and physical health. The fear of losing a job can affect workers’ self-esteem, causing them to doubt their abilities and value to the company.
Additionally, employees may feel pressured to work harder to prove their worth to their employer, which can lead to overexertion and burnout.
How to get rid of stress caused by job insecurity
You don’t always have to stay worked up whenever you walk into your office. It kills morale and sets you back. There are different ways you can confront the fear of losing your job so that you can concentrate on your tasks.
Focus on the present
While worrying about the future is natural, sticking to what’s in front of you is always better. Prioritize what you can control, such as your work tasks, and avoid dwelling on hypothetical scenarios that may or may not happen.
Build a support system
Having a support system of family, friends, and colleagues can help you manage stress. Talking to others who understand your situation can provide emotional support and help you gain perspective.
Engage in activities that promote relaxation and reduce stress, such as meditation, exercise, or hobbies you enjoy. Taking care of your physical and emotional health can improve your resilience and ability to cope with stress.
Build your skills
Developing your skills and knowledge can help you feel more secure in your job and improve your chances of finding new employment if necessary. Look for opportunities to learn new skills or take on new responsibilities at work.
Explore your options
Consider creating a backup plan, such as developing a side hustle or networking with other professionals in your field. This strategy can provide additional income and security.
7. Lack of Autonomy
Having no control over how you work is a workplace stressor that can have significant effects. This work condition is prevalent in environments where superiors engage in micromanagement.
Micromanaged workers are always under constant pressure and close monitoring, which can cause anxiety and stress. Research has found that employees who lack autonomy are at risk of suffering cardiovascular problems.
Micromanagement is dangerous because it breeds a lack of trust and decreases work satisfaction.
How to resolve the lack of autonomy
Managers are advised to offer workers more freedom and decision-making powers. They must embrace a work model that focuses more on results and less on processes.
Employees can also speak to managers about how micromanagement is affecting their performance. They can work closely with their supervisors and create a feedback routine that keeps everyone updated without work disruptions.
Managing And Avoiding Stress Can Be Your Superpower
You can always keep work healthy by drawing your employer’s attention to workplace stressors and identifying issues that impact your mental and physical health. Remember that time management techniques, powerful time and task management tools, and a robust support network are part of an effective stress management arsenal.