What is Job Stress?
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 can lead to poor health and even injury.
The concept of job stress is often confused with challenge, but these concepts are not the same. Challenge energizes us psychologically and physically, and it motivates us to learn new skills and master our jobs. When a challenge is met, we feel relaxed and satisfied. Thus, challenge is an important ingredient for healthy and productive work. The importance of challenge in our work lives is probably what people are referring to when they say “a little bit of stress is good for you.”
But for Mark and Sabrina, the situation is different—the challenge has turned into job demands that cannot be met, relaxation has turned to exhaustion, and a sense of satisfaction has turned into feelings of stress. In short, the stage is set for illness, injury, and job failure.
The longer Mark waited, the more he worried. For weeks he had been plagued by aching muscles, loss of appetite, restless sleep, and a complete sense of exhaustion. At first he tried to ignore these problems, but eventually he became so short-tempered and irritable that his wife insisted he get a checkup. Now, sitting in the doctor’s office and wondering what the verdict would be, he didn’t even notice when Sabrina took the seat beside him.
They had been good friends when she worked in the front office at the plant, but he hadn’t seen her since she left three years ago to take a job as a customer service representative. Her gentle poke in the ribs brought him around, and within minutes they were talking and gossiping as if she had never left.
“You got out just in time,” he told her. “Since the reorganization, nobody feels safe. It used to be that as long as you did your work, you had a job. That’s not for sure anymore. They expect the same production rates even though two guys are now doing the work of three.
We’re so backed up I’m working twelve-hour shifts six days a week. Guys are calling in sick just to get a break. Morale is so bad they’re talking about bringing in some consultants to figure out a better way to get the job done.”
“Well, I really miss you guys,” she said. “I’m afraid I jumped from the frying pan into the fire. In my new job, the computer routes the calls and they never stop. I even have to schedule my bathroom breaks. All I hear the whole day are complaints from unhappy customers. I try to be helpful and sympathetic, but I can’t promise anything without getting my boss’s approval. Most of the time I’m caught between what the customer wants and company policy.
I’m not sure who I’m supposed to keep happy. The other reps are so uptight and tense they don’t even talk to one another. We all go to our own little cubicles and stay there until quitting time. To make matters worse, my mother’s health is deteriorating. If only I could use some of my sick time to look after her. No wonder I’m in here with migraine headaches and high blood pressure.
But sooner or later, someone will have to make some changes in the way the place is run
What are the Causes of Job Stress?
- Job stress results when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources, or needs of the people.
- What is stressful for one person may not be a problem for someone else. Although the importance of individual differences cannot be ignored, scientific evidence suggests that certain working conditions are stressful to most people.
Job Conditions That May Lead to Stress
The Design of Tasks. Heavy workload, infrequent rest breaks, long work hours and shiftwork; hectic and routine tasks that have little inherent meaning, do not utilize workers’ skills, and provide little sense
of control. Example: Mark works to the point of exhaustion. Sabrina is tied to the computer, allowing little room for flexibility, self-initiative, or rest.
Management Style. Lack of participation by workers in decision making, poor communication in the organization, lack of family friendly policies.
Example: Sabrina needs to get the boss’s approval for everything, and the company is insensitive to her family needs.
Interpersonal Relationships. Poor social environment and lack of support or help from coworkers and supervisors.
Example: Sabrina ’s physical isolation reduces her opportunities to interact with other workers or receive help from them.
Work Roles. Conflicting or uncertain job expectations, too much responsibility, too many “hats to wear.”
Example: Sabrina is often caught in a difficult situation trying to satisfy both the customer’s needs and the company’s expectations.
Career Concerns. Job insecurity and lack of opportunity for growth, advancement, or promotion; rapid changes for which workers are unprepared.
Example: Since the reorganization at Mark’s plant, everyone is worried about their future with the company and what will happen next.
Environmental Conditions. Unpleasant or dangerous physical conditions such as crowding, noise, air pollution, or ergonomic problems.
Job Stress and Health
Stress sets off an alarm in the brain, which responds by preparing the body for defensive action. The nervous system is aroused and hormones are released to sharpen the senses, quicken the pulse, deepen respiration, and tense the muscles. This response (sometimes called the fight or flight response) is important because it helps us defend against threatening situations. The response is preprogrammed biologically.
Everyone responds in much the same way, regardless of whether the stressful situation is at work or home. Short-lived or infrequent episodes of stress pose little risk. But when stressful situations go unresolved, the body is kept in a constant state of activation, which increases the rate of wear and tear to biological systems.
Ultimately, fatigue or damage results, and the ability of the body to repair and defend itself can become seriously compromised. As a result, the risk of injury or disease escalates. In the past 20 years, many studies have looked at the relationship between job stress and a variety of ailments.
Mood and sleep disturbances, upset stomach and headache, and disturbed relationships with family and friends are examples of stress-related problems that are quick to develop and are commonly seen in these studies. These early signs of job stress are usually easy to recognize. But the effects of job stress on chronic diseases are more difficult to see because chronic diseases take a long time to develop and can be influenced by many factors other than stress.
Nonetheless, evidence is rapidly accumulating to suggest that stress plays an important role in several types of chronic health problems—especially cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal disorders, and psychological disorders.
Early Warning Signs of Job Stress
- Sleep disturbances
- Difficulty in concentrating
- Short temper
- Upset stomach
- Job dissatisfaction
- Low morale
Preventing Job Stress – Getting Started
No standardized approaches or simple “how to” manuals exist for developing a stress prevention program.
What we do is a simple yet effective method called EFT Tapping.
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