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In modern society, in which the workplace has been characterized as challenging, fast-paced, changing constantly and often influenced by the external environment (john); workplace stress has become more common and been the topic that generated a lot of attention and debates. This type of stress has been commonly found in many countries. According to (Huffi), Work Stress Survey has found that over 80% of American felt stressful at work, which was a surprisingly high number. Workplace stress can cause significant detrimental effects to the employees, which potentially leads to high financial costs for organizations. It is the role of the managers and the leaders to understand the reasons to workplace stress of employees, and ways to resolve the problems. Thus, this essay is served as a guidance and consultation for leaders and managers of modern organization on reducing workplace stress of employees; comprising of three main parts: Workplace stress definition and symptoms, causes of workplace stress, and finally the managers and leader’s roles in reducing workplace stress.
<II> Definition and Symptoms
1. What is Workplace Stress?
In order to find solutions to reduce workplace stress, it is important to explore the meaning of workplace stress. Workplace stress is also called as work-related stress, occupational stress or job stress. According to (hse), workplace stress is the negative physical and emotional reactions that people have due to certain demands placed on them at work. Because the employees are unable to deal with these demands, workplace stress occurs. Rather than being an illness, stress is physical and mental state. Nonetheless, when employees feel excessively stressful for a long time, they might suffer from serious physical and mental illness. The concept of workplace stress, challenge and pressure at work are often misunderstood. First of all, challenges at work are positive as it energizes employees both physically and mentally, which motivates them to try, learn and master their jobs (cdc). When employees overcome challenges, they feel satisfaction and relaxation. Thus, challenge can be seen as an important factor for productive work. Similarly, pressure can be a motivating factor since it has the effects of pushing employees to work effectively. Nonetheless, when there is too much pressure, it becomes stress for employees to perform well. In other words, workplace stress is a natural reaction from employees due to excessive pressure at work.
2. Workplace Stress Symptoms
There are numerous symptoms of workplace stress, which can be categorized into four groups: Psychological symptoms, emotional symptoms, physical symptoms and behavioral symptoms (bupa).
Firstly, in terms of psychological symptoms, the employees facing workplace stress when they have certain difficulties at work and they feel that they are unable to deal with them. They can also feel disappointed with themselves, or feel that they are lacking confidence. They find it difficult to be focused at work, or even lost their commitment and motivation for the work.
Secondly, with regards to emotional symptoms, employees might experience depression and other negative feelings. They might have excessive emotional reactions, such as becoming too sensitive towards a normal issue or being tearful. They might also be easy to get annoyed and irritable. They might also feel overwhelmed at work and experience swings in mood.
Thirdly, regarding physical symptoms, employees who get too stressful are likely to suffer from pain such as joint pain, back pain, chest pain, shoulder pain, neck pain and headache. Some illness might be occurred like indigestion, constipation and diarrhea.
Fourthly, when it comes to behavioral symptoms, the employees who suffer from stress might eat significantly less or more, sleeping too little or too much, isolating themselves from other people, including their co-workers, which denotes signs of social isolation. Worse, they might even try to relax in some harmful ways such as smoking too much, drinking alcohol or even taking some illegal drugs.
Thus, some of the symptoms of the suffering employees can be seen by other employees and their bosses; however, a lot of them can only be experienced by the suffering employees, without the notice of others, especially when they try to hide them.
<III> Causes of Workplace Stress
There are six main reasons that lead to the state where employees suffer from stress at work; they can be shortly called as demand, control, support, relationships, role, change and physical environment (hse). These reasons are also referred to as stressors.
Firstly, demands imply the demands that are placed on employees to perform the job while satisfying certain requirements or achieving certain standards, which makes them feel unable to meet these demand or cope with them. For example, the stress can be caused by the demand that employees need to meet unreasonable deadlines, demanding them to overwork or achieve unreasonable performance standards; or it might due to the fact that employees is doing the unsuitable jobs where they have insufficient skills, knowledge and experience to satisfy the job demands, thus, making them stressed. Secondly, control means when employees do not have a chance to raise their opinions and speak about their concerns, and their opinions are likely to be neglected at work. This potentially makes employees feel disregard and experience irritation or depression, which are the symptoms of stress.
Thirdly, support implies the situation where employees receive insufficient support at work, due to the company’s lack of procedures set to resolve problems, or the lack of support from their co-workers and bosses; making employees exert excessive effort to think of ways to handle and deal with the problems themselves. Fourthly, relationships denote negative relationships that employees have at work, such as the appearance of too much competition between employees at the same level, harassment, bullying at work – trying to cause problems to a particular employee’s performance and other types of conflicts between employees.
Fifthly, role is about the level of understanding and certainties employees have towards the roles and responsibilities of the job. When the roles and responsibilities are unclearly indicated, employees potentially feel lack of direction, uncertain and do not know how to perform. Sixthly, change is when employees are subject to excessive changes within a short amount of time. This change might come from the whole organizational change, or the change placed on employees by their co-workers or superior employees such as insecurity in jobs. Lastly, stress may occur due to the physical environment at the workplace. The workplace might be too overcrowding, noisy; there may appear the risks towards employees’ health and safety, and ergonomic problems (Medi).
<IV> Dangers of Workplace Stress – Financial costs
Workplace stress has been a huge concern for employers and employees in many countries, such as Australia, America, Britain and Canada, due to its detrimental effects as well as the financial costs it has on the employees and the organizations. Specifically, stress at the workplace significantly reduces employees’ productivity through rising absenteeism and presenteeism – the situation where employees still go to work; however, due to their illness or diseases suffered by stress, they are unable to perform the job as effectively and efficiently as demands (Medibank). This creates direct financial costs on the organization or the employer.
According by Medibank-commissioned research, in Australia, unhealthy employees are three times less productive than healthy employees. Moreover, the unhealthy employees also take nine times more sick leaves compared to the healthy employees. Furthermore, almost USD 26 billion dollars are costs each year in Australia due to presenteeism. Also due to presenteeism, an average of six working days in terms of of productivity is lost every year. Medibank-commissioned research also found that in total, presenteeism and absenteeism due to workplace stress cost the economy of Australia almost USD 15 billion every year, and cost employers in Australia over USD 10 billion every year.
In America, the situation is even worse as stress at the workplace cost American organizations over USD 300 billion annually regarding absenteeism, health costs and low performance. It was reported that about 30% of workers in America suffered from occasional stress, creating rising health care costs, absenteeism, disability periods, poor productivity and even job turnover. (UML) has provided some surprising statistics as workplace stress led to 40% of turnover, unhealthy employees’ health expenditure appear 50% larger than that of healthy employees. Absenteeism in large organizations costs averagely over USD 3.5 billion annually.