Stress in the Workplace and its Effects

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Stress in the workplace has been identified as one of the most costly problems in the 21st century. The economic condition has led to an emotional roller coaster for all the employees around the world. The ultimate result is feelings of uncertainty, feeling insecure, stress, and finally burn out. Therefore, the work place should identify the symptoms and treat accordingly, before it loses its valuable workforce. Employees should also stay alert on their emotional and physical wellbeing to avoid any kind of loss to the work place. This literature review discusses the correlation between work stress, and employee performance and productivity. The argument is built through a number of related factors such as causes of stress; identification; how it affect the company, employers, and employees; precautions and methods to be taken; and the positive effects of a stress free work place. It is important to establish a stress free work place that would enhance job performance, motivation, productivity, and efficiency of workers.

“Stress in the workplace affects employee performance hence the overall productivity. Companies face financial losses on a daily basis due to high employee turnover and lowered productivity.”

United Nation’s International Labor Organization defines occupational stress as a “global epidemic,” (Maxon, 2009). Almost all the companies around the world face the most costly problem: stress of the workers. American Psychological Association defines stress as specific and nonspecific responses a person elicit to highly demanding stimulus or stimuli that disturbs the equilibrium of mind ("Glossary of psychological," 2002). There is a high correlation between employee stress, job performance, and productivity. As the stress increases, job performance and productivity decreases. The risk factors, gender and ethnic discrimination, and emotional and physical ailments inhibit job motivation. Hence, work place should take necessary steps to establish a stress free work environment, in order to enhance productivity and motivation of employees.

Research has identified that 60% of the annual lost workdays is due to employee stress. It is also estimated that 75-90% of workers seek health care due to stress related problems. This not only affects their work life, but also affects their economy as it is relatively costly. Job related stress influence the wellbeing of an organization both directly and indirectly. In a survey done by The Wall Street Journal, reports that one out of three people considered quitting their jobs and 14% of employees actually did because of the work stress (Maxon, 2009). Likewise, employee turnover affects a company if it is a functional turnover, when good performance quit. Still, it would be costly for the organization as replacing new workers need to be trained for the new job. It will take few weeks or months for the organization to function as usual (Schultz & Schultz, 2010). Contrary, job related stress affect the organization indirectly, as employees make more mistakes, become disorganized, give less input, and become careless about work. This would affect company’s overall productivity, and would also lead to more customer complaints. This would also leads to great financial losses as the company start losing customers due to less productivity. There’s a negative correlation between work stress and, job motivation and efficiency. Therefore, measures need to be taken by both employee and employers to establish a stress free work place, while enhancing productivity and job motivation.

The work stress differs from occupation to occupation. When considering physical health, psychological wellbeing, and job satisfaction; six jobs have shown below average level of job satisfaction mainly due to work place stress. These occupations are ambulance workers, social services, teachers, customer services, call centers, police, and prison officers. The potential cause for this is identified as high stress jobs associated with high emotional labor (Johnson, Cooper & Cartwright, 2005). There are many internal causes for work stress, including structure of the task, interpersonal relationships, work roles, management styles, career concerns, and environmental conditions. (Maseda, 2004) These six causes could be further elaborated as follows. If the design of the task is less important and meaningful to the employee, if it has long working hours, and if there’s a negative correlation between the job task and skills of the employee; it could lead to stress. Poor interpersonal relationships too could lead to stress, as the worker do not get enough emotional support from colleagues and supervisors. The third factor, the work role affects workers when there are high job expectations or high responsibility. Management style which leads to stress is the authoritarian leadership style. The lack of communication between the employees and management, and lack of input in decision making can lead to stress. Another factor is career concerns, where the employee feels job insecurity, changes in advancement, and lack of opportunity for promotion. Last but not least, environmental factors play a huge role in work place stress. Poor work place design, lighting, noise, crowding, and other ergonomic problems positively correlate with job stress (Schultz & Schultz, 2010).

Work place bullying and discrimination also leads to employee stress. This comes under gender and ethnic harassment, where the harassment/ discrimination can take place between the employer and employee, between employees, and clients and employee. Many researchers have identified that it happens frequently on females and minority groups. As mentioned in the Minnesota Law Review, sexual harassment in the work place can be divided into three categories: classic or non-sexual harassment, sexual harassment, and mixed harassment (Frisch, 2014). Non-sexual discrimination comes in the form of offensive statements targeted at a person based on his/her gender. These are more or less like stereotypes the society holds. For an example, women are considered “dumb” at the workplace. The next type of discrimination, sexual discrimination usually involves physical harassment, sexually explicit comments, or sexual advances. Mixed harassment is when an employee experiences both sexual and non-sexual harassment at the same time (Frisch, 2014). Another cause for stress is ethnic harassment faced by minority groups in the work place. Minority stressors also link with psychological distress as well as job satisfaction and productivity. It has been identified that there are four factors that arouse stress in minority workers: discrimination, beliefs about stigma, internalized heterosexism, and suppression of identity. Stress is aroused when people are exposed to external conditions such as harassment, prejudice, and hate crimes. Lack of legal protection for minority workers makes a sense of insecurity. Finally, all these things would result in poor mental health and productivity of employees. (Velez & Brandon, 2013)

Recognizing warning signs of stress is also very important for both the employer and employee. Then the work place could apply good stress prevention strategies for to each and every worker. In the same way, the organization would be able to produce more efficient and skilled work force. There is no person other than the employee who could identify stress and take precautions to avoid it. Lack of confidence, irritability, feeling anxious, withdrawn, and lack of interest in work are the primary symptoms of stress. This could lead to chronic conditions such as physical ailments, lack of sex drive, alcohol dependency, trouble concentrating, and finally social withdrawal (Rusli, Edimansyah & Lin, 2008). Not only it interfere employee performance and productivity, but also chronic stress leads to severe health conditions as well. Cortisol; the stress hormone, weakens the body’s immune system. Increase levels of Cortisol leads to deterioration of T-cells, which is essential for immunity (Pomerantz, 2013). Relating stress to the workplace; job burnout is the syndrome a worker may face due to emotional exhaustion, lack of accomplishments and depersonalization. Hence, it is important for the employees to take care of themselves, for the sake of their family and their organization.

The stress in the work place could be reduced by both employees and employers. The best method is to employees to take care of themselves and be responsible of mental and physical wellbeing of them. First, job stress could be reduced by prioritizing and organizing the responsibilities. Time management and task management have to be done in a proper way to enhance efficiency. When considering time management, having a balanced schedule is important. The work life should be balanced with family and social life. Also, employees should make measures not to over commit themselves. Distinguishing the difference between “should,” and “musts” would contribute for a balanced schedule. The employee should have regular breaks throughout the day. Leaving early to work would also help to have a much relaxed day. There’s a huge difference between rushing to the work desk and, relaxing or easing one’s self with a coffee before a busy day. Hence, the employee should identify the difference between those and prioritize daily tasks in order, to have an efficient day. Task management is the other factor under prioritizing and organizing tasks. Willingness to compromise, or rather finding a happy middle ground between other co-workers would enhance efficiency. Therefore, employees should be flexible enough to contribute differently to different tasks. By this employees could delegate responsibility among each other. Breaking projects among co-workers would take away unnecessary stress from a worker (Otto,Kathlene, 2007). Apart from prioritization and organization; improvement of emotional intelligence also helps to reduce job stress. Emotional intelligence has four components which could be applied in the work place by workers. Self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management may reduce emotional conflicts. To raise emotional intelligence, a person has to first realize whether he’s stressed out or not. The next step is to stay connected with emotions and managing it. The more a person ignores his/her emotions; the more conflicts will arise with other employees leading to poor communication skills. Therefore, using positive methods such as using humor to tackle problems have a negative correlation with stress. Another fact is resisting perfectionism. Employees should understand that achieving perfectionism in everything is not necessary. Unrealistic goals again would turn into employee stress. These are the techniques an employee should practice in order avoid stress. If an employee already experience stress in the work place, he/she should take further precautions to avoid it. Taking time away, sharing it over with someone, developing more interactions at work, and looking for more humor would lighten the hard feelings. (Grawitch & Mathew, 2007)

Management and employers are the next main figure, who could intervene to establish a stress free work place while enhancing employee satisfaction. For this managers can act as role models. For an example, if a manager can stay calm in a stressful situation, it would reinforce workers to behave similarly in such situations. Improving communication, consulting employees, and cultivating a friendly social climate are three measures the management can take to reduce stress. To improve communication, the management has to clearly state the job responsibilities and job roles, and also share information about the company’s future goals, present success etc. This would reduce the doubts and uncertainty of the job. Consulting the employees is important, as it would reduce their stress as well as their ideas and suggestions would help the company’s success. Hence, having a democratic work environment is the best measure any organization could take. Furthermore, employees should be valued and praised for their performance, and offer rewards and incentives. Employers should give appropriate work load, which suits their skills, and the deadlines should be realistic. Providing career guidance and new opportunities would also enhance employer-employee relationship and it will have a negative correlation with workplace stress. Third factor, cultivating a friendly climate is also essential for job productivity and efficiency. The social climate could be between employer-employee, employee-employee, or employer-client. However, it should be rewarding for both and it should enhance motivation and satisfaction. (Richardson & Katherine, 2008)

Next factor to seek solutions is gender and ethnic discrimination. For gender discrimination, work place should implement policies to avoid any sort of discrimination or unfairness experience by any gender (Frisch, 2014).Focusing on ethnic harassment, Identity management strategies (IMS) have shown effective outcomes after being used on minority workers with work distress. It involves intercultural and intra-cultural communication. In a study done on a sample of 326 sexual minority employees, it has been identified that IMS have a positive correlation with job satisfaction. Furthermore, it acts as a buffer between stress and productivity. But, this buffering reduces as the work stress increases. (Velez & Brandon, 2013)

Establishment of a stress free workplace benefits both employees and the company. For employees; it leads to many positive outcomes as stress free environment reduces anxiety, fatigue, insomnia, as well as it relaxes mind, improves immune system, alertness, and leads to more healthy social relationships. On the other hand it affects the company, as increased productivity increases income, reduces employee turnover, and as the company gains the most valuable asset; skilled and efficient workforce (Hoel, Sparks & Cooper, 2008).Hence, managing stress in the work place is important as it increases employee motivation, productivity, as well as job satisfaction. Employer and employees together should alter the correlation of stress and less productivity to a stress free and more productive work place.


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