July 17,2015

Stress in the Workplace – Part 1

Your company insures its office equipment.  Your computers are frequently updated and the best anti-virus software is installed to ensure your programs run at an optimum level. Even your office coffee machine and water cooler probably get a “tweaking” now and then.

What about your employees?  The concept of group insurance is to protect your company’s greatest asset – your employees. However, the majority of companies do not have a “maintenance” program in place to ensure employees are producing for their employer at an optimum level, as well.

Cutbacks, downsizing, computerization, globalization, cost controls…the words of change…all present challenges to management, organizations, and their employees. The challenges of living in a world of constant change do not end with the workday. Personal problems, drug and alcohol abuse, and mental distress do not get left at home. Any combination of personal and professional stressors can take an immense toll on the workplace. The cost associated with absenteeism, worker’s compensation claims, escalating group insurance premiums, and employee turnover are hard to control, but the cost of not dealing with the sources of these problems can escalate out of control.

What is workplace stress?

Workplace stress is a chronic disease caused by conditions in the workplace that negatively affect an individual’s performance and/or overall well-being of their body and mind. One or more of a host of physical and mental illnesses manifests job stress. Studies have shown that job stress is becoming disabling at an alarming rate. Depression, only one type of stress reaction, is predicted to be the leading occupational disease of the 21st century, responsible for more days away from work than any other single factor. Currently, mental/nervous conditions are one of the leading causes of workplace-related disabilities across Canada.

In the early stages, job stress can “rev” up the body and enhance performance in the workplace, thus the term “I perform better under pressure”. However, if this condition is allowed to go unchecked and the body is revved up further, the performance ultimately declines and the person’s health degenerates.

The signs of workplace stress vary from person to person, depending on the particular situation; how long the individual has been subjected to the stressors; and the intensity of the stress itself. Typical symptoms of workplace stress can be:

  • Insomnia
  • Loss of mental concentration
  • Anxiety
  • Absenteeism
  • Depression
  • Immune response and deficiency
  • Obesity
  • Substance abuse
  • Extreme anger and frustration
  • Family conflict
  • Physical illness. The leading six causes of death in North America are linked to stress – heart disease, cancer, lung issues, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide.

When under severe stress, an individual fails to make clear-cut decisions, reevaluate and reassess the priorities and lifestyles, and ultimately tend to fall into unproductive distractions. This can be described as a classic case of “burnout”. The “burnouts” often engage in reckless or risk-taking behaviours. Chronic Responsibility Syndrome is a kind of burnout where people get mentally and physically exhausted from their workload. The symptom is often described as “there’s simply too much work to do, and no one else can do it but me”. Typically it will occur in hard-working, hard-driven people, who become emotionally, psychologically or physically exhausted. Often burnout will manifest itself in a reduction of motivation, volume and quality of performance, or in dissatisfaction with or departure from the activity altogether.

The next entry will look at some of the most visible causes of workplace stress, the costs, and – most importantly – some strategies an organization can take to survive it.