We spend 1/3 of our days at work. It’s no wonder that workplace stressors can have such a strong impact on both our physical and mental health. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has documented the impacts of prolonged work stress in areas such as cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal disorders, and psychological disorders. So, what can you do about it? In this article, we are going to discuss common sources of stress at work and how to manage workplace stressors.
Job content, organizational issues, and role stressors
Examples of work stressors related to job content include work that does not utilize one’s skills, is meaningless and unpredictable, involves emotional labor (e.g., having to smile all day), and lacks autonomy. Other causes of stress are dead-end jobs, inflexible schedules, environmental stressors (e.g., noise), low pay, and lack of resources at work.
Some stressors are related to organizational factors and the changing nature of work (e.g., a shift away from permanent, long-term positions). These include job insecurity, having to constantly learn new technology, vague organizational objectives, outsourcing, and globalization.
As for role-related sources of stress, three common ones include:
• Role ambiguity: Not knowing what you are expected to do or how you will be evaluated.
• Role overload: The perception of not having enough time to do one’s tasks.
• Role conflict: Having to deal with incompatible role pressures and demands.
So, how to manage all these sources of stress?
When you do not have any real options in terms of applying for better jobs, you should focus less on the sources of the stress and more on managing your responses to stressors (see the last section of this article). However, when you have employment options, it is important to choose work that:
1. Provides opportunities for advancement.
2. Provides flexibility and control.
3. Makes use of your skills.
4. Offers pay and benefits that you perceive as fair.
Also important are:
1. Safe and comfortable work environments.
2. Clear job descriptions—and supervisors who can clarify unstated expectations.
3. Work resources: Information, training opportunities, regular feedback, etc.
Relationship issues at work
Relationship issues and conflicts at work can be particularly stressful.
Sometimes the conflict is related to a coworker’s maladaptive personality traits—anger issues, aggression, narcissism, etc.
Other times, the conflict is related to situational factors like competition, group norms, or organizational culture. Common is a behavior called workplace incivility. Unlike negative interactions that are openly hostile (e.g., abuse and bullying) and occur in relationships where there is a major power imbalance (e.g., you and your boss), incivility involves harmful interactions that are less intense but more frequent, often occurring between coworkers.
So, how can we manage conflicts at work? Let us consider the simple case of you having an issue with a coworker:
1. Before you speak to the person, make sure you are trying to resolve a conflict as it relates to your work, not trying to change someone’s personality. Also, remember to listen.
2. When you speak to the person, keep your rights in mind. State, very specifically, what your coworker needs to do. Be firm but respectful.
3. If the problem is not resolved, consult with your supervisor or the human resources, or consider filing a formal complaint.
General stress management suggestions
To manage your stress, regardless of the source, follow these suggestions by According to the American Psychological Association:
1. Keep track of situations that cause you significant stress, and how you typically deal with them (e.g., going for a drink after a stressful day).
2. Consciously choose healthier ways to respond to stressful situations (e.g., a quick job instead of drinking).
3. Establish healthy boundaries. Keep your work and personal life separate.
4. Take time off work.
5. Learn a relaxation technique (e.g., yoga, deep breathing) and practice it regularly.
6. Ask your supervisor for help.
7. Seek support, whether through work programs, coworkers, friends, and family, or psychotherapy.