Stress at work - for employees
Signs of stress
- short-term memory failure
- irritability, often over minor things
- feeling constantly distracted and lacking concentration
- inability to see and think laterally
- inability for the brain unwind and relax
- muscle tension
- skin problems
- high blood pressure.
Workplace stress not only affects your physical, mental and emotional health but also causes lost productivity through increased sick leave and low staff morale. If left unmanaged, excessive and prolonged stress can potentially result in destructive burnout.
Around the world the incidence of workplace stress is increasing, partly due to greater awareness and reporting of stress but also due to new technologies putting greater demands on our time and concentration. Because stress in small doses can motivate, make work exciting and result in a sense of achievement (once the stressful task is completed), experts talk about the importance of building resilience as a way of managing stress when it becomes excessive.
How to build resilience and avoid excessive workplace stress
- Ensure you have adequate breaks during the working day, stop for a drink, go outside for a walk.
- Talk about what is causing you stress with your colleagues, manager, union delegate, friend or partner.
- Remember the basic building blocks to avoid stress: learn relaxation techniques, get exercise, eat well and get a good night's sleep.
- Experts now believe that optimism can be learned; try to believe the problems that are causing you stress are solveable and that things will get better.
- Ask for new tasks if stuck on boring, repetitive or meaningless ones.
- Make connections with your colleagues, take time to talk to them about their work and yours, you may be able to help each other during times of high workload or simply give each other sympathy and moral support.
- Technology is a prime cause of stress, remember that not every email needs an instant response and that just because you can check your work emails at the weekend doesn't mean you should. Be prepared to turn off your mobile or not answer work calls out of work hours.
- Join your union, they should be able to tell if your boss is putting unreasonable stress on you and will provide support in dealing with the problem.
Main causes of workplace stress and how to deal with them
Work is often most stressful when it is high pressured and you have minimal or no support and limited control over your work.
Research in the United Kingdom in 2007 found that office politics was the number one cause of workplace stress. Dealing with conflict in the workplace requires good communication channels, tolerance and fair mechanisms for dealing with disputes. However, remember that the behaviour of an annoying colleague is beyond your control so it is best to try and let their irritating nature wash over you as much as possible. Focus instead on what you can control, which is your reaction to them.
- Be realistic about how much work you can achieve within given timeframes and do not take on extra tasks unless given adequate support and resources to complete them.
- Manage your time.
- Make lists of what you need to achieve in order of their importance and fight any tendency to procrastinate.
- If a task seems too huge, do not let it overawe you, make a start and remember it will be completed bit by bit.
- If a task really does prove too big, always ask for help and let your employer know that you may need extra time, advice or assistance to complete it.
Other factors that cause workplace stress
- poor work systems
- inadequate job design
- unmanageable or excessive job demands
- high-pressured work
- lack of support
- poor management (which may include poor employee performance)
- excessive hours
- organisational, social and environmental factors, such as poor leadership, bullying, harassment, isolation, and poor ergonomics.
What the law says
Both employers and employees have a responsibility to make their workplaces safe from hazards, including those likely to cause harmful stress. This means that as a worker you are obliged to report anything that is likely to cause excessive stress and your boss is obliged to investigate it.
New Zealand research
Research from the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study has found that stress resulting from high-pressure jobs can lead to depression and anxiety. Employers are obligated to take reasonable steps to eliminate, isolate or minimise the risk of stress on the job, while employees have a responsibility to look after their wellbeing while at work. The researchers suggest that individual stress management techniques such as developing coping skills and relaxation techniques can be effective in reducing stress.
Consumer New Zealand has put out a self-help stress management focussed book (2008) with the catchy title - I've had it up to here: from stress to strength, written by Gaynor Parkin and Sarah Boyd, Umbrella Health and Resilience .
Where to get help
The Department of Labour - www.dol.govt.nz
Through your union or the Council of Trade Unions - www.union.org.nz
A General Practitioner - Find a GP
The Mental Health Foundation reading list on Stress in the Workplace.
Workplace stress tips from Monday to Friday