Dealing With Stress in the Workplace

Contributor:  NC Narayanan
Posted:  11/23/2010  12:00:00 AM EST
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The workplace has become a high stress environment in many organizations cutting across industries. Employees' problems have a direct effect on a company's performance. A research study done in the UK clearly stated that for organizations employing fewer than 50 staff, stress was the top concern for 58 percent of safety reps; but in organizations with more than 1,000 employees, the figure rises to 67 percent. Moreover, workplace stress costs UK business an estimated £3.7 bn a year, according to government figures.

Experts believe that stress directly impacts an organization's performance and also affects the well-being of its employees. Stress at the workplace is linked to absenteeism, higher attrition, and decreased productivity affecting the profitability of the organizations. According to one study,  the most common triggers for rising stress levels are high workload, tight deadlines, high targets, type of work, lack of job satisfaction, lack of employees participation in decision-making, excessive control over the employees by the managers, long working hours, pressure to perform, Interpersonal conflicts at the workplace, such as boss-subordinate relationships and relationships with peers, etc.

There are certain issues outside the organization which lead to stress among employees. There are various expectations which the family members, peer, superior and subordinates have from the employee. Failure to understand such expectations or to convey such expectations leads to role ambiguity or role conflict, which in turn causes employee stress. Other individual factors causing stress among employees are personality traits such as being impatient, aggressive, rigid, always feeling time pressure, etc. Similarly, the family issues, personal financial problems, sudden career changes all lead to stress.

Stress leads to fatigue, irritability, poor communication, and reduced productivity. High stress levels also affect the morale and motivation of the employees. Prolonged exposure to stress without effective coping mechanisms could lead to a host of physical and mental problems. For instance, stress could lead to acidity, insomnia, depression, heart disease, etc.

Organizations cutting across industries are gearing up to provide employees with a stress-free healthy environment. Experts feel that, though stress at the workplace is a global phenomenon, professionals in some industries are more susceptible to stress than others. For instance, surveys in UK and US found that employees in Information Technology (IT) were the most stressed. Accordingly, these organizations have started implementing various unconventional methods to decrease stress at the workplace.

Even in India, organizations have woken up to this problem and are resorting to novel methods including teaching the employees dancing and music, trekking, etc, to reduce stress at the workplace. For instance, few organizations have started different clubs like Theatre Club, Adventure & Trekking Club, Fitness Club etc. In addition, organizations are also conducting off-site picnics, games, and inter-departmental competitions.

Some companies are also using a system of mentors and promoting open communication to improve interactions and camaraderie at the workplace. Employees in most of the established companies have access to in-house counseling centers. Some companies have also employed nutritionists to provide healthy food at canteens and counsel the employees on healthy eating habits and lifestyle. Today companies don’t hesitate to employ psychologists to counsel their employees. So corporate managers have realized the bottom line:

• Anything you can do to reduce the stress of your employees will increase their productivity and improve your bottom line.

• The cost of providing personal financial education is minimal compared to the cost of having financially stressed out employees.

• As you compete for top talent in the marketplace, anything that separates you from your competition can help you attract and retain the best employees.

Stress Management

“Stress” is a state of affairs involving demand on physical or mental energy. Stress management is the technique of controlling and reducing the tension that occurs in stressful situations by making emotional and physical changes. Stress is a response to changing or challenging surroundings or situations; therefore, stress management is ability of a person to react or adapt to changing or challenging situations in his or her life.

Changes happen in peoples' lives all the time, whether it is family, occupation, or home, so there are many aspects of a person's life that can induce a stressful reaction. Stress management is the need of the hour. However hard we try to go beyond a stress situation, life seems to find new ways of stressing us out and plaguing us with anxiety attacks. Moreover, be it our anxiety, mind-body exhaustion or our erring attitudes, we tend to overlook causes of stress and the conditions triggered by them. In such unsettling moments we often forget that stressors, if not escapable, are fairly manageable and treatable. Only the one who knows how to dodge stress excels in such situations.

Recognizing a Stressor

It is important to recognize whether you are under stress or out of it. Many times, even if we are under the influence of a stressful condition and our body reacts to it internally as well as externally, we fail to realize that we are reacting under stress. This also happens when the causes of stress are there long enough for us to get habituated to them. The body constantly tries to tell us through symptoms such as rapid palpitation, dizzy spells, tight muscles or various body aches that something is wrong. It is important to remain attentive to such symptoms and to learn to cope with the situations.

How can an individual avoid stress?

Attitude: A person's attitude can influence whether or not a situation or emotion is stressful. A person with a negative attitude will often report more stress than would someone with a positive attitude.

Avoid extremes: Why hate when little dislikes can do? Why generate anxiety when you can be nervous? Why rage when anger can do the job? Why be depressed when you can just be sad?

Relax: Learn how to best relax yourself. Practice clearing your mind of disturbing thoughts. One of the best ways to reduce your stress level or stressors is to find a hobby or something an individual can enjoy doing that is relaxing to him or her. Give yourself a break, if not only a few moments daily. People with no outside interests, hobbies, or ways to relax may be unable to handle stressful situations because they have no outlet for their stress.

What’s Important: Don’t overwhelm yourself by fretting about your entire workload. Figure out what is important and let rest of the details sit on the back burner. Reduce the number of things going on in your life, and you will be able to focus more time on what needs to be done.

Physical well-being: A poor diet puts the body in a state of physical stress and weakens the immune system. As a result, the person can be more likely to get infections. A poor diet can mean unhealthy food choices, not eating enough, or not eating on a normal schedule. This can cause a person to not get enough nutrients.

Social support: Make an effort to interact socially with people. Even though you feel stressed, you will be glad to have gone out to meet your friends if only to get your mind off of things. Reach out to individuals. Nurture yourself and others.

NC Narayanan Contributor:   NC Narayanan

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