Most people spend at least a third of their lives in the workplace and we all know full well that stress can take a serious toll on our health. With workplace stress continuously increasing, it is important that we learn what causes stress in the workplace. Once we can identify what the causes are, we will be able to start learning to relieve and manage it.
Effects of Stress in the Workplace
Stress in the workplace is not just “someone else’s” problem. When employees are stressed, it can effect business results overall. Managers and businesses will, at a minimum, be forced to cope with:
- Decreasing productivity levels
- Reduced quality of work
- Increases in employee absenteeism, and
- Declining employee health that can have long-term effects on both employee, as well as business, performance
Causes of Stress at Work
Workplace stress is caused by a variety of factors that overlap with one another, but are also important in their own rights.
1) Dealing with difficult people. When most people think about what causes them grief at work, they probably first think specifically about one or two people. Let us face it. After the first year in a role, most jobs really are not that difficult. The hardest part about working in the business world is dealing with difficult people. Stress really elevates when the difficult person in your life is your manager.
2) Unfairness and poor management. We all know that life is not fair, but that does not mean that we are ok with it. At work, we want to know that if we work hard and produce quality work products, we will be appreciated and valued. We want to know that the people who produce the best results are the ones who will get promoted or get that raise or bonus. When it comes down to it, however, rarely does the working world run this way. Again, when the person who shows the most unfairness is your manager, stress levels in the workplace increase. (See related articles: 15 Signs Your Manager is Trying to Force You to Quit, Lay You Off or Fire You and Tricks HR Plays that You MUST Know About.
3) Lack of control. Often, someone will enter a new team or take on a project or task that was originally started or done by their manager. Because the manager feels they have more experience completing the task or role, they expect the employee to complete the work exactly the way they used to do it themselves. However, more often than not, the employee has a more efficient method, or at least a different way of achieving the same results. This is where the cause of the stress lies. The manager wants the employee to do things the same way they have always been done, and the employee is frustrated because they know they can achieve the same results, if not better, by doing it their own individual way. Lack of control in the workplace can come in many forms. This is just one example. But it is this lack of control that creates large amounts of stress.
4) Bullying and harassment. There is a lot of talk going on about bullying in schools and it is great that awareness is being brought to this issue. But what most do not realize is that bullying does not end in high school. Bullying and harassment occur more frequently in the workplace than you might think. Bullying can come from managers as well as other colleagues and can come in many forms. This is probably one of the biggest causes of stress in the workplace and is something we all need to be more aware of.
Workplace Stress and the Economy
While not an everyday cause for stress at work, the economy does have an impact on stress levels in the workplace, especially during more dire times. As you read, keep in mind that while I use the broader business level, a change at any level of the company can create this type of stress. Even if a team loses or gains one individual, the dynamics can change entirely.
In difficult economic times or when corporations realize they are behind their game, organizations have to rethink their strategies and restructure their business. As a result, many organizational shifts occur which in turn affects individual jobs. Employees are not only asked to take on more work as they see their close friends and colleagues being let go, but they are also being held accountable for new work responsibilities that they have never done before. In addition, employees are expected to produce results in these new responsibilities at the caliber of an expert in the field. So not only are employees being made accountable for areas they have no knowledge of, but they are also being asked to produce top-notch results in these same areas. The stress of being put in the wrong roles and being overworked and burnt out can take a major toll on the employee, and fast.
How Leaders (and Employees) can Reduce Stress in the Workplace
The question we all should consider is how can we reduce stress in the workplace? What can we do about this? I tend to walk around with rose-tinted glasses but here are some things that could really help make this one very important third of lives a little better:
1) Show a little love. What really makes the world go round is love, kindness and appreciation. This idea may have been too “soft” or “mushy” in the past. But what about all of these “random acts of kindness,” “free hugs,” and “pay for the person behind you at the drive thru” campaigns that go viral? Everyone wants a little love, even the difficult people in your life, and one act of kindness creates a domino effect. It just takes one person to start it. While I do not expect kindness to work on everyone and I still suggest that you keep yourself on guard, with time and patience kindness works on most people. Not only will this help reduce the causes of stress in the workplace, but it could also be the start of a wonderful friendship.
2) Fairness. As kids we learned to play nice with others and that “sharing is caring”. Then we grew up and learned that working life does not function that way. However, for those of you who are managers and want to be a true leader, be sensitive to the needs of your employees. Being unfair to your employees does not in any way benefit you. By causing unnecessary stress for others, you are only hurting yourself. If you are fair and you are getting feedback that your employees see otherwise, have a conversation with them and let them know what your criteria for success is. Be transparent. How do you evaluate which individual should get raises, bonuses and promotions? Be willing listen to your employees and adjust your criteria if needed. Let your employees feel heard and their stress levels will start to decline while their productivity and quality levels rise.
3) Empower your employees. As a manager your focus should be on results. If an employee achieves results and is ethical, how does it matter how the employee achieved them? Empower your employees and ask them to find better ways of doing things. After all, you hired them to produce great results more efficiently – so let them! By doing this, you will reap the benefits of reducing workplace stress two-fold. Not only will you achieve added productivity from your employees because their stress levels from lack of control have declined, but you will also achieve added productivity because your employees will be empowered to get creative and be more efficient.
4) Speak out. This one is hard to do since speaking out against harassment and workplace bullying is not always well-received (which only adds on further stress in the workplace). Most companies do have a non-retaliation policy, however how the company views it in reality depends on where you work. If you feel you cannot speak out, be supportive of colleagues who are getting bullied or harassed. A little support and encouragement can go a long way.
The workplace is a place for us to interact with each other, do something productive and feel accomplished. However, more often than not, work is much more stressful than it is fun. There are many more causes of stress in the workplace than those I mentioned above, and even more than anyone can identify. It is important to note that most employees leave a company, not for the paycheck or the promotion, but because of the stress. It is crucial for everyone to realize the causes and effects that stress has in the working world. Without this awareness, companies will suffer lowered performance and employees will suffer from serious health issues.
Once we become aware of the causes, we can learn how to manage it not only within the organization, but also within ourselves. If workplace stress is something you want to start taking control of as either a manager or an employee, check out the highly recommended, How to Reduce Workplace Conflict and Stress by Anna Maravelas available both in paperback as well as on Kindle.