Stress and Burnout in the Workforce

Oct 26 21:30 2006 Andrew Sandon Print This Article

Work-related stress and burnout turn into a more widespread problem in the American workforce. Both employees and employers face problems when dealing with this issue. One of the common definitions of stress is an adaptive response to a situation that is perceived to be challenging or threatening to the persons well being (McShane, 2001). Stress is much more then just a fastidious situation though. Stress basically is a responsive reaction of an individual to a particular situation. This is why stress is usually difficult to cope with because every person reacts differently to a certain situation

Stress and Burnout in the WorkforceWork-related stress and burnout turn into a more widespread problem in the American workforce. Both employees and employers face problems when dealing with this issue. One of the common definitions of stress is an adaptive response to a situation that is perceived to be challenging or threatening to the person's well being (McShane,Guest Posting 2001). Stress is much more then just a fastidious situation though. Stress basically is a responsive reaction of an individual to a particular situation. This is why stress is usually difficult to cope with because every person reacts differently to a certain situation. Overwork, job insecurity, and other numerous factors have a negative effect on person. Distress is produced, and an employee physiologically and psychologically deviates in her or his experiences in comparison to healthy functioning. Office jobs are among the high stress rated occupations. The reasons seem to point towards the organization of work within the office, with employees having little control over their workload. Positions such as data entry operators find themselves at the mercy of computers since their salaries are paid according to their output. Heavy workloads and stress are also directly related as it is found that office and even policemen are usually overwhelmed by the large amount of paperwork, often unsuccessfully completed by the end of the business week. Paperwork carried over into the next week therefore becomes a common occurrence adding to the stress level of the employee. Jobs of little status and little opportunity for job advancement particularly more stressful since employees find that organizations do not value them. Women are more often found to be concentrated around jobs that entail both characteristics, heavy workloads and low job status, coupled with the natural responsibility to watch over the home and family; it is clear why stress is of a greater problem to women than men.

While mild stress can be beneficial to a person, providing stimulus and challenge. Stress becomes health threatening only when individuals feel unable to cope with demands expected from them. Acute stress triggered by circumstances such as divorce and loss of employment can put people under intense pressure. Long term difficulties in their work situation or home life, such as unresolved family conflicts and loss of promotion opportunities can lead to chronic stress. These issues can burden people both psychologically, defined by symptoms such as resentfulness, loss of confidence and self-esteem; as well as physical symptoms such as insomnia, general fatigue and a higher chance of suffering a coronary thrombosis. Chronic stress not only leads to employees under performing at the work place, it also increases absenteeism and accident rates. These facts point out that unnecessary pressures at work can not only be detrimental to the well being of an employee but also affect the company in negative way.

Medical evidence discounts working at a terminal as a cause of headaches or eyestrain, although flickering screens or an inadequately lit office might lead to employees experiencing these symptoms. Even in the case of epilepsy, or a more rare form of the condition, photosensitive epilepsy, a flickering screen is most unlikely to trigger the onset of the illness itself.

Research has also shown no relationship between monitor screens and miscarriage or birth defects. Occupational stress though, has claimed to increase when employees work with terminals. Work carried out in poor conditions such as poor lighting, inadequate workspaces are some of the factors that can induce stress within the workplace.

Computerization, which is supposed to enable routine tasks to be, performed with more efficiency and in theory, allow job descriptions to be widened has the complete opposite effect on employees, who find themselves expecting a greater increase load of mundane tasks.

These employees who work with screens have to keep maintain a high level of concentration and often have little variety in their work and little say in decision making. Changes in the organization of work could minimize health problems, previously stated and the overall quality of the job.

Environmental conditions that lead to stress are called stressors. Stressors can be any condition that places a physical or emotional demand on a person. A number of these stressors can be found in an organizational setting and face many employees on a daily basis. There are three stressors that are particularly important in today's workforce that should be identified and properly managed to maintain a healthy work environment. The first group of stressors is called role related stressors and these stressors include conditions where employees have difficult understanding and performing various roles in their life. The first type of role related stressor is called role conflict and this is when an employee may have received contradicting messages about how to perform their role or when organizational values conflict with personal values. For example you may have to entertain and be nice to clients that you do not like or get along with. As well in industries like pharmaceutical sales there are sometimes conflicting values when sales reps have to sell a product they do not believe in or entertain doctors just to get them to prescribe their product. The second type of role related stressor is called role ambiguity which is when employees are not confident or do not fully understand their job duties, performance expectations, level of authority or other job conditions. This is usually more common for employees that are entering new positions or new organizations and they are uncertain about their task and social expectations. The third type of role related stressor is called workload and this is when employees have too much to do in too little time or they work for too many hours in a day. Work overload can lead to an unhealthy lifestyle where different physical aliments like heart disease or high blood pressure can result from high workloads on a daily basis. Work underload is less common but can also occur and this is when employees do not receive enough work or responsibilities and feel they are not making sufficient use of their full potential. The last type of role related stressor is called task control and this is when employees get stressed out because they do not have enough control over how and when they perform their tasks and the pace of work activity. A recent study reported that employees in production, sales and service jobs have higher stress because of their lack of work control (McShane, 2001). Overall role related stressors are very important to the current workforce because there are so many ways in which an employee's role within an organization can lead to stress. Employee's and organizations have to consider all of these different things when trying to eliminate or reduce work-force stress. The second type of work-related stressor that is important to the workforce is interpersonal stressors. These types of stressors include ineffective supervision, office politics and all types of conflicts we may experience with fellow employees. Interpersonal stress can also come with work duties such as customer service operators who are often under a great deal of stress because they are dealing with customer complaints and unpleasant conversations constantly through out the day. Interpersonal stressors can also be issues like sexual harassment, which is unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that detrimentally affects the working environment or can lead to adverse job-related consequences for the victims of sexual harassment (McShane, 2001). Victims of sexual harassment experience a high level of stress because they have to endure tense relationships with co-workers as well as the stress that can occur while the incident is under investigation. Interpersonal stressors can also include incidents such as workplace violence and Canada has the fourthhighest incidences of workplace assault among 32 countries studied (McShane, 2001). The highest number of incidents reported is from health-care workers or employees in social and community services. Individuals who experience workplace violence can have symptoms of severe distress after even just one traumatic event and some victims will never be able to return to work. The final stressor that employee's have to deal with in the workforce today is called organizational stressors. These types of stressors can come in many forms and can involve any type of organizational changes. Downsizing is where the number of employees has to be reduced usually because of the financial situation of the organization and can be stressful not only for the employees being let go but also for the survivors that have to remain after co-workers have gone. Other forms of organization changes that can lead to stress are restructuring, privatization, and mergers that may lead to increased job insecurity, uncertain work demands and new interpersonal conflicts, which are all events that can lead to higher stress for employees. Various physical and emotional stimuli can be the causative agents for stress and affect the way we perform within our lives. Major life events such as the birth of a new baby to starting that new job, or minor events such as a parking ticket affect people differently. Genetically, we are all programmed differently for coping with, and controlling our stressors. The amount of time we are subjected to certain stressors defines the two classifications of stress as acute or chronic.

Acute stress is temporary in nature and can catalyze peak performance in some people. In small doses it is known as the good stress and can keep us alert and challenged. Physically our body releases large amounts of stress fighting hormones and we get into a fight or flight stance. The blood rushes to the brain our breathing increases and our senses are alert. Psychologically we think and focus clearer because the brain is getting more oxygen due to the increased blood flow. This means that we have high energy and can solve complicated problems and develop new and innovative ideas. In short, acute stress is something that is positive in nature and generally improves human performance overall on a physical and psychological level.

On the other side, chronic stress is a state of continuous stimuli over a long period of time that impacts our ability to make decisions. If the stress is not managed properly the heart and brain will receive more of the blood supply while the vital organs receive less. Blood sugar levels along with cholesterol and fat will rise. The longer the body stays in this condition the more physical damage will occur. Heart attacks, high blood pressure, and bone density depletion are some examples of the of damage that can occur. Psychologically, chronic stress interferes with the brain's chemical transportation system. When this system is interrupted many physical and emotional symptoms will occur. Some examples are sleeplessness, fatigue, frequent headaches, and lack of concentration. All the examples lead to poor quality work. To conclude, human performance is detrimentally affected by chronic stress and should be avoided.

The study from Mind, the mental health charity asked 1,500 people about their perception of mental illness. 61% believed work stress was the main cause of mental problems. 27% said they would lie to their boss if they had to take time off because of mental stress. The humiliation knowing that a boss was aware of a mental problem would make an employee lie. A sense of powerlessness leaves you helpless and hopeless. An employee who is told to perform another job without training feels powerless. He/ she does not try to do anything about their predicament because they do not believe that anything can be done. Without the proper skills the assignment could not be done appropriately therefore leaving the employee with a feeling of defeat and afraid of losing their job. America's Health Network, reports that an estimated one million workers are absent every day due to stress. The number of employees calling in sick has tripled from 1996 to 2000. These absentees are linked to psychological problems that occur at the workplace.

There are different approaches to deal with the stress in the workplace. Some methods have been developed to address this problem. Some general guidelines are if the stress is caused by the workplace being too loud then employers should implement certain controls to decrease the noise levels. Another approach is job design guidelines that will help minimize or control workplace stress. There must be reasonable job demands. Employers must provide training so that the employees learn the job before having them perform the task.

Several over seas companies are using Reflexology treatment. This is an ancient form of therapy that is used to apply pressure to points on the feet to affect health. Some companies in the US are looking into this type of treatment for their employees. Another stress reduction method is to give people permission to acknowledge how stressed out they are. Too often healthcare workers feel that administration is not interested in and does not appreciate how difficult the hospital workplace has become. Maintaining the corporate happy face' becomes an additional burden. I am not advocating the creation of a gripe and grump' climate. Talking about stress and its triggers is an effective stress reliever that allows people to be understood. Complaining without a focus on solutions will compound stress levels. To reduce stress staff needs to express themselves and then develop solutions (Caught in the Crossfire: Stress in Healthcare Settings and Ways to Address It).

Organizational changes may include efforts to ensure that workload is in line with workers' capabilities and resources; to design stimulating, meaningful jobs; to define workers' roles and responsibilities clearly; to give workers opportunity to participate in decisions about their jobs; to improve communications; to provide opportunities for social interaction among workers; and to establish work schedules that are compatible with demands and responsibilities outside the job (CDC Media Relations: New CDC Publication offers strategies for preventing job stress, Released 1/5/1999)Another method that employers could implement is to provide counseling for their employees. Ensuring that the employees have the opportunity to have their own psychologist if they prefer. Some methods offer relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, stretching, and clearing you mind and muscle. These relaxation techniques are very helpful to remain calm in a bad situation. The results from this research suggest that employees continue to be sick because of the high workloads and increased work hours. Employees' continues to have a negative impact on their job performance due to the stress. Bosses are not taking it seriously and continue to burden the workers with high workloads and increase work hours. The workload continues to increase and even with a union to back the employees, management does not listen. Organizations and agencies could decrease workplace stress by providing the proper training, communicating with the employees instead of commanding them. Recognizing when an employee is stressed and offering assistance would alleviate some difficulties. It is this researcher belief that employees must stop being afraid and take a stand. If we do not then the workforce will continue to hurt.

Another way to remove stressors in the workplace is to give employee's more power so that have more control over their work duties and environment. Organizations can minimize role related stressors by effectively selecting and placing employees in roles that adequately reflect employee's competencies for the job requirements. Helping new employees enter their roles within a company can be achieved by giving employees a detailed description of their expected duties and roles within the company. Also having company outings such as baseball tournaments or golf tournaments can help improve the relationship of co-workers and help new employees fit in and feel apart of the organization. Companies can reduce employee stress by ensuring that safety and noise risks are considered and met with appropriate circumstances as both of these events can lead to increased levels of stress for employees. Employees can also take an active role removing stressors from their workplace. If employees feel there is ambiguity in their job role they can seek out information that will help clarify the situation. If a particular job or expectation is too challenging to take on employees can break the task into smaller tasks that seem more realistic to meet. Employees can also request to be withdrawn from stressors by transferring to a position they feel is better suited to their abilities. As well as mentioned above employees often experience different levels of stress in the same situations so one option for managing stress may simply be changing perceptions of situations. For example strengthening self-esteem and self-efficacy may make job challenges not as threatening. Overall workplace stress is becoming a greater problem for many in the workforce today. There are a variety of different stressors that are role-related, that come from interpersonal relationships, or that evolve from organizational changes that can lead to stress for employees. In order to properly accommodate these potential problems they need to first be identified and then solutions can be found to help resolve or reduce the amount of stress these conditions can result in for employees.

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Andrew Sandon
Andrew Sandon

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