Defining Stress in the Workplace

We’ve been talking a lot about how to deal with stress in the workplace through various methods such as mindfulness, yoga, and journaling. But what is workplace stress? In this post, I want to outline what stress is so you understand the symptoms and basic causes.

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We’ve been talking a lot about how to deal with stress in the workplace through various methods such as mindfulness, yoga, and journaling. But what is workplace stress? In this post, I want to outline what stress is so you understand the symptoms and basic causes.

Work has consistently been found to be one of the top causes of stress in people’s lives. Major health organizations, including WHO, have taken notice and provide tips and insights around occupational stress. While, there’s been a lot of research on the topic of occupational stress, today we will really focus on defining the stressors and the resulting strain. If you’d like a deeper dive into this topic, here are two good book chapters to check out from 2003 and 2010.

What is occupational stress?

Psychologists use the term occupational stress when referring to stress in the workplace. It refers to a process where an employee responds to a challenging situation on the job. The challenging situation is the stressor and the way the employee reacts is called a strain. Stress is the broad term that we are most familiar with but it is important to understand the stressors and strains that make up stress.

What are stressors?

As mentioned above, stressors are the cause of strain. They are the challenging events or conditions that we face in the workplace. They can be a specific event or experience, such as having a negative performance review. Stressors can also be chronic issues that continue for a long period of time, such as working with a difficult client on a year long project.

One task-related stressor includes work overload, a.k.a., having too many things to do.

8 Types of Stressors

Stressors are categorized into 8 different types. How many of these stressors do you face?

  1. Physical Stressors – These stressors are ones in your physical work environment, like heat, cold, excessive noise, uncomfortable desk chairs, etc.
  2. Task-Related Stressors – These exist while you are completing tasks. This can include things like short deadlines, too many tasks, very complex tasks, and boring or repetitive tasks.
  3. Role Stressors – These include role ambiguity and role conflict. A lack of clarity around your job and what you should be doing is called role ambiguity. Role conflict refers to the conflict someone feels when they have multiple roles that do not work well together. For example, a manager that has to lay off an employee who she is close friends with. Her role as a manager conflicts with her role as a friend.
  4. Social Stressors – This includes things like conflict between coworkers, sexual harassment, bullying, and difficult clients. This stressor refers to any stress created by social interactions with other people in the workplace.
  5. Work-Schedule-Related Stressors – These are time-related issues. They include working long hours, night shift work, and excessive overtime.
  6. Career-Related Stressors – This refers to issues stemming around your career. These include a lack of job security, opportunities to advance or learn, or understanding what your next career move is.
  7. Traumatic Stressors – Individuals in law enforcement or emergency response type jobs most commonly experience these types of stressors. These are single events where you experience some sort of danger, disaster, or accident.
  8.  Organizational Change – Major organizational change can also be considered a stressor, including mergers, lay-offs, implementation of new systems, etc.

All of these types of stressors can create strain in an employee’s experience. People react differently to each of these so it’s important to understand what causes you to personally feel strain in your work life and how to address those stressors.

What are strains?

Stressors cause strain. Strain is simply a term referring to the reaction or response to a stressor. People and organizations alike can experience strain. When an organization has a number of stressors in its environment, increases in turnover, absences, and interpersonal conflict are common. People can experience strain in various ways such as:

  • Physical responses including raised blood pressure, increased heart rate, decreased immune function, and the development of various illness such as coronary heart disease;
  • Emotional responses including increased depression symptoms and negative mood;
  • Burnout which includes emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and lack of feelings of accomplishment;
  • Reduced working memory; and
  • Violent responses such as sabotage, aggression, and hostility.
Occupational stress can result in increased depression symptoms and emotional exhaustion.

Unfortunately, these responses to occupational stress can carry over into your personal life. All of the above responses are difficult to recover from and will often impact all of your life, not just your time at work. That’s why it is critically important to make sure you manage your work stress effectively to live a happy and healthy life.

What can you do?

Luckily, there are so many ways to deal with occupational stress. First, identify your stressors and strains, so that you can address your stress at the root. Use the list above as a resource in finding the sources of your stress and to identify your strains. Then take action to remove any stressors you can and try to reduce the negative outcomes associated with those that you can’t! You can read our previous posts for some ideas like dancing, taking time to treat yourself, journaling, etc. We have only begun to scratch the surface of this research. You can join our hive to receive our blog posts in your inbox to continue to learn about ways to manage strain or deal with your stressors in our future posts. In the meantime, please try the methods we’ve already shared!

Also, please comment below with any tips and tricks you have picked up to manage your stress! Stay healthy, Workr Bees!

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