Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Employee Stress/Workplace Stress

Workplace Stress
what is stress?

Taber's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary defined stress as "the result produced when a structure, system or organism is acted upon by forces that disrupt equilibrium or produce strain". Generally, stress is said to be human body's reaction to various organizational and social factors called as - Stressors. The fast-approaching project delivery deadline can be a stressor. The fact that you have to renew your car insurance within the next two days, but have no time for it, can be a stressor. Even a seemingly simple reason like your inability to help your child prepare for an admission test at a prestigious school can be a stressor. There can be scores of stressors surrounding you and you might not even be aware of their impact on your well-being. Stress is not always harmful. Sometimes, it can in fact prove to be productive. For example, the fast approaching project delivery deadline might succeed in bringing out your best performance. However, when the stress becomes unmanageable, it starts having a negative impact on the individual. Employers should know where to draw the line to bring out the best and not the worst out of their employees.
Workplace Stress

United States National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health has defined workplace stress as "the harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources, or needs of the worker. Job stress can lead to poor health and even injury."

It simply means that workplace stress generally arises when there is a mismatch between the nature or magnitude of the job to be done and the employee desires and capabilities. Further, the definition also categorizes workplace stress into physical stress and psychological or emotional stress.
Every employee feels work-related stress. That's normal. Complaining about it is normal too. Many employers take it in stride that they complain about their jobs, their bosses, their co-workers. So is that occasional outburst that just releases enough pressure to allow you to calm down and get back to work. What is not normal is sustained and prolonged stress. Kronos, Inc. a human resources consulting firm, recently conducted a Harris poll of American workers. Half of these American workers say work leaves them "overtired and overwhelmed." That alone is not alarming until you dig a little deeper and realize these workers develop chronic, often serious, stress-induced health problems.

Workplace stress has been on human resource professional's radar for years. But management considered the solution as soft stuff. A few execs threw HR a bone and agreed to offer “warm and fuzzy feel-good” training as long as it didn't interfere with business or cost too much. Others expected employees just to tough it out.

That is until recently. What always seems to get attention in the boardrooms however is money, especially the type that eats away at the bottom lines. With skyrocketing insurance and health care costs now getting the full attention of nearly every executive and small business owner, many solutions are focused on what many HR and organizational professionals knew for years - workplace stress is not only a major obstacle to continuous improvements in productivity, but the root cause of much of the increase in workplace health care costs.

To confirm the connection, all you have to do is watch and listen to workers and the link between the bottom line and chronic stress is obvious. Donna is a forty-something mother of two children. Described by everyone who knows her as loyal, hard-working, and generous, Donna doesn't believe it does any good to complain. “Everyone has their own problems”, she says. “I'm just grateful that mine aren't worse.”

Rising workplace stress is a large albatross hanging around the necks of workers and employers. According to recent studies of the subject by the U.S. Department of Labor, the American Psychological Association, Yankelovich Monitor and CCH Inc., there was a 20.3 percent increase in job absences caused by anxiety, stress and neurotic disorders. Stress affects morale, productivity and safety. Developing a healthy workplace can pay off in reversing this trend. Inviting employees to have a say about their work environment in an honest and open fashion can change the workplace culture and reduce stress. Other successful management practices include improving communication, increasing staff members’ decision making, offering flexible job scheduling, encouraging breaks and working in team toward a common goal, and leadership and professional development opportunities. Providing such services as language classes, child care, onsite flu shots or health screening, and tuition reimbursement programs also help balance work–life issues thus reducing stress. One winner of APA’s 2003 Best Practice award allows injured employees time to recuperate and helps them ease back into work by doing light-duty work at community nonprofit organizations—all while receiving their normal compensation. Another offered three months’ notice and job placement services to employees affected by layoffs.
Workplace Stress Defined

Workplace stress can be defined as the harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources, or needs of the employee or volunteer. Workplace stress results from the interaction of the staff member and the conditions of work. Views differ, however, on the importance of the individual characteristics versus working conditions as the primary cause of job stress. Differences in such individual characteristics as personality and coping style are most important in predicting whether certain job conditions will result in stress—in other words, what is stressful for one person may not be a problem for someone else. Other factors to consider in workplace stress include the design of tasks, autocratic management style, work roles, job insecurity or such difficult environmental conditions as noisy or dangerous working conditions.
Hazards Associated With Workplace Stress

Workplace stress can have physiological effects, which include headache, sleep disturbances, difficulty concentrating, digestive problems and depression, on employees and volunteers. The effects of job stress on chronic diseases are more difficult to see because chronic diseases take a long time to develop and can be influenced by many factors other than stress. Nonetheless, evidence is rapidly accumulating to suggest that stress plays an important role in several types of chronic health problems—especially cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal disorders, and psychological disorders. Lack of concentration or stress reaction can lead to workplace injuries.
Dealing with workplace stress should encompass the staff member and the job. The person should have the opportunity to participate in such wellness programs as stress reduction, exercise, and weight maintenance.

By ensuring that the workload is in line with each staff member’s capabilities and resources, the level of frustration that a person feels could be reduced. Design jobs to provide meaning, stimulation, and opportunities for employees and volunteers to use their skills. Clearly define staff members’ roles and responsibilities. Give them opportunities to participate in decisions and actions affecting their jobs. Try to establish work schedules that are compatible with demands and responsibilities outside the job.

Job design is also an important factor. Good job design accommodates a person’s mental and physical abilities. The following job design guidelines will help minimize or control workplace stress. Where stress in the workplace is caused, for example, by a physical agent, it is best to control it at its source. If the workplace is too loud, implement control measures to deal with the noise wherever possible. If a person is experiencing pain from repetitive strain, the workstation can be redesigned to reduce repetitive and strenuous movements.

Teach employees and volunteers to relax by taking several deep breaths throughout the day, or taking regular stretch breaks. Stretching is simple enough to do anywhere and takes only a few seconds. Help individuals take charge of their situations by setting aside 10 minutes at the beginning of each day to prioritize and organize their day’s tasks and responsibilities. Encourage them to be honest with colleagues, but be constructive and make practical suggestions, and be realistic about what they can change.

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