Stress is a costly problem that lurks in the workplace. The April issue of the Health and Safety Report, the publication of Canada’s National Occupational Health and Safety Resource, warns about the hazards of work stress and explores situations in which it flourishes. Employers should take it seriously, according to the report, as it can harm employees’ psychological and physical health and an organization’s effectiveness.
Some pressure at work is unavoidable and may even keep workers alert and motivated. The wrong kind can start with unmanageable pressure, and often stems from the way jobs are designed and the way organizations are managed. According to the report, the stress-related hazards include:
- Lack of variety; monotonous, meaningless and/or unpleasant tasks
- Having too much or too little to do; working under time pressures
- Unpredictable, strict or inflexible working schedules; shift work
- Lack of participation in decision-making; no control over work methods, pace, environment, and working hours
- Job insecurity, under-promotion or over-promotion; unclear or unfair performance evaluation systems; skill level not matched to the job
- Unclear role or conflicting job demands; level of responsibility; continuously dealing with other people and their problems
- Poor or unsupportive supervision; poor relationships with coworkers/subordinates; bullying, harassment and violence; solitary work; no procedures for dealing with complaints
- Poor communication and leadership; unclear organizational objectives
- Conflicting demands of work and home, and lack of support for domestic problems at work – and for work problems at home
The Canadian report points out that employers have a vested interested in reducing the number and gravity of the stress-related hazards. The performance of stressed employees suffers. They can have difficulty concentrating and making decisions, become distressed and irritable and lose enthusiasm for their job. Fatigue, depression and poor sleep are common symptoms, and overstressed people have been shown to be more vulnerable to heart disease, digestive system disorders, headaches, musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and increases in blood pressure.
Stressed workers are also vulnerable to an unhealthy work-life balance and unhealthy activities, such as smoking and alcohol and drug abuse.
The report notes that good management and good work organization are effective forms of work stress prevention. It recommends:
- Providing employees with clear information about the structure, purpose and practices of the organization
- Matching employees’ skills, knowledge and abilities to the job requirements, and suitable training should be provided
- Supervising and guiding employees
- Providing job descriptions that include the purpose and organization of the work, and how performance will be measured. Managers must be aware of these details and ensure that demands are appropriate
- The report also says managers should talk with and listen to their staff; and provide work expectations that are easy to understand, clearly communicated and consistent with the job description.
Teamwork and a reasonable level of socializing is described as helpful as it can help increase commitment to work and to the work team.
Employee work stress issues can impact efficiency and safety in the workplace, and contribute to absenteeism. The report makes it clear that an organization’s efforts to reduce work stress for employees can pay off at many levels.
Source: Health and Safety Report