Stress is an extremely detrimental mental state for employees and employers alike. Individuals suffering chronic stress can have mental and physical health problems, such as depression, anxiety, high blood pressure and stroke. Meanwhile, organizations with stressed workforces likely suffer from lower productivity, lower-quality services and high employee turnover.
It benefits workers and workplaces to identify and combat sources of stress. The most common causes of stress in the modern workplace involve:
All jobs have demands — tasks that workers must complete to earn their salaries. Unfortunately, the demands of some positions are high and place unavoidable stress on the workers who are responsible for them. Some types of workplace demands are more stressful than others; for example, when workplaces impose heavy workloads on their staff, stress levels can rise. Employees must feel capable of coping with the demands of their jobs to be productive in the short and long term. Thus, workplaces might encourage their workers to pursue a stress management certificate, which will provide strategies for managing demand-related and other types of stress.
Autonomy might be the most important characteristic job seekers want in the modern workplace. A lack of autonomy is associated with exceedingly high stress levels, which have been associated with extreme mental and physical health disorders. Aside from stress, there are many negative side effects workers and workplaces experience when autonomy is low, such as low motivation, which translates to low performance, and low morale, which harms workplace culture. One consequence of the COVID pandemic is that more employees are demanding greater control over how they do their jobs — and if they don’t get it, then they are looking for new employment.
Workers need to feel supported in their efforts, or they will experience stress. As stress from lack of support increases, workers tend to experience less commitment to their roles, worse job satisfaction and impaired performance. Support comes in many forms in the modern workplace. Workers need information and tools to complete their tasks; they need financial support in the form of project budgets and salaries; and they also need social and emotional support from coworkers and supervisors. Leadership has a strong impact over how supported workers feel, so workplaces need to be careful to train leaders to provide adequate support to their teams.
Approximately one-third of an employee’s life is spent in the workplace, so the relationships workers form with one another can be as close or closer than those they form with friends and family. Unfortunately, some workers cannot build strong, positive relationships with those in their workplace. Sometimes, relationships fail to develop because workers become the subject of workplace harassment. Employees and leaders need to be vigilant for negative social behaviors that can create a toxic workplace culture and lead to relationship-related stress. Individuals responsible for bullying and similar activities should be severely reprimanded if not fully removed for the safety of other employees.
Role confusion, or role ambiguity as it is sometimes called, is the lack of information or understanding regarding one’s role or responsibilities within an organization. When workers experience role confusion, they also tend to experience significant amounts of stress. Most often, new employees or workers who have recently gained new positions experience confusion and stress for a brief period as they settle into their roles. However, if an organization doesn’t invest in onboarding and training, role confusion can linger, causing long-term issues for workers and their teams. In addition to stress, this lack of clarity can cause tension and conflict between coworkers, not to mention lower productivity in the short and long term.
In almost every circumstance, change is a source of stress. Businesses tend to undergo change frequently, pivoting their strategies, implementing new practices, shifting their workforce and more to optimize their ability to increase value for shareholders, employees and customers. Workers in areas affected by such changes are likely to experience stress, which can impact performance when organizations most need productivity. However, workplaces with appropriate change management processes in place can effectively control employee concerns during times of organizational change, preventing stress from reaching undue levels.
Employers have the ability to mitigate stress in their workforce. By considering how their workplace manages issues like demands, control, support, relationships, roles and change, business leaders can ensure their workers feel comfortable and confident into the future.