Occupational stress is something that perhaps all workers have gone through or will go through at some point in their careers. For some, occupation stress might be a daily experience while for others seasonal. If you are lucky, you may not even experience it at all. No matter how seldom or often you get stressed, it’s crucial to understand it.
What is “occupational stress”?
Occupational stress, simply put, is work-related stress. It is stress brought about by one or more elements from a person’s job. These can be because of deadlines, responsibilities, working conditions, bosses, coworkers, and others. Occupational stress may be ongoing and can progress depending on how a person manages it.
What causes occupational stress?
When it comes to occupational stress, one thing that we need to remember is that it can happen to anybody. It’s not about the size of the organization, the type of job, industry, or work experience. It can occur at a start-up with 5 employees and a corporation of The exact causes of occupational stress are unique to each person. And while it is true that the experience of occupational stress is not uniform for everyone, many examples can trigger it. The following are examples of causes of occupational stress:
Low wages or loss of wages and benefits
Strict work policies and protocols set by the company
Lack of teamwork or conflict among coworkers
Lack of support from the company’s human resources team
Lack of support from supervisor or team members
Little opportunity for career advancement
Not being able to have control and decide on work-related decisions
Unclear work expectations
Discrimination at work
Bullying at work
Poor time management
Threat of termination or being laid off work
What are the possible effects of occupational stress?
Occupational stress is not something to be taken lightly. It does not go away immediately once you clock out from work and go home. If the stress is not managed and continues to progress, it can affect a person’s physical and mental health. Headaches, migraines, disturbed sleeping patterns, insomnia, anxiety, and high blood pressure are just some examples of what occupational stress can lead to. Aside from these, occupational stress can also affect a person’s work productivity and work performance.
According to The Bristol Stress and Health at Work, occupational stress affects individuals more than life stress. They conducted a study that helped come with the scale and severity of occupational stress. In the study, 20% of participants experienced high levels of occupational stress because of stressful working conditions. It also mentioned the effect on a person’s physiology and mental performance.
How can occupational stress be identified at work?
Just as in any concern or issue, the earlier it is identified, the better. Business leaders, managers, HR teams, and all employees are responsible for symptoms, cues, and clues of occupational stress. Because stress is a commonly used term in the workplace, people need to identify the signs of occupational stress.
Here are the most common occupational stress signs:
Missing work deadlines
Feeling of inferiority to colleagues
Noticeable change in diet or eating pattern
Frequent stress and confusion
High blood pressure
Noticeably increased irritability
Poor focus and concentration at work
Abnormal feelings of depression, helplessness, hopelessness, and failure
Feelings of burnout
Heart palpitations and excessive perspiration
Generally, a worker who experiences occupational stress will show signs of a stress response which has three stages. Knowing these stages helps identify individuals who may be undergoing occupational stress. Let’s find out what these are.
Stage 1: Alarm. Any element of physical, or emotional stress that happens at work can trigger a person’s “alarm” response. This is also known as the body’s “fight or flight” response. A person can either stay in the situation with the stress element or go away from the situation. In this fight or flight response, the body sends adrenaline to all body parts. In the general stressful life stressors, this alarm response is often short-lived. However, in occupational stress, this stage can for a longer period because work pressure and other stress triggers are faced daily which can lead to the next stage.
Stage 2: Resistance. When there is a prolonged surge of adrenaline, the body attempts to regain balance by boosting other chemicals in the brain such as melatonin in a move to calm the alarm system from Stage 1. In cases of prolonged stress, the first stage’s alarm system can overpower the resistance stage. Once this happens, the person can exhibit sleep deprivation, irritability, or concentration issues. The resistance stage is when some signs of occupational stress begin to show.
Stage 3: Exhaustion. This stage happens when a person constantly experiences the first two stages. This is the last stage of the stress response where the body’s physical and mental defense systems are affected which can lead to illness and infection.
People need to identify when a colleague is beginning to experience the first two stages of the stress response system. It is even more important for people to acknowledge if they are experiencing occupational stress themselves. Many people who battle prolonged stress can have different physiological illnesses such as hormonal imbalance, bacterial infections, skin conditions, and other conditions.
What is the role of HR in preventing or managing occupational stress?
Business leaders and HR teams can do a lot in keeping occupational stress at bay. By promoting a proactive and supportive work environment, work-related stress can be prevented. HR programs, strategies, constant one on ones, and catch-ups will keep communication lines open.
Although deadlines and responsibilities will always be present, a strong support system and a positive work culture can prevent employees from feeling overwhelmed. Additionally, prompt action and discipline on critical work issues such as discrimination, bullying, and any harassment concern are vital. HR teams are pivotal in making employees feel seen, heard, motivated, and empowered.
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