Stress in the Workplace and How to Deal With It

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The literature review analyses the problems that workers encounter in their places of work. One of the major problems is stress in the working environment. Work place stress can generally be defined as ’emotional and physical reaction that emanates from a poor working environment in relation to resources, employee’s capabilities, and the needs of the employees’. There are various factors that cause stress at the workplace among the employees and these include long working hours with no rest, toxic relationship between workers and the management, poor association coworkers, isolation and workplace discrimination, lack of autonomy and extended supervision levels, harassment based on ethnicity and gender, hazardous working environment, excessive work load and lack of motivation or opportunities for career development.

Workplace environment has become one of the major social problems that have direct effect on global political, economic, and social spheres. In addition, it has been one of the main problems that has brought many family problems, reduced productivity in the work places, and a number of unrests experienced in some parts of the world.

Causes of workplace stress

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2008), occupation stress is caused by the interaction between the work environment and the company or organization employees. There have been many different opinions on the essence of working condition versus the characteristics of the workers as the principle genesis of occupational stress. Based on one school of thought, variation in the characteristics of individuals, such as adaptability to new conditions and personality traits are imperative for forecasting whether a specific work environment would lead to stress and what may be considered as stressful to one individual may not be the same to another individual.

This view results in prevention strategies which basis is the workers themselves and the tactics involved in assisting them to cope with demanding work environments. It goes without saying that one cannot avoid acknowledging stress related issues that arise due to individual differences, however, there are certain scientific evidences proving that certain working conditions cause much stress.

These evidences emphasizes on the role of working condition as the key factor in occupational stress and offers a direction for preventive strategies that involve job redesign. According to surveys conducted by member states of the European Union regarding impact of working conditions on workers’ stress levels in 2000, it was discovered that work environment was a risk factor in occupation related stress.

The result exhibited showed that increasing trends in work stress were related to high intensity of work. This stress factor was common among health workers who spend most of their time in hospitals and had to work for long hours with little rest. In addition, healthy workers work at high speed in tight conditions in order to save lives but in the process, a large percentage of employees may succumb to stress. According to this survey, more than 11% of female health workers and 26% of male health workers worked more than 50 hours a week hence being exposed to risk of work related stress.

Signs of work place stress in individuals

Heubeck (2007) states that most cases of work place stress are unjust working environment and negative relationship in work places. As such, there may be physical signs of stress but in some cases, it may be difficult to detect signs of stress and this may lead to very complicated situations such as depression and stroke. Stress related symptoms are sleep disturbance, headache, mood disorders, problems in relationships, psychological distress, and in some cases stomach upset. Stress may also be exhibited in people with chronic symptoms such as cardiovascular diseases and psychological disorders.

Other signs of workplace stress in employees include loss of confidence, feeling of being overwhelmed at work, and irritability. These signs reduce the productivity of the employee, he or she may become less effective in his or her duties and may feel that the job is less satisfying and rewarding. If the signs of stress are not identified early enough, they may lead to complications that may have a negative impact on the organization.

Impact of workplace stress

According to Bertera (1991), workplace stress has numerous impacts on organization given the fact that it entails absenteeism and high cost of health care. Actually, occupational stress itself is not an illness but rather a negative physical and psychological state of an individual. It is a major precursor of diseases and its long term and excessive nature leads to very serious health complications.

The link between stress and a number of unfavorable psychological and physical health conditions are well established and documented. Griffin (2010) analyses a number of psycho immunology which directly relate stress to alterations in an individual’s immune system. He further states that it offers a possible means of becoming ill. In real sense, stress does not have a real pathological impact but it has tremendous effect on the worker’s health. Simultaneously, however, the state of health may be an important cause of stress and may reduce the coping ability of an individual thus sensitizing him or her to other sources of stress.

In this case and basing on documented evidence, there is a significant justification of the mutual dependance between the experience of poor health and stress. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (2005) states there is a high prevalence of ill health when specific stressors are operating. It is proven that when workers are over-stimulated or under-stimulated by stressors, there is a high risk of contracting diseases. Heubeck (2007) believes that the increased risk of myocardial infarction, one of the chronic cardiovascular diseases, emanates from low decision attitude (low self esteem), limited possibility for career growth, and hectic work places such as those experienced by health workers.

In the analysis of the study on the relationship between cardiovascular heart diseases and workplace stress, Griffin (2010) found that in twelve out of fourteen studies showed a vivid relationship between the two. It was estimated that 22% of the deaths related to cardiovascular diseases in the USA could have been prevented if workplace stress in demanding jobs such as nursing was reduced to average. Whereas cardiovascular disease is one of the serious effects of stress, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (2005) proved that heart disease is one of the physical signs of an unhealthy or poor working environment.

Research proves that there are numerous possible negative health outcomes and diseases. These include immune system failures, gastro-intestinal disorders, and neuromuscular disorders. A study on the post office occupation health services revealed the fact that psychological problems were the second most significant genesis of early retirement of workers based on health grounds.

Working excessive hours, which lead to psychological and physical burnout, increase the chances of one developing sexual disorders, dizziness, apathy, sleep disorders, heart diseases, depression and disorganization, instability, boredom, feeling of incapability, and in severe situations, sudden death. Death as a result of overwork has been recorded to be highest in Japan since 1989.The reason is because of the work culture among the Japanese where they work for many hours hence increasing the level of stress.

According to Griffin (2010), there is a direct relationship between accidents and mental health. The mental status of an individual either over-aroused of fatigued has been stated to be the main reason for accidents during after work hours. Research found out that the companies that overworked their workers recorded the largest number of employees with the highest levels of occupation stress, poor mental health, and low job satisfaction levels. Actually, when an individual is subjected to stress for a long time, there are high chances that he or she will be fatigued and the concentration span will be reduced. As a result, employees who are stressed will concentrate less on their job and other activities that need high levels of concentration such as driving.

Walker (2010) states that the effects of stress are a major and direct concern to the organization given the fact that employees are vital elements of organization growth and so their productivity is important for it’s success. Bertera (1991) asserts that absenteeism and poor time management are variables that show escape strategies by employees in relation to poor working conditions. Others engage in behavioral activity referred to as presenteeism where employees go to work but their engagement in work and performance is drastically low.

Bertera argues that stress may result in low productivity and poor performance, which in turn causes negative feedback from the client hence overall disadvantage to the company. Griffin (2010) states that there is a huge cost incurred when people go to work when they are distressed by work place environment or the nature of job itself. The nature of health care job is traumatizing as it deals with patients of different kinds and in some cases, a patient’s death may be distressing to the specified employees. In areas that require the employee to be initiative and creative, the impact of stress may be heavy.

There are cases where managers are required to be productive in order to satisfy the demands of investors and so as a result of working long hours, their level of creativity goes down which eventually reduces their output. As such, several studies on fatigue have shown that prolonged occupation stress is linked to declined work output and initiative. Gabel (2012) holds that when people are under stress, they perform higher but when the stress is prolonged, fatigue sets in and leads to many social, psychological and physical problems.

Stress may lead to anxiety whose effect include increased effort when performing duties, difficulty in performing tasks, increase in cognitive activities that are not related to ones duty, undertaking other non core duties such as subsidiary work instead of the main task, increased levels of failure feedback, and fear of change (Surviving Field Stress for First Responders 2005).

Griffin (2010) holds that stress has a negative correlation with performance. For instance, there is always a positive correlation between the level of workplace stress among nurses and the number of medical error that he or she incurs in the line of duty. As such, strategies aimed at minimizing the level of stress among health care personnel are essential in minimizing medical errors such poor medication due to lack of concentration during assessment and diagnostic stages and may reduce instances of conflict and legal intervention.

According to Griffin (2010) the cost of stress to the employee and the organization is high. In addition, the cost arising out of the responsibility of the employer to the well being of the employees may be high especially if it involves legal suits and compensation for damages. As such, the employer has a significant responsibility of offering a safe system in which the employees work as hazardous environment are major sources of stress and if not managed, they might cause extensive damages to the employees, the organization, and the clients.

According to Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (2005), lack of safety and security measure may have deep impacts on the psychological and emotional well being of the employees because of fear of terrorism and other technological threats. Stressors such as smell, sound, and other unusual feelings people experience may pose elements of fear among employees, especially those who were traumatized by similar stressors and this may affect their work ability and productivity.

According to Gabel (2012), most of studies show that stress has a negative impact but there are some situations where stress has positive effect on the productivity of workers and how they relate to one another in the organization. Workplace stress for a short period of time may provide an excellent performance and may be beneficial to organization. Stress enables the employees to meet deadlines. In addition, stress promotes relationship between employees who may seek assistance from each other in cases of difficulty hence promoting the concepts of comradeship. Stress may also provide an organization a channel of developing strategies that are essential in coping with further stress incidences. This is possible where employees are open to the management of the organization and the company has mechanism of dealing with worker’s problems.

Coping with work place stress

Several years ago, many studies proved that it is possible to reduce occupational stress while at the same time improve the quality, productivity, and performance of the employees. The principle approach involves alleviating the stressors and developing prevention measures against the causes of stress. According to Mojoyinola (2008), one of the principle parties in any organization is the management team, which acts as the link between the employees and the organization in developing strategies that are aimed at minimizing the level of stress in work places.

Furthermore, employees have a role in managing their own work places by identifying the triggers especially if it is under their won control and trying to avoid work stress. Appropriate and effective coping assists employees in attaining their goals in the organization while at the same time reducing distress and other emotional problems. Coping strategies for stress is divided into two. These are emotion focused and problem focused strategies.

Problem focused tactics are aimed at initiating change in a difficult situation or assist in searching for a solution to a specified problem. Emotional focused strategies are aimed at developing pathways that are essential in regulating aroused emotions or search a new meaning to a situation in hand (Weiss 2005). The two strategies offer three tactics of dealing with occupational strategies. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2008), the tactics that play an essential part in minimizing levels of stress are intrapsychic strategies, instrumental strategies, and inhibition of action.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2008) state that instrumental strategies are mainly problem focused and are goal oriented in minimizing the prevalence of stress. As such, people who remain focused on their duties and do not allow external influence that may have negative impacts on their work or lives are less likely to experience high level occupation stress. Inhibition of action, mostly referred to as self control is principally a problem focused strategy.

In this case, individuals who desist from engaging in acts that would have negative impact are believed to experience less effect of stress on their performance. As such, self control acts as a buffer against negative effects of stress. In addition, high self control usually leads to reduced negative emotions and stress. Intrapsychic strategies are referred to as venting and are usually emotional focused. Venting enables employees to release bad feelings by explaining them to other people. It is most commonly applied to women and provides evidence on why women are least likely to be affected by stress compared to men.

Basing on these strategies, there are several ways in which instances of occupational stress can be minimized and in some instances, eradicated completely. Griffins (2010) states that the most important programs that can be employed in combating occupational stress are employee’s assistance programs, organizational programs, and stress intervention programs. Employees’ assistant programs minimize occupational stress through establishment of employee assistance programs. These programs are sponsored by the employer and allow the employees to air confidential issues to a qualified psychologist.

This intervention enables health workers to seek professional advice on matters related to depression, stress and other negative emotions that may have a major impact on their lives and work. Stress intervention programs are aimed at assisting workers in dealing with stressors by engaging in group interventions that are essential in enabling an employee in identifying problem elements; improving problem solving skills and offering coping resources that would assist in mitigating the effect of stressors both at home and in work places.

Organization programs are essential in minimizing the levels of workplace stress through creating environment that is conducive for work. These include enhancing security and safety measures, offering appropriate tools for work, fostering teamwork to avoid isolation, setting realistic goals for its employee to avoid straining at work, creating a good working relationship between employees and the management, and offering social friendly services such as tours to make employees happy.

According to Galentine (2009), the government has a role in promoting the employee’s wellness programs. These programs are important in minimizing the levels of stress and help in promoting happiness. Through several policies and bills, the government can compel the employee to create an optimal working environment for the employees, offer vocational leave, and cater for some expenses on issues that promote employee’s health. Walker (2010) states that appropriate and tough law needs to be formed to compel organizations to be sensitive to the well being of their employees and impose penalties to organizations that do not adhere to the law. This is important in ensuring that organization take full responsibility of the welfare of their important assets, the employees.


Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. (2005) Surviving Field Stress for First Responders. Web.

Bertera, R. L. (1991). The effects of behavioral risks on absenteeism and health-care costs in the workplace. Journal of Occasional Medicine, 33(11), 1119-1124.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2008). Exposure to Stress: Occupational Hazards in Hospitals. Web.

Gabel, M. (2012). Overworked and Under Pressure – Stress on the Job. Northwestern Peak Performance Health Care. Web.

Galentine, E. (2009). Healthy Workforce Act may help, but employers, advisers must continue to promote wellness. Web.

Griffin, R. M. (2010). 10 Health Problems Related to Stress That You Can Fix. Web MD. Web.

Heubeck, E. (2007). Workplace Stress and Your Health. WebMD. Web.

Mojoyinola, J. K. (2008). Effects of job stress on health, personal and work behavior of nurses in public hospitals in Ibadan Metropolis, Nigeria. Ethno-Medicine, 2(2): 143-148.

Walker, E. P. (2010). Wellness’ Provision in Health Care Bill Meets Protest. ABC News. Web.

Weiss, S. (2009). Leading patient groups support workplace wellness provisions in house health reform bill. American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. Web.

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