Stress in the Workplace: Causes and Management Strategies

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The marketplace is constantly evolving with companies seeking to remain relevant and profitable in a highly competitive global environment. Employees are the most important assets in any firm because they drive the growth agenda by executing the set objectives and pursuing organizational mission and vision. The failure or success of any business depends largely on how employees perform their duties. Therefore, in the quest to maximize profits and create wealth for shareholders, the management could pile pressure on workers leading to workplace stress. In addition, some work environments could be toxic and debilitating to employees due to various reasons such as, understaffing, poor management team, unethical business practices, and weak organizational culture among other related factors. Consequently, workers operating under such environments are likely to suffer from workplace stress, which leads to poor performance. As such, organizations have an implied obligation to create an enabling work environment that motivates people to function optimally and deliver their best. This aspect leads to increased performance hence profitability and overall success for the involved entity.

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However, critics could argue that companies should derive maximum utility from employees as long as the management is meeting contractual agreements with workers. As such, employees should report to work, execute their duties, and get their pay without using many resources. In other words, organizations should focus on maximizing profits and reducing expenditure, especially costs associated with maintaining a healthy workplace environment. However, this argument is defeatist in nature and such businesses might not thrive in the modern globalized and highly competitive marketplace. This argumentative paper discusses stress in the workplace, its causes, effects, and management strategies. The paper also presents counterarguments associated with the role of organizations in addressing this problem. Rebuttals to these counterarguments are also highlighted.

Workplace stress could be defined as the pressure or challenges that workers face in their day-to-day execution of allocated duties. According to Khan and Khurshid (2017), stress is caused by “stressors that may originate from work domain and non-work domain, such as work overload, employee-employer relationship, lack of job autonomy, work schedule, lack of organizational support, poor quality of work and family life, lack of family and social support” (p. 217). This problem is widespread and common in many organizations, hence the need for understanding its nature and effective intervention measures.

In the US, a study by the American Psychological Association (APA) showed that over 60 percent of workers term their jobs as sources of stress and only 36 percent felt that companies provide them with adequate resources to deal with this problem (Khan & Khurshid, 2017). Similarly, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), 56 percent of employees in a certain study claimed that they were stressed about their future finances and 42 percent noted that they were excessively pressured in their places of work (Khan & Khurshid, 2017). Therefore, this problem is not unique to one geographical; on the contrary, it cuts across in almost all organizations.

Causes of Stress in the Workplace

Stress in the workplace could come within or outside the work domain, but irrespective of the source, the results affect the employees’ performance and productivity. Under this context, stress could be seen as a stimulus or a response. On the one hand, as a stimulus, “stress has been used to describe situations in the external environment characterized as new, forceful, fast-changing, demanding, sudden or unexpected” (Kumar & Jain, 2012, p. 1). In this case, the causes are internal emerging from within an organization. On the other hand, from a response perspective, “stress can be seen as an imbalance between the demands to make an adaptive response and the capacity of the individual, higher the difference between requirements and resources the higher will be stress” (Kumar & Jain, 2012, p. 1). A third perspective, from a psychodynamic point of view, stress occurs due to the dynamic system of interaction between employees and their work environments.

One of the major causes of workplace-related stress is lack of intrinsic motivation leading to low morale. The current hard economic times and increasing unemployment rates are forcing people to accept any job offer that they can find. As such, workers are working not because they are passionate about what they are doing, but to get money for upkeep and survival. Such individuals are likely to experience stress because they lack the intrinsic drive to execute their duties effectively. This issue is compounded by the fact that poor performance will attract the attention of the management, which in turn, could pile more pressure on the involved individuals.

The management and leadership styles in place could also contribute significantly to stress in the workplace. For instance, authoritative leadership does not create space for employees to contribute their ideas. Consequently, workers are simply instructed on what to do and how to achieve the same, which in the long-term, it could potentially lead to stress. Similarly, without engaging workers, managers could create family-unfriendly policies that conflict with the employees’ interests. This scenario could also lead to people being assigned job roles that are not in tandem with their skills. As such, employees might experience unnecessary routine tasks, excessive workloads, and long working hours, which are all contributing factors to stress in the workplace.

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Job insecurity accounts for a significant role in causing workplace-related stress. Employees seek to advance their careers, and thus when such prospects are dim or unavailable, it could affect their psychological wellbeing, hence stress. On the other hand, non-performing workers, due to various mediating factors, are subject to negative performance reviews and this aspect could be a constant stressor given the possibility of being laid off. Additionally, people in organizations could be required to handle emergent roles without being given the requisite training and tools. The unbridgeable disparity between the employers’ expectations and the employees’ skillsets leads to poor performance.

In addition, some jobs are risky and this nature is a major source of stress in the workplace. For instance, rescue workers, firefighters, and servicepersons are exposed to traumatic events, which adversely affects their psychological wellbeing leading to stress. Such individuals have to learn quickly on how to adapt to their work environments with the help of their employers to reduce the debilitating effects of the associated workplace stress.

Effects of Workplace-related Stress

Stress affects the employees’ wellbeing adversely, with widespread repercussions. Excessive stress results in “burnout and thus eventually leads to individual and organizational losses…Job stressors not only have a negative impact on the physical but psychological health and family life as well such that the person is deviated from normal functioning” (Khan & Khurshid, 2017, p. 220). Burnout is a serious problem in the workplace as it could lead to far-reaching outcomes. For instance, employees experiencing this problem have low performance, and waste time, hence low productivity and losses for the organization. In addition, such people are a risk to safety in the workplace as they are bound to make avoidable mistakes and accidents. Similarly, burnout could cause other mental illnesses, such as depression, and the affected individuals are likely to take sick leaves or be absent from their places of work. The compounded effect of these issues is the ultimate loss of revenue due to reduced productivity from employees.

Organizations with workplaces promoting stress suffer double losses. First, low productivity by employees means that profitability is directly affected adversely. Second, stress in the workplace leads to dissatisfaction among workers, who are likely to quit their jobs, thus turnover rates are high. The cost of hiring and training a new workforce is high and time-consuming. This double loss is costly for any company seeking to remain profitable in the modern competitive marketplace, where businesses are levering technology and cross-border flow of goods and services to remain ahead. Ultimately, stress in the workplace is positively correlated with poor performance and productivity, thus management teams should focus on implementing intervention measures to address this problem.

Role of Organizations in Workplace Stress Management

Organizations have a duty to create a conducive work environment where employees could function optimally and provide their services and creativity. Businesses should operate based on the knowledge that the level of their success is in tandem to the workers’ performance, commitment, and motivation. Therefore, management teams have to come up with ingenious ways of ensuring that workers experience the least possible levels of stress when executing their day-to-day work. This assertion implies that firms should be prepared to spend resources and time in a bid to empower workers in the best way possible.

Companies could reduce or eliminate workplace-related stress in various ways. Specifically, management teams should focus on promoting practices that enhance employees’ commitment to their jobs. Grawitch et al. (2015, p. 265) have given five specific types of workplace practices that contribute to employee well-being and organizational functioning: employee involvement (i.e. autonomy and involvement in decision-making), work-life balance (i.e. practices to support work flexibility, and help employees meet their non-work demands), employee growth and development (i.e. training and career development practices). Health and safety (i.e. practices intended to promote health, manage disease or improve safety) and employee recognition (i.e. monetary and non-monetary rewards and awards).

These practices would create psychologically healthy workplaces with minimal stress levels. Some of the specific actions that organizations could execute include providing employees with the needed skills and resources to cope with stress. First, workers should be involved in the decision-making process so that they can contribute to the overall success of an organization. Such involvement makes employees feel that they are part of the company, and such identity creates a sense of loyalty, which goes a long way in ensuring high productivity. Second, people should be recognized and rewarded for doing a good job. This aspect is a motivating factor, and it addresses the problem of low morale, hence high performance and profitability. Businesses should also create career development opportunities for employees. This way, individuals will be committed to their jobs because in the process they have the chance to advance their interests.

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The management should also focus on assigning job roles based on the employees’ skill sets (Kumar & Jain, 2012). People are likely to function optimally and produce good results if they know what they are doing as supported by their skills. As such, the involved employees might not suffer from job-related stress. Additionally, in case some workers are required to function in areas outside their skill set, they should be trained thoroughly and given the necessary support to adapt to the changing work environments. The adopted leadership and management styles should be friendly to ensure that workers have the freedom to air their views. Similarly, the workplace should be free from environmental stressors, such as lack of aeration, high temperatures, lack of privacy, and other related factors. For workplaces that are stressing in nature, including military, rescue activities, and firefighting, employers should work closely with employees to provide all the requisite support. These organizational actions would ultimately lead to increased productivity, profitability, and overall success of the entire company.

Counterarguments

Some employers could argue that stress is good for the productivity of employees and the profitability of organizations. This idea is based on the assumption that when workers are pressurized, they are likely to achieve the set goals. In theory, the concept of “good stress” or eustress is expected to “increases the skills and efficiency, for example through proper training an employee gets the ability to face challenging work” (Kumar & Jain, 2002, p. 1). However, this kind of thinking is not supported by robust empirical evidence. Stress can only work effectively to a certain level after which employees start experiencing the associated negative effects, such as burnout. Therefore, workers should be taken care of by ensuring that they work under favorable conditions to maximize their productivity.

Second, critics could claim that employers and employees should be engaged in a transactional relationship whereby each party contributes part of its bargain. In other words, employees execute their duties according to the stated guidelines, while employers meet their remuneration obligations. As such, workers should not be involved in decision-making or be engaged in any other way apart from being assigned job roles. However, this argument is flawed in many ways. The available evidence shows that engaging workers in decision-making and other areas of running a company leads to “many positive work-related outcomes such as job satisfaction, job performance, profitability, customer satisfaction, and employee retention” (Anthony‐McMann et al., 2017, p. 164). Therefore, management teams should endeavor to promote employee engagement and benefit from the above-mentioned positive attributes associated with such a practice.

Conclusion

Stress in the workplace is a common phenomenon in various companies around the world. Various factors contribute to this problem including low morale, poor leadership and management styles, weak organizational culture, and lack of career progress prospects among other related aspects. The consequences of workplace-related stress are long-term and adverse as they could lead to preventable losses due to reduced productivity and high turnover rates. Therefore, management teams have an implied obligation to ensure that workers function under minimum stress levels for optimal performance and profitability. While critics argue that stress is good as a motivating factor, such an approach is counterproductive. Ultimately, employees are likely to suffer from the debilitating effects of stress. The available literature indicates that workplace stress should be discouraged as discussed in this paper.

References

  1. Anthony‐McMann, P. E., Ellinger, A. D., Astakhova, M., & Halbesleben, J. R. (2017). Exploring different operationalizations of employee engagement and their relationships with workplace stress and burnout. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 28(2), 163-195.
  2. Grawitch, M. J., Ballard, D. W., & Erb, K. R. (2015). To be or not to be (stressed): The critical role of a psychologically healthy workplace in effective stress management. Stress and Health, 31(4), 264-273.
  3. Khan, N., & Khurshid, S. (2017). Workplace stress and employee wellbeing: Case of health care staff in UAE. European Scientific Journal, 13(5), 217-226.
  4. Kumar, S., & Jain, A. K. (2012). Essence and consequences of stress in the workplace. Journal of Organization & Human Behavior, 1(3), 1-12.

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BusinessEssay. "Stress in the Workplace: Causes and Management Strategies." January 21, 2022. https://business-essay.com/stress-in-the-workplace-causes-and-management-strategies/.