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Job Stress Overview and Guide

Job stress is a common form of stress for American adults, and stress from work has gradually increased over the past few decades. Job stress can have several causes, and it often results from pressure and high demands from employers that employees feel incapable of managing with their resources. Studies on work related stress have shown that stress levels vary between different occupations.

A large percentage of Americans are affected by moderate to extreme work related stress. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that 40 percent of workers reported that their job was very or extremely stressful. Also, 25 percent of those questioned in the study said that work related stress was the number one stressor in their lives.

Stress at work can make already difficult jobs more difficult. Employees have trouble with concentration and focus when they are stressed. Although some stress is not abnormal, having excessive levels of stress while at work is abnormal. There are steps that employees and managers can take in order to reduce workplace stress.

Employees can deal with stress through various methods such as workshops, training, counseling and other resources. It is important that job stress is treated because it can lead to insomnia, the development of psychological disorders such as depression and anxiety, and even physical illness.

Job Stress Symptoms

Those who are experiencing moderate to high levels of job stress will show a number of different signs and symptoms. The signs of extreme job stress should be recognized as soon as possible since they can easily spiral into more serious problems such as psychological disorders and physical illness. Those who show apathy, boredom, low morale, anxiety, fatigue, anger, impatience, physical illnesses, absenteeism, and frustration while at their jobs are likely to be suffering from high levels of stress.

Those who are stressed at work may show signs of decreased productivity. Employees may not be able to balance work with their home lives, or they may feel that they have little to no control over their work. Stressed employees may no longer find aspects of their job enjoyable that they previously did. They may struggle with getting to work on time, and they may also complain to co-workers or family about how stressed their work is.

When dealing with customers, stressed employees may become irritable or frustrated very easily. They may often require breaks due to a lack of energy. Some stressed employees have unexplained pains in their back or neck or “phantom pains” which have no obvious explanation. Stressed employees may self-medicate through drug abuse or alcohol abuse while at work or after work.

Job Stress Causes

Job stress may be caused by numerous factors. Some occupations such as teaching, counseling, and law enforcement are shown to have higher levels of stress than others. In other cases, the causes of stress are not the occupation but rather a negative relationship with co-workers or managers. Employees who feel a lack of control over their jobs are also more likely to be stressed at work.

Employees may be unable to express their needs, or they may be unable to control the amount of work they do. Poor or dangerous working conditions can also lead to stress as well as other hazards. In some workplaces, communication between workers and managers is dysfunctional and stressful. Some managers communicate in a hostile or condescending way to employees, and as a result employees may feel bullied and become defensive.

A lack of good management or leadership can also lead to work stress due to disorganization and poor communication. Employees may not agree with company policies or the corporate culture, and become alienated from their job environment which results in stress. Some are not fit for particular occupations based on their talents and abilities, and as a result they are unhappy, stressed, and constantly in a struggle with their job performance.

Effects of Job Stress

Along with the annual $300 billion economic effect of job stress on employers, there is a severe health effect for the person experiencing job stress. The short term and long term effects of job stress can potentially be severe. Job stress can lead to workers developing psychological disorders such as depression and anxiety disorder. Those who work in potentially dangerous workplaces are also more likely to have accidents related to job stress.

Often, an employee’s home life will suffer as the result of job stress. Employees may become distant from their families due to depression. Insomnia can develop and result in long term sleep disorders or other sleep related problems. Workers may develop severe alcohol or drug addictions due to the continual need for self-medication. Employees in some cases quit their jobs abruptly just because of stress, and there is a substantial financial cost for both the employer and employee when this happens.

Job stress can also lead to chronic severe health problems. One study found that chronic job stress among middle-aged males lead to increased rates of heart disease and type-2 diabetes. Those with higher stress jobs were also more likely to smoke, be obese, drink heavily, have a poor diet, and not exercise. All of those factors combined lead to increased risk for a variety of diseases. As a result, the effects of work related stress on health can be quite damaging.

Treatment for Job Stress

Treatment for work related stress involves reducing stress levels at work while also treating any related disorders or effects of job stress. Those who have developed anxiety or depression due to job stress may need counseling or psychotherapy. Medications may be prescribed to help employees who have mood disorders or anxiety symptoms. Stress management techniques can be taught to workers as well. Flexibility over working hours and more empowerment over working conditions can also help employees feel more in control of their jobs.

Employers must take a proactive role in the treatment and prevention of work related stress. Workshops and education on stress management can empower employees to deal with stressful circumstances in a positive way. Access to on-site counselors may be necessary for high stress jobs. Employers can create a work environment that is less stressful with better management techniques, more flexibility for employees, and reasonable expectations.

Breaks throughout the work day can help to reduce work related stress levels. Exercise is shown to be effective at reducing stress levels as well. Healthy eating is also beneficial for employees to help them maintain their energy throughout the day and avoid fatigue. Outpatient psychological therapy and treatment programs may also be used for both work related stress prevention and treatment.

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