Stress in the workplace has reached epidemic proportions and the personal and financial costs are enormous. I have developed a free workplace workshop to ‘Beat Work Stress’. It is entertaining and interactive leaving participants with 3 concrete methods to help reduce and alleviate stress at work and home. It is offered and presented by Coaching For High Performance to companies and non profit groups within 35 km. of my office in Milton, Ontario. Please contact me to discuss how this could help your employees.
Below are excerpts from and excellent article from Morneau Shepell. The stress factor and its impact on employees’ mental and physical health.
The major source of negative workplace stress for employees, as reported by researcher C. Williams, is too many hours and too many demands. These concerns were reported by workers of every age, gender and sector. Additionally, the stress being experienced in one’s personal life was not thought of in relation to the employee’s work experience. The most common sources of stimuli that can facilitate employee stress levels are environmental (e.g. noise and air pollution), social (e.g. peer pressure and negative workplace), psychological (anxiety disorder, etc.), emotional (e.g. anger management), physical (health state, weight, and so on), and financial (e.g. debt). Whether an employee is experiencing eustress or distress, it is important to be aware that how they react is far more important than the stress itself. Stress itself is not good or bad. Ensuring that employees are taking a mindful approach to addressing stress can have positive effects on mental and physical health, resulting in increased engagement and productivity.
The Your Life at Work study, conducted through The Globe and Mail, found that 60 per cent of employees in Canada reported that they go to work each day feeling stressed. According to a survey conducted by The Globe and Mail, 60 per cent of employees experience stress that is taxing overall health, engagement and productivity. Within Canadian workplaces, stress is becoming a health issue of increasing concern. According to The Canadian Encyclopedia, stress and mental health issues are estimated to cost the Canadian economy $33 billion a year in lost productivity. In 2010, more than one in four Canadian workers described their everyday lives as highly stressful, meaning that nearly 3.7 million working adults went through a normal day feeling a high level of stress, and an additional 6.3 million identified as being ‘a bit’ stressed. The rates of stress have continued to increase since 2010. A recent study done by Benefits Canada magazine found that 58 per cent of respondents reported feeling job-related stress on a daily basis. The cause of stress among employees is wide-ranging. Workers report being stressed for personal reasons (e.g. time, financial) just as much as they are stressed for work-related reasons (e.g. work demand).
It is not the amount of stress that determines a person’s stress level, it is how they are able to process and cope with stress from a cognitive perspective. Every employee maintains a unique threshold when it comes to stress. Different stressors affect people in different ways, with some people having more developed coping skills than others, allowing them to deal with higher levels of stress. The better an employee can manage their psychological state of mind, the more likely they will be able to deal with the stress they are facing. No two people evaluate an external stressor in the same way; what might be stressful to one employee may not cause stress to another. A person’s cognitive appraisal skills influence thinking and action: • Primary appraisal: Recognition of the stressor and its potential threat. • Secondary appraisal: Identification of the stress and determination of how to cope. Primary appraisal refers to our initial, subjective evaluation of a situation when we balance the demands of a potentially stressful situation against our ability to meet these demands. There are three categories of primary appraisals: • Harm/loss: Impact or damage has occurred to an employee (e.g. fired from a job); • Threat: There is a potential for harm or loss (for example, possible cutbacks); • Challenge: There is an opportunity for personal and emotional gain, but the employee must focus all their physical and psychological energy to succeed in this challenge. Lazarus warned that in any stressful situation it may be difficult for an employee to clearly determine which of the three appraisals mentioned above is impacting them psychologically. When an employee is overwhelmed and cannot get a psychological bearing on the degree of threat or the necessary response, it is normal for the body to drive physiological change (e.g. fight or flight response takes over) with the goal of protecting itself. After an employee has assessed the perceived stress, they automatically move into what Lazarus referred to as the secondary appraisal. This occurs when one starts to mentally collect the internal resources they have at their disposal, to assist in coping with the current situation. This may include psychological, social and physical resources. Once this internal inventory has been completed, the person is then faced with determining what action they can take to avoid the situation or stop to address the external stressor.
Employer Employee Awareness Our environment constantly sends stimuli; how employees perceive and address these stimuli determines what is stressful to them. No employee perceives stress in the same way; therefore, it is important to never assume that all individuals cope with stress in the same manner. Maintaining an understanding of basic stress theory (including ”fight or flight” and general adaption syndrome) allows leaders to have a better appreciation for how stress impacts the mind and body. This allows for an empathetic approach to addressing how employees deal with stress and the real negative impacts stress can have on an employee’s workplace experience, productivity and engagement. As an individual, you have a unique approach to handling stress. Every person deals differently with the everyday stimuli presented to us day-in and day-out. It is important to identify how you currently approach and cope with negative and positive stress in your everyday life. Understanding how you address stress and your reaction to stressful situations can be difficult. Being aware of the basic stress theories, including fight or flight, may help you to comprehend your current reactions and how to improve them. As well, it is important to be aware of other coping mechanisms and strategies for addressing stress, including mindfulness and creating a strong support system. Accountability Attempting to curb stress in the workplace is the responsibility of both the employee and the employer. Organizations must take ownership over creating a positive workplace environment, allowing employees to seek help and advice on how to cope with stress, without fear of stigma or judgment. Creating an environment that promotes positive coping strategies and mindful reactions to stress can help employees to move past negative stress and prevent prolonged periods of distress from occurring. Addressing stress within the workplace is the responsibility of both your employer and yourself. You and your employer play important roles in how effectively stress is addressed and coped with. Taking ownership over how you handle stress is an important step in maintaining a positive and healthy workplace environment, for yourself and others. Action now Chronic stress can kill, or result in serious mental and/or physical health issues. It can also result in burnout. Taking proactive action that engages employees in conversations that promote awareness, accountability and action is integral to creating a positive and healthy workplace environment. Review how you are currently approaching stress, ensure that you are taking steps to maintain or improve your mental and physical health. Action tomorrow Consider your current workplace programs, challenges and courses in place to educate, promote and support employees with regard to stress. Speak with your workforce about their needs and wants within their environments; consider their opinions and ensure that your current offerings address their areas of concern. Keep a journal, tracking your daily stressors and your reactions to difficult situations, can help you to understand your own triggers and allow you to build coping skills that prevent stress from becoming prolonged. Action in the future Promote pathways to coping, encourage employees to take advantage of the resources you offer, and work to ensure that your workplace environment is free of stigma and judgment. Work with your employer to improve your workplace experience. Take advantage of the resources available to you, including coping skills workshops and courses, and make sure to reach out for help if you need it.