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7 Triggers of Acute Stress at Work and How to Overcome Them

Written: 10/27/2007

I've written extensively on how to get rid of stress out of your life. Now let's take a look at the causes of stress at work and how to get rid of them both for the employees and employers.

Mood down? Tired Out? Not motivated any more? All these reactions can be linked directly to an excess of stress at work. Over the long term, stress can affect your mind and form an explosive cocktail for your health.

Here are the 7 major causes of stress at work and how employers and employees can work it out together:

  1. Too much work
    Overwork is the major cause of all the stress you accumulate at work. Having a job requires many hours of work, very little sleep, and can be very demanding both physically and physiologically.

    Employee: The first thing to do is to analyze the situation. You must determine whether you are really overtaxed with work or is it the way you are doing the work that is wrong. Some questions to ask yourself: Is my quality criteria too high? Do I have difficulty in refusing work given to me? Am I too hard on myself?

    Compare your output to your colleagues or other people in the same situation as yourself. Use objective measures like the number of sales done, number of patients treated, number of files completed.

    Visualize your work as steps instead of a mountain of work. Before embarking on an ambitious project, break it into smaller manageable parts. Also do not try to dramatize unnecessarily. Your company will not sack you if you have not reached the objective predicted.

    Employer: The solution is never to look for new recruits. You must always evaluate the amount of work with your employee. If the employee participates in the evaluation of the work, he will be more likely to accept the work given and commit to it.

  2. Not enough autonomy
    The more an employee has the upper hand on the work assigned to them, the less likely will they stress and prone to fatigue and heart problems. Having autonomy at work means the possibility to make decisions about the work given and how to get it done. Having the opportunity to make full use of one's potential and to develop new ones is another important factor.

    Employee: It is important for you to clarify your role with your boss and to fully understand your role and the limitations of your actions on a given task. If after this, you still do not have enough liberty to get the job done, you must have a sincere talk about this with your employer. Here is a way to approach the latter:

    "I appreciate working with you a lot, but I am sometimes under the impression that you desire the work be done in the way you like. This prevents me from doing the job well because I have a tendency to second guess my actions too much. I am sure I'll work better if you give me some liberty to do the work the way I want as long as the result hits the goal."

    Being constantly spied on can be detrimental to your working condition. With a boss who likes to keep an eye on everything, tell him about every step you are undertaking. This will help you develop a 'rapport' with your boss.

    Employer: Learn to trust your subordinates and to delegate not only your work, but a little of the power that comes with it. Micro-management is an outdated method. It is by fixing objectives with your employees and giving them enough resources to continue on their own that they become more productive.

  3. Not enough recognition (Praises)
    Everybody that gravitates around you - boss, colleagues, clients, patients, collaborators - contribute to building your motivation. The employer's recognition is the one which is of utmost importance. Recognition en globes every proof of appreciation (like respect, encouragements, promotions, participation in decision making, increase in salary, etc.) which reinforces the belief that the work in which you are doing and your presence are both appreciated. It is a very important fuel to combat stress.

    Employee: Since recognition comes from others, there is nothing you can do about it. It is important to realize that not everybody expresses their gratitude in the same fashion. Some employers are less demonstrative and this does not mean that they do not appreciate the efforts you are putting in your work.

    Employer: The annual evaluation and the increase in salary are important motivational factors but not important enough to boost the employees in their daily work. The first demand of employees is to receive a simple "Good morning" every morning and a simple thanks for their good work. Also take the time to make your praise on an individual basis rather than a group thing. Besides being present for the employees to help them and showing an interest in what they doing, this can only add to the elimination of the stress of the employees at work.

  4. Conflicts
    Closing your eyes on a conflict and adopting the ostrich method is the least recommended approach to solve a problem. Stress, anxiety and sometimes depression are the possible consequences of a persisting conflict. Communication between different members of a team or unit is the most important factor here.

    Employer: Avoid frustration by having an open discussion with the concerned person. Without openly criticizing the other person, if you feel that you are not being respected or listened to, it is important to talk about it. If for example, the music played by a colleague is affecting your concentration, it is important to talk about it with him without using an accusatory or menacing tone. Mutual adjustments are generally possible but certain personality types are less compatible. Sometimes you must realize that after all it is just professional relationships between colleagues and there is no need for 'love and intimacy' between colleagues to get the work done.

    Employer: Keep in mind that time does not arrange everything and that the sooner a conflict is solved, the better it will be for everybody. Sometimes employers are uncomfortable about this and tend to wait for "things to settle down" before attempting any reconciliation between the concerned parties. This will just delay the problem because the feeling of unease among colleagues will just increase as time goes by. If you are feel that you are incapable of handling this, do not hesitate to use the help of a mediator.

  5. A feeling of injustice
    An employee may find himself treated inferiorly in respect to his other colleagues if the latter's are benefiting from advantages he/she is not allowed to, albeit financial privileges, flexibility in work schedule or particular attention from the employer. This feeling of injustice at the workplace can create tremendous stress and generate conflicts among employees. A work medium which encourages competitively is a breeding ground for this kind of behavior.

    Employee: The best way to cope with this is to have a frank talk with your boss. It is most often due to a bad communication between employee and employer or lack of information on the subject. More there is transparency in the management, the better the employees will adjust their perceptions to reality.

    Employer: Without completely eliminating the privileges, use them with moderation. You must make a distinction between recognition and privilege. Like all privileges, if one employee is rewarded for his/her good work, the others will be waiting for the same. Also, let the employees participate in the decision making. Most of the time, employees resent the fact that they have not been consulted in a decision that concerns them.

  6. An imbalance between work and personal life
    If work overrides our personal life and we lack time for our personal or family activities, a chronic stress can affect us.

    Employee: Work addicts must learn how to take a distance from work. For example, using technologies that connect us 24/7 with our workplace is not a very good thing. Cellphones, laptops, smartphones, pagers, etc. are all gadgets which can become effective traps to tie you to your job. Many people feel the need to respond to a client 24/7 because of the fear of losing them. What employees do not understand is that most clients understand that they cannot and will not be attended to on a 24 hour basis. A general rule for a company to follow is to allow itself to lose a few clients so as not to endanger itself. There is no bad in doing supplemental hours as long as it is a personal choice and not something forced on you. Some employees do not take work home but their mind is always focused on their work, even at home. They may feel guilty of not devoting more time to work. If you are having these kinds of thoughts, remind yourself that you have already completed today's work and when you are home, spend time with and focus on your family. Like food, work also depends on you. You know that your health will suffer if you take another portion of this delicious but unhealthy food.

    Employer: Employers who take into account the life context of its employees by having a human resource management team, save a lot economically in the long term. If you invest in the well-being of your employees who have family duties, for example, by creating a nursery room and allowing flexibility in their schedule, the benefits will be enormous. Organizations which make these choices have employees who are more motivated, in better health, less stressed and more grateful to their employers. The rate of absenteeism in these organizations decrease considerably.

  7. Search for a sense of purpose
    Demotivation, boredom, devoid of emotions towards your work, feeling of emptiness inside: are you losing the desire to invest yourself in your work?

    You may feel at one time during your career that this is not the work that was meant for you. You may sometimes ask yourself the following questions: Does my work have the impact I want on society? Does it hurt my ideals? All will depend on the importance you give to your work.

    Employer: If you have the chance to choose a job which satisfies you on all levels, then all the best to you. Else, you can look for this satisfaction elsewhere in your sphere of life.

    Employee: Every little sign of recognition or praise help the employee finds a sense of purpose in his/her work. Tell your employee sincerely that you and many others are appreciating the great work he/she is doing. This can change everything in the attitude of your employee towards his/her job. But most important of all is to listen to them. Most of the solutions to the problems encountered by your employees can be solved just by actively listening to them.
Stress at work sometimes can be very difficult to manage but with a little effort on both parts: employees and employers, the impact of stress at work can be significantly minimized.

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