The phrase ‘stress at work’ has a dual meaning. On the one hand, it simply refers to stress experienced while on the job, usually because of some aspect of it. On the other hand, it can mean that stress is at work on you – stress is working on you, and usually in ways that are extremely unpleasant.
These two meanings are not completely unrelated. When you endure work-initiated stress the results are harmful to your physical health and your mental well-being. As with any problem, it helps to look at the fundamental causes in order to work towards a long-term solution.
There are a hundred immediate possible causes for job-related stress. Employees and managers alike are often given unrealistic deadlines to make near-impossible goals. Competitive fast-paced business can be fun. But when the intermediate goals don’t serve valid business ends – improving sales, optimizing work flow, enhancing communication – they are generally resented.
Add to that the all-too-common unreasonable boss or uncooperative co-worker. In companies large and small there are too frequently people in charge who are disrespectful and poorly qualified to lead others. They are generally more interested in flattering their manager than improving productivity and getting the job done.
Those two factors – mis-directed goals and unfair managers – explain the response that most people give when asked if they experience work-related stress and why: absence of control over their lives.
Many individuals have well-developed problem solving skills.
Women in the workplace who are also mothers know very well how to manage time, multi-task multiple demands and innovate new solutions. They practice those skills every day at home. They also know a bit more than most about how to settle disputes among individuals, all of whom may be partly wrong and partly right.
Men, too, have ample experience in prioritizing resource expenditures, responding to complaints and deciding when to push and when to compromise. They practice that at home every day.
But the workplace often fails to mirror the freedom to use one’s thinking skills and the power to enact a workable solution. More often, goals come from above and little debate is allowed. Individuals employed in organizations of that kind experience obligations without authority – a guarantee of stress.
The single most-often cited reason for stress in the workplace boils down to that – demands, but without the resources to meet them. When an individual is placed in the unresolvable conflict between “I must” and “I can’t”, stress is the inevitable result.
Fortunately, some organizations are beginning to recognize this and are taking steps to change. With luck, you may be employed by one.