Stress is the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them. There is a clear distinction between pressure, which can create a 'buzz' and be a motivating factor, and stress, which can occur when this pressure becomes excessive.
One reason for stress in the workplace concerns the 'pond or ripple effect'. If the senior manager for the department is under
pressure from his/her superior(s) or clients to produce an end result, his/her ability to act under that pressure and continue to
manage effectively and efficiently becomes the dictate that will determine whether a seriously stressful situation results. If the guy in
charge is seen to react badly to pressure, this will move through the workforce from junior managers and supervisors out into the
coal-face. The end result becomes obvious as mistakes are made, progress slows and the pressure is increased.
At some point in the working environment an evaluation of what is realistically achievable must take priority, especially if the cost of poor decision making results in an excessively stressful environment. There is a vast cost to work related stress and the mistakes made and absenteeism that is created because of an unecessary stressful working environment. It's all very well managers saying "Bring me solutions, don't bring me problems", sometimes someone has to say "No!" because there just aren't any solutions to a particular problem outside of starting again, and that's likely to be a bitter pill for some managers to swallow.
- What Happens When You Get Stressed?
- Causes of Stress
- Symptons of Stress
- Costs to UK Industry
- Further Reading
What Happens When You Get Stressed?
Stress starts in the mind with a thought. When we are stressed, it is because we have chosen to interpret this thought as a threat. We have a negative emotional response to that perceived threatening situation. It's a bit like building a wall of pictures. The subconscious mind will present each memory like a brick in the wall. As the wall is built from various memories (some positive and some negative), we respond to the overall impression of that wall. If the emotional response is negative, the body goes on alert. Non-critical physiological responses, such as digestion, are shut down. Critical responses, such as pumping oxygenated blood to the arms and legs in preparation for fight or flight, are ramped up. Chemicals, such as adrenaline and nor-adrenaline, are produced to fuel us for the required response.
In times past when we were hunters and gatherers, it was this exact response that kept us alive. If we were trekking through the jungle and
came across a tiger, we needed to decide immediately if this situation was a threat. Once we had decided that this was indeed a threat, the
body would go on "red alert" and we would fight the tiger or run away. And herein lies the modern dilemma. We are still coming
across those "tigers" in everyday life. The difference is now we can't choose to fight or flee.
Imagine you are in a high-powered board meeting fighting for the survival of your project. You can't respond by punching somebody or doing five laps around the Boardroom. However, your mind and body are still using the process that in times past kept you alive. We need to find an outlet for releasing this pressure that has built up in the body. Fight or flight was the release valve. Now we need to build in a modern day equivalent.
Causes of Stress
Many things (or the anticipation of them) can lead to stress. These can include:
- pressure to perform at work or at school
- pressure placed upon loved ones or those close to you
- threats of physical violence
- money worries
- family conflicts
- moving house
Often there is no particular reason for developing stress, and it's caused by a build-up of a number of small things. Stress can be
caused by a range of common situations. However, people have very different responses to stress. For some people, stress can be useful,
helping motivate them to achieve more. In others, particularly if it goes on for a long period of time, it causes a sense of not being able
It's important to differentiate between temporary stress that you know will go away when a situation is resolved, and long-term or chronic stress. Most people can cope with short periods of stress. Chronic (long-term or continuous) stress is much harder to deal with, and can be psychologically and emotionally damaging, both for you, your friends, work colleagues and family.
Symptons of Stress
Everyone reacts to stress differently, but there are some common effects to look out for. In times of extreme stress, people may tremble, hyperventilate (breathe faster and deeper than normal) or even vomit. For people with asthma, stress can trigger an asthma attack. People who are chronically stressed may have:
- periods of irritability or anger
- apathy or depression
- constant anxiety
- irrational behaviour
- loss of appetite
- comfort eating
- lack of concentration
- loss of sex drive
- increased smoking, drinking, or taking recreational drugs
There can also be physical effects, which may include the following:
- excessive tiredness
- skin problems, such as eczema
- aches and pains resulting from tense muscles, including neck ache, backache and tension headaches
- increased pain from arthritis and other conditions
- heart palpitations
- feeling sick
- stomach problems
- for women, missed periods
Post Traumatic Stress
Post-traumatic stress can affect anyone who has been through an extremely difficult or violent experience, such as witnessing a violent death or disaster, being involved in a serious car crash, or surviving a fire. People suffering from post-traumatic stress may experience any of the symptoms listed. They may also feel a mixture of emotions such as fear, shame, depression, guilt or anger, and recurrent memories or images that may be haunting or lead to nightmares. These feelings can last for weeks, months or even years after the traumatic event that triggered them. Specialist treatment, possibly with medicines and psychological therapies, is available.
Costs to UK Industry
Stress-related and psychological disorders according to the 2006/07 survey of Self-reported Work-related Illness (SWI06/07) prevalence estimate indicated that around 530,000 individuals in Britain believed in 2006/07 that they were experiencing work-related stress at a level that was making them ill.
The 2007 Psychosocial Working Conditions (PWC) survey indicated that around 13.6% of all working individuals thought their job was very or extremely stressful.
The annual incidence of work-related mental health problems in Britain in 2006, as estimated from the surveillance schemes OPRA and SOSMI, was approximately 5,900 new cases per year. However, this almost certainly underestimates the true incidence of these conditions in the British workforce. The most recent survey of self-reported work-related illness (SWI06/07) indicates that an estimated 245,000 people first became aware of work-related stress, depression or anxiety in the previous 12 months
. Estimates from SWI06/07 indicate that self-reported work-related stress, depression or anxiety account for an estimated 13.8 million reported lost working days per year in Britain. Survey data suggest the incidence rate of self-reported work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2006/07 is of a similar order to that in 2001/02. There had been a fall between 2004/05 and 2005/06, but this was followed by a rise back to the previous level in 2006/07. Both changes were statistically significant. THOR surveillance data shows a mixed picture with a falling trend in psychiatrist reports of work-related mental health between 1999 and 2006 but with occupational physician reports rising between 1999 and 2001 and then remaining steady. The ONS omnibus survey shows an overall downward trend in the proportion of people saying their job was very or extremely stressful between 2004 and 2006, levelling off in 2007.
So what does this mean in real terms? Well, this particular section was reproduced from the HSE's own data, and further data taken from the HSE website indicated that:
- About 1 in 5 people say that they find their work either very or extremely stressful
- Over half a million people report experiencing work-related stress at a level they believe has actually made them ill
- Each case of stress-related ill health leads to an average of 29 working days lost. A total of 13.4 million working days were lost to stress, depression and anxiety in 2001
- Work-related stress costs society between £3.7 billion and £3.8 billion a year (1995/96 prices)
For further reading on this subject, please visit the links below:
Work Related Stress - HSE
Stress in the Workplace - BUPA
Stress in the Workplace - Care Free Stress