Stress in the Workplace

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Stress is a reaction to too much pressure or too many demands. It can arise both at home and at work. However, there is no question that stress in the workplace is a major issue both for individuals and for organisations. If it is ignored, in due course it can lead to both physical and mental health problems for individuals, and significant losses for organisations through persistent sickness absence if those issues arise.

In many companies, employers have a legal responsibility to recognise and deal with stress in the workplace. Whether this applies or not, it is important to address the causes of stress in the workplace to avoid problems for individuals, teams and organisation as a whole.

Managing stress in the workplace is therefore an essential responsibility of both individual and the company.

The Effects of Workplace Stress..High levels of stress in the workplace can lead to:

o Poor employee and customer relationships.

o Poor decision-making by individuals.

o An increase in mistakes, which in turn may lead to customer or client complaints. This is likely to produce more stress.

o Increased sickness and absence, with paid leaves leading to ongoing costs to the organisation.

o High staff turnover.

Stress in the workplace also has a knock-on effect on individuals' relationships at home: with their partners and children, and wider family and friends. These effects, in turn, ripple outwards, affecting more people via other relationships. It can also have effects on both physical and mental health and well-being

Panic Attacks

In cases of extreme or continual stress, people can suffer what is known as a panic attack.

A panic attack is a brief but extremely frightening spell of severe anxiety. Lasting only a few minutes, the symptoms can include:

• Feeling faint;

• Trembling;

• Dizziness;

• Pounding, fast heart rate;

• Feeling hot and sweaty;

• Legs turning to jelly;

• Butterflies (a 'fluttery' feeling) in the stomach;

• Shortness of breath; and

• Dry mouth.

Panic attacks often occur when the person is unaware of being particularly anxious. Recognising panic attacks for what they are, learning how to cope with them, and dealing with the underlying problems of stress are essential to the sufferer.

Anyone who experiences such an attack, or thinks that they may have done so, should seek medical advice.

Not All Stress is always Harmful

Stress affects people differently. Some people seem to thrive on extremely stressful lifestyles, while others struggle to cope with everyday life.

Everyone has an optimum level of stress. Too little excitement and too few challenges may lead to boredom. Too much stress can lead to health problems. A certain amount of stress, however, tends to be good for individuals.

Positive stress can act as a spur to achieve better results than would otherwise be attained.

Stress is also extremely useful in acting as an enabler to avoid problems and dangers. It is a motivator to solve problems and an important warning signal that something is wrong, allowing individuals to take some action to address those problems.

However, while some stress is good, too much stress is bad. Prolonged stress is almost always bad.

Every individual has a different level of tolerance of stress, and organisations and individuals have a responsibility to ensure that nobody is exposed to too much stress.

Monitoring and Reducing Workplace Stress :-

Six key areas of the workplace that should be monitored to assess levels of stress:

• Demands - Including such issues as workload, work patterns and work environment.

• Control - How much say individuals have about how they do their work.

• Support - Includes encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided by the organisation, line management and colleagues

• Relationships - Includes promoting positive working to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour

• Role - Whether people understand their role within the organisation and whether the organisation ensures that the person does not have conflicting roles.

• Change - How organisational change is managed and communicated within the organisation.

Coping with Stress

There are a number of things that individuals can do to help them to cope with workplace stress.

These include:

• Exercising regularly and eating well help in a sound mind and a sound body' It is much easier to deal with stress if you are physically well. Looking after yourself, and particularly making sure that you take time to exercise and eat well, is a good way to ensure that you remain fit and healthy.

• Talk to someone. Share your issues. Admitting that you may have a problem is a good start to solving it. Your manager has a responsibility to ensure that you are not suffering from too much stress, but it harder for them to act if you don't tell them that you are struggling to cope.

• Be prepared to say 'no'. An aweful lot of workplace stress is the result of people taking on too much on themselves. Learn to say 'no' to demands that you do more than your capacity -or at least to negotiate deadlines.

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