Every year in Japan around 30,000 deaths occur because of Karoshi (over work). In a study conducted by Delhi based NGO – Saarthak in 30 Indian companies, it was found that 50% of the employees suffered from stress related problems. Further, in the studies conducted in the US and UK, it was found that more than 60% of employees complain to be stressed out in their jobs.
Stress has been identified as one of the most common work-related perils of modern times. Previously it was considered to be limited to the developed countries, but with the turn of the century, it emerged as a global syndrome. Many organizations have also realized the cause and impact of employee stress and have initiated steps to combat work-place stress. Some organizations have gone beyond the work place and have been trying out innovative methods of handling employee stress caused by extra-organizational factors too.
But, what is stress?
Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary defined stress as “the result produced when a structure, system or organism is acted upon by forces that disrupt equilibrium or produce strain”. Generally, stress is said to be human body’s reaction to various organizational and social factors called as – Stressors. The fast-approaching project delivery deadline can be a stressor. The fact that you have to renew your car insurance within the next two days, but have no time for it, can be a stressor. Even a seemingly simple reason like your inability to help your child prepare for an admission test at a prestigious school can be a stressor. There can be scores of stressors surrounding you and you might not even be aware of their impact on your well-being. Stress is not always harmful. Sometimes, it can in fact prove to be productive. For example, the fast approaching project delivery deadline might succeed in bringing out your best performance. However, when the stress becomes unmanageable, it starts having a negative impact on the individual. Employers should know where to draw the line to bring out the best and not the worst out of their employees.
Reasons for stress can either be organizational (occupational) or extra-organizational (personal). The first category refers to work-related and work-place related factors. The second category refers to personal issues like the ill-health of a family member. The basic fact is that whatever might be the reason, stress can impact an individual’s personal as well as professional life. Let’s look at what work-place stress is all about.
United States National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health has defined workplace stress as “the harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources, or needs of the worker. Job stress can lead to poor health and even injury.”
It simply means that workplace stress generally arises when there is a mismatch between the nature or magnitude of the job to be done and the employee desires and capabilities. Further, the definition also categorizes workplace stress into physical stress and psychological or emotional stress.
It has been found that poor working conditions at the workplace result in physical stress among employees. The physical stressors include – poor lighting, improper ventilation, high level of humidity, unsuitable temperatures at workplace etc. In addition to the physical comforts at the workplace, excessively long working hours, excessive work load, deadline pressures and stringent rules and regulations also exert the employees and have a very harmful impact on them.
Further, when employees are denied short-breaks during their work hours, they tend to feel more stressed up. One would be mistaken if he/she understands that physical stress at the wok place is limited to a manufacturing or a field job scenario. Computerization at the workplace has brought in many computer related health hazards to desk jobs. It has been observed that individuals working in the IT industry are more susceptible to ailments related to muscles, eyes etc.
Extensive usage of computer leads to various muscle related ailments in employees, especially those in the IT industry. It has been found that employees working continuously on a computer were exposed to musculoskeletal disorders. Musculoskeletal disorders are caused by overuse of muscles, tendons and nerves. While working on computers, we tend to overuse our fingers and wrist, which lead to these problems However; most of the employees do not know the real reason behind the inflammation and pain in the muscles related to the fingers and wrist. Further, improper chairs and incorrect height of tables might also lead to pain in the back and the neck of the employees. Employees working on computers are also prone to disorders related to eyes and vision.
Physical stressors impact an individual even psychologically. For instance, long working hours without the required breaks would make a person tired and demotivated and a sense of helplessness creeps in. This would lead to frustration and eventually, psychological stress. Psychological stressors include – unfriendly work environment, monotonous job, problems in the social/external environment, job insecurity, problems with colleagues or immediate superiors, lack of proper balance between work and home, external factors in the industry, unsuitable work culture in the organization etc.
It has been found that when employees feel they don’t have any control on their job or work they are doing, a sense of helplessness seeps into their mindset, leading to depression. Further, when the relations among employees are strained, it also exerts negative influence on the employees’ attitude and their job. One more important factor that puts employees under psychological strain is unrealistic deadlines. If the deadlines at work decided by superiors are unrealistic or beyond the employee’s capabilities, it would put the employee under stress to perform, affecting his overall health.
Impact of Employee Stress
Both physical and psychological stressors have a tremendous impact on not only the employees’ health, but also the organization’s. Some of the impacts of employee stress are:
One of the grave impacts of employee stress is absenteeism. Employees under stress do not feel motivated to work and therefore take more number of leaves citing different reasons. As more and more employees cite ill health as the reason, the cost would all be added to the organization as medical reimbursements. Employees might be absent from work to use it as a coping mechanism against stress. Frequent employee absenteeism not only costs millions for the organizations, further it also affects the overall productivity.
Loss of Judgment:
A stressed out employee loses focus on his work. Due to this, the employee misses out on vital information signals leading to ineffective decision making.
Further, various research studies have proved that stress also slows down the thinking process. According to researchers, the enzyme – endorphins released under stress, slow down the ability to think, affecting the ability of judgment in an individual.
Stress also might have an impact on the interpersonal relationships at workplace. As mentioned above, a person under stress tends to be easily irritated leading to troubled relationships with his colleagues
Stress results in poor concentration and pre-occupation of the mind leading to workplace accidents. It has been reported that in their drive to attain deadlines and accomplish tasks, employees tend to ignore safety rules, leading to accidents. According to a research conducted by Worked Occupational Health Services, stressed out workers are 30% more likely to be involved in accidents when compared to those experiencing low levels of stress.
In addition to all the above mentioned problems, organizations would also face – high turnover rates of employees, high replacement costs, loss of intellectual capital and increasing grievances. Many organizations have realized the serious impacts of employee stress and have started taking steps to combat it. The responsibility of making a workplace employee friendly and healthy lies with both the employer and the employees.
1. Discuss the factors that can indicate to an organization that its employees are stressed.
2. Search the internet to identify some ways organizations use to handle stress through training. Discuss these methods in detail.
3. Discuss on what basis should the organization choose a particular method to handle stress.