Stress Busting on the Job

By Nykodym, Nick; George, Katie | Personnel, July 1989 | Go to article overview

Stress Busting on the Job

Nykodym, Nick, George, Katie, Personnel

Stress Busting On the Job Knowing what stress is and how to handle it can help HR professionals save their organizations--and themselves--time and money.

The word "stress" means different things to different people. Stress is generally defined as any outside stimulus that disrupts the body's mental, physical, or chemical functioning. Hans Selye, a pioneer stress researcher, defines it as "the body's nonspecific response to any demand made upon it."

Mild stress is a part of everyday life, and a certain amount of stress is stimulating both for you and for your performance on the job. Stress can be pleasant or unpleasant, though the specific results may differ. The way in which you respond is what determines whether you are "under stress."

Under stress, your body prepares for the natural "fight or flight" instinct; since neither of these decisions is really a good option in the workplace, you must learn instead to release stress. This article reveals some of the strategies that are commonly used to deal with stress in the workplace.

The High Cost of Stress There is a significant relationship between stress and health problems. No one knows the exact dollar cost of stress, but the bottom-line figure is generally estimated to be in the range of $75 to $90 billion.

More and more employers are becoming concerned about stress because of stress-related employee illnesses and even deaths. They are concerned not only because of humanitarian reasons but also because of costs to their companies. In several recent court cases based on work-related stress charges, the companies involved lost their cases and paid settlements; this has resulted in direct monetary loss as well as in the loss of employees.

While the United States is the most technologically advanced nation in the world, it currently ranks fifth in terms of productivity per person. Researchers believe that this may be partially explained by the increasingly stressful U.S. work environment and employees' poor ability to deal with the causes of that stress.

Some individuals seem to have a higher tolerance for stress than others; in addition, research has shown that responsibility for people is a greater stressor than responsibility for things (stressors may be defined as "stress-inducing factors"). The bosses--the people who make the important decisions in business--are usually the stress carriers; however, individuals in upper management and others who feel that they are in control of their jobs and their futures are thereby better able to handle stress.

Environmental Factors Factors that dictate a person's reactions to stress include the ability to cope, the length and duration of the stressful event, and the intensity of the stress level reached. One aspect of the study of stress that is sometimes overlooked is the worker's physical environment. Below are some conclusions that researchers have made during 50 years of study:

. Performance deteriorates when there is increased workload or environmental stress from temperature, noise, or bad lighting.

. Age and differences in coping capacity must be considered. Older people usually do not cope as well as younger people when given increased workloads.

. The effects are related and are more than likely cumulative. Temperature, bad lighting, and long hours all add up.

. Skill affects the subject's ability to cope with stress, but the increased workload actually decreases performance.

. Performance is most affected by changes in workload and by environmental stress.

Characteristics and Sources of Stress In a study of 500 male executives performed by Cary L. Cooper and British physician Andrew Melhuish, the researchers found the following characteristics to be indicative of managers under stress:

. Their behavior is characterized by restlessness, impatience, extreme competitiveness, and feelings of being under pressure. …

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