“What is work stress and in what types can be expressed? You have to start this article warning that it will be impossible to list each and every one of the causes that can make a worker feel stress, so, necessarily, they will have to be grouped together and, therefore, simplify the problem.”
It is also essential to draw a line between what are specific levels of stress and those sustained over time. It is normal to experience a certain stress from time to time; it helps us get the job done. Here we will talk about situations of sustained stress, those that go beyond the worker’s ability to feel control over the task, about the work environment or about their own emotions.
The emergence of work stress
Grosso modo, a worker will feel work-related stress when he perceives that there is a lack of adequacy between his resources and the demands of the environment. The best thing would be to give an adjustment between both, person and environment, but when this adjustment does not occur, stress situations are generated. Rather, stress will occur when the person is aware that there is no such adjustment because either the demands or working conditions exceed their capacity for resistance.
Excessive workload, lack of control over work, inadequate reward, ambiguity in the role, a toxic boss, fussy partners, crazy schedules, boredom, a sense of injustice, ankylosing or missing of professional development, tasks with impossible delivery dates, the emotional demands of the position, the own capacities …
The list can be endless and each worker can have circumstances that are a source of stress. Sometimes he will not even be able to identify them specifically. Where do we start then?
Types of occupational stressors
A first way to identify stressors can be to classify them into three groups: those referred to the specific job position, those referring to the organization and the person. Other factors, perhaps more remote, may also be included that have more to do with the political / economic / legal / cultural framework of labor dynamics.
This “magma” on which organizations and workers themselves are based is experiencing slow but profound changes that condition many of the “precipitating” factors of stress.
Referrals to the organization (poor work design or inadequate environment)
In this first category of occupational stressors we find, fundamentally, the following problems.
1. Conflict and / or role ambiguity
In workers in offices is one of the main stress factors associated with the position. It occurs when the worker does not really know what is expected of him or is not clear about his objectives or responsibilities. He receives contradictory orders, does not know where the limits of the task lie or based on what his work is judged. It is a typical problem in large and unstructured organizations.
2. Role overload
It is also given by a bad distribution of work. The worker is entrusted with more responsibilities than can be assumed by time, training or hierarchy. There is also the “role underload”, when the capabilities of the worker are underestimated and jobs are assigned that are not in line with their training or skills.
3. Communication problems and interdepartmental conflicts
Conflict between departments due to contradictory objectives among them, to an imbalance of power between them or to a type of poor communication.
4. Insufficient career and development plans
People aspire to improve and expect their companies to help them through training and professional development. If the company is not able to meet career expectations, it can produce a deep dissatisfaction in the worker. The problem can be aggravated if the company had previously fed these expectations.
5. Organizational structure
If the company or organization is highly hierarchical it is likely that decisions will not reach lower levels and that top-down communication will be deficient. This is a source of dissatisfaction and stress.
6. Labor climate
Tension within the organization, excessive control towards workers and conflicting relationships increase stress among workers and, ultimately, can lead to extreme situations of aggression (mobbing or workplace harassment) or emotional burnout. Both have much to do with the climate and organizational culture, although in the case of mobbing, it is also necessary the assistance of an aggressor or “bully”.
7. The location of the company and its design or the services offered to the worker
For example, a job that is far from home or lack of services such as parking, cafeteria, etc. It can lead to lengthen the workday or to have to invest free time to alleviate some of those deficiencies.
Associated with the job
In this category we find the following types of occupational stressors.
1. Job insecurity
Precarious and temporary work is a source of pressure and stress.
2. Mental load necessary to perform the task
If the task requires sustained attention or mental effort.
3. Control over the task
It is one of the variables most associated with work stress in many of the studies carried out. Occurs when the worker has no control over the tasks that must be performed and / or can not organize your agenda or work content as it depends on third parties or situations beyond their ability to maneuver.
4. Variety and complexity of the task
If the task is too monotonous or too complex it will produce stress.
5. Identity and coherence of the task within the organization
The worker must know what their individual or group impact is within the context of the organization. If the worker has the feeling that his work is useless, is not visible or is dispensable, he will experience frustration.
6. Intradepartmental relationships
In the same way as interdepartmental ones, bad relationships with close co-workers will cause stress and can lead to other more acute problems.
7. Physical conditions of the workplace
Factors such as low lighting, excessive noise, temperature, humidity, pollution, etc., would enter here.
8. Material conditions of the workplace
Not having the right material (computers that are too slow, machinery that does not work properly, etc.) can also generate moments of continuous stress.
9. The physical risks of the workplace
This would include all those that can cause musculoskeletal damage; long days of standing and no possibility of moving or sitting, carrying weight, forced postures, handling of hazardous and / or toxic materials, rigid positions when using the computer, physical and visual fatigue, etc.
10. Changes of shifts and night shifts
They have an important impact and disorder at a physical and psychological level.
11. Remuneration of work linked to objectives
If the objectives are very high they can produce either stress or laziness (if you are not able to reach them).
12. Schedules, breaks and vacations
Very long days and / or accumulation of long days for weeks, not taking breaks between tasks, etc.
Related to the person
We said at the beginning that stress occurred when the person felt a mismatch between the demands of the environment and their own abilities. Therefore, the personality of the worker plays an important role when assessing the threat. Some personality traits can nourish or lessen the feeling of stress and influence our coping strategies.
1. Emotional control
There are people who manage to maintain a great control over their emotions and are able to adapt them to the moment and situation. Both positive and negative emotions are part of life and work. It is important to face them properly and maintain a balance, neither overreacting negative emotions nor denying them.
2. Emotional empathy
In the same way that you have to know how to manage your own emotions, it is important to recognize the emotions of others and know how to empathize with them.
This will facilitate good relations with colleagues and will make the person have “social support” within the organization. Social support has been consistently related to a lower stress experience.
3. Self-motivation capacity
It is achieved through intrinsic motivation, the feeling that the work itself has “meaning”, the perception of self-efficacy in the assigned task and the recognition of third parties. Motivation is also a buffer of stress.
4. The degree of tenacity
Understood as the ability to authorize oneself, reliability, address tasks systematically and orderly has been consistently associated with job satisfaction and lower levels of stress. However, perfectionism and the degree of self-demand for oneself are personality traits strongly associated with stress experimentation.
5. Emotional stability
The emotional stability of the worker will greatly influence their mood and their perception of stress. If the worker is going through unstable life moments in other aspects of his life, this will also affect his level of stress at work.
6. Food, sleep and exercise
Carrying healthy lifestyle habits increases the possibilities of stress management.
Factors related to the political and social framework
Few human realities have changed so much since the dawn of time as labor relations. Change is the norm and the magnitude of the change in this area has been colossal. Not long ago you aspired to a stable job for life. Nowadays this is more a rare exception more linked to the administration than to private companies. The massive incorporation of women that began in the middle of the last century, the strength of the developing economies, fundamentally Asian, that have profoundly modified the industrial fabric on a global scale, etc.
In the last twenty years other trends are having a strong impact on how we relate to our work and the companies that give us work. We can point out some of them:
- Jobs have become insecure and temporary types of contracts are imposed.
- Overtime has increased progressively. Normally without economic compensation.
- Variables linked to productivity and ratios have been introduced that demand better results for workers year after year.
- The middle and upper-level workers in the companies, whose jobs were relatively more stable at the end of the 20th century, are experiencing more professional insecurity.
- The global crisis that began in 2007 has contributed to the destruction of many jobs and the precariousness of others.
- Social networks (the extended family, social coverage), traditionally protective of the worker, are disappearing.
- Individualism, labor mobility and the lifestyle of large cities make the worker more isolated.
- Some types of work are changing profoundly as a result of the introduction of new technologies.
In short, jobs have become more insecure while workers are more vulnerable. The level of demand has risen and social supports tend to decrease. These circumstances may explain why in some industrialized countries stress has replaced muscle problems as the leading cause of sick leave.