Lots of things can make us stressed. Relationship problems, health issues and financial difficulties, to name a few. But the largest cause of stress in our lives is work. In fact, more than half of employees report that they feel stress in the work place.
Stress can manifest in a variety of different ways. You might have difficulty sleeping, begin to eat more or less than usual, or worry constantly. You might regularly feel tired, dizzy, or tense.
Some workplace pressure can be a good thing; it can help to keep us motivated. But too much pressure can lead to stress, and persistent stress increases our chance of developing mental health issues, such as depression .
But what exactly are the causes of stress at work? And what can be done to reduce it?
Causes of workplace stress
One major cause of workplace stress is bullying. Shouting, threats, or name-calling may be obvious signs of this kind of behaviour, but sometimes the bullying may be subtler. A team-leader may regularly undermine you in team meetings. A boss may give you too much or too little work to do. Colleagues may exclude you from workplace conversations or activities. All of this can leave you feeling isolated and singled-out, and ultimately: stressed.
Technology is also a major cause of workplace stress. Mobile phones and e-mail mean that we are contactable at all times of the day, any day of the week. Almost six in 10 British workers admit to taking calls outside of work hours, and more than half check their e-mails at home. Of course there are many benefits of technology in the workplace, making jobs more efficient and enjoyable. But it’s not difficult to see how technology can leave people feel overwhelmed and unable to switch off.
There are also many other causes of stress in the workplace, such as:
• Difficult colleagues
• Working too many hours
• Workload too high
• Workload too low/not challenging enough
• No encouragement and feeling undervalued
• High levels of responsibility
• Low levels of physical activity (e.g. desk jobs)
• Being under-trained for role
• Insecure jobs (e.g. agency work)
• Sexual harassment
• Lack of support
What can be done about workplace stress?
The first step towards reducing workplace stress it to identify the problem. Are you sure that work is causing your stress? If so, what exactly are the causes? It might help to keep a diary for a couple of weeks and make a note of when you are feeling stressed and what the potential causes were (i.e. what happened before you felt stressed?)
Once you’ve identified the potential causes of your stress, it is much easier to think of ways to reduce it. For many causes, there are simple changes that you can make yourself. If you’re taking calls and checking e-mails outside of work, is this an expectation of your boss? If not, try to reduce the amount of time you spend doing this. Perhaps delete any e-mail apps from your phone and divert any calls outside of work hours to an answer phone message.
Similarly, if you think that a lack of physical activity is making you feel stressed, you could implement some exercise into your day. You could try walking or running during lunch time. Or try getting up a little earlier so that you can attend a gym class. Even if you don’t think that inactivity is a cause of your stress, exercise could still help to improve your mood .
Unlike the examples above, some problems will only be solvable by talking to somebody. If you’re being bullied, it’s important to tell somebody that you trust about what is happening. Ideally this would be your line manager, but if your manager is the cause of the bullying, perhaps somebody more senior. Keep a record of all the occasions that you have been bullied, as this might serve as useful evidence further down the line.
Other problems such as high work-load, or being undertrained, are also solvable by speaking to your manager. It may be that they’re unaware of the problems and are happy to help support you. If your manager has not been receptive to your concerns, then it might be time to seriously consider whether you want to continue working for them. Is it worth the impact that it’s having on your mental health?
Finally, if you feel that you need some help in alleviating the stress that you’re experiencing, then it might be useful to talk to your GP or speak to a trained therapist.
Writer for Cognitive Practice