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Occupational Stress

What is occupational stress?

Occupational stress is a mental health issue experienced by employees due to office duties, work environment, and a wide range of job circumstances. It is also known as work stress or job stress. It is recognized as a major hazard contributing to various psychological, behavioral, and medical conditions and illnesses.

Occupational stress can be broken down into three stages:

  • Stage 1 – Causes of Stress: These are the factors that increase the risk of stress.
  • Stage 2 – Stress Response: This is a natural reaction to the pressures around us, whether from the environment or internal sources.
  • Stage 3 – Consequences: This involves the outcomes of our experiences—either negative effects like medical, psychological, or behavioral distress, or positive effects known as healthy stress (eustress).

Here are some definitions of occupational stress:

Selye (1974) defined stress as “the non-specific response of the body to any demand upon it” which has a high tendency to disrupt the normal homeostatic regulatory physiological functioning of the individual concerned.

Dewe & Trenberth (2004) suggested that the diverse nature and perception of stress experiences encountered within the workplace makes it difficult to find a unitary definition of stress in a 74 Akanji Babatunde swathe of studies and reports on the impact of stress on organizational well-being and productivity

Here are some common causes of occupational stress:

  • Juggling home and work responsibilities
  • Events like financial issues or loss
  • Job pressures and environmental stressors
  • Workload, job insecurity, and career stress
  • Lack of decision latitude, job uncertainty, and poorly managed conflicts

What are some of the models of occupational stress?

Various theoretical models of occupational stress have been developed to guide research and organizational efforts in stress reduction. They are as follows.

1. Beehr & Newman’s Facet Model

The Beehr and Newman Model divides occupational stress into categories or facets.

  1. Personal facets: Personal facets are about what people bring to work, like demographics and personality.
  2. Environmental facets: Environmental facets are about the work environment and company culture, including job-related relationships.
  3. Process facets: The process facet is where employees assess the work environment. It also explores how stress affects individuals and organizations and suggests ways they can adapt to stress.

2. Demand-Control Model

Proposed by Robert Karasek, this model talks about the interaction between job demands and control at work. It says that when employees face a lot of demands and have little control, it’s stressful.

The concept of ‘Job Decision Latitude’ in this model is crucial, meaning having control over your work situation. This model has been tested with mixed results, showing that having control at work helps only if employees feel capable of handling their tasks.

3. Institute of Social Research (ISR) Model

The ISR Model, born from research at the University of Michigan, looks at stress by exploring both the objective work environment and how employees perceive and react to it. This model considers factors like the below to play a role in dealing with stress.

  • Work hours
  • Responsibilities
  • Interpersonal interactions
  • People’s unique characteristics: genetics and personality

4. Person-Environment Fit Model

This model, tracing back to Kurt Lewin, says that stress happens when there’s a mismatch between individuals and their work environment. Fit or misfit can occur at

  • A personal level: matching skills with job requirements.
  • An organizational level: aligning personal values with company values.

It’s all about how well people and their work environments match up.

5. McGrath’s Process Model

McGrath’s Model breaks down stress into four stages, focusing on how it affects job performance. It starts with employees facing situations at work, and then thinking about them.

Negative thoughts indicate stress. The model looks at how people decide to respond to stress and how those decisions lead to actions. It’s unique because it recognizes that dealing with stress involves making conscious choices.

What are the different types of occupational stress?

Following are the five different types of workplace stress:

1. Psychological burnout

Psychological employee burnout is a type of occupational stress characterized by emotional and physical exhaustion. It arises from a combination of personal and organizational factors, such as marital, legal, or financial problems.

2. Lower morale at work

Lower morale at work is both a cause and a consequence of stress. Workers generally thrive on productivity. They derive satisfaction from achieving positive results, salary increases, recognition, and advancement.

Reduced productivity not only affects job satisfaction but also diminishes motivation and happiness among workers. This creates a negative cycle of lower morale.

3. Depression and exhaustion

Occupational stress can manifest as depression and exhaustion, impacting an individual’s mental and physical well-being. Factors such as high workload, job insecurity, and personal problems contribute to this condition.

Persistent stressors can result in prolonged states of depression and exhaustion, compromising an individual’s ability to cope effectively.

4. Financial job insecurity

Financial job insecurity is a specific type of work-related stress related to concerns about economic stability in the workplace. Fears of job loss, inadequate compensation, or uncertain financial prospects contribute to stress levels.

5. Overwork and lower productivity

Overwork and lower productivity are interconnected aspects of job stress. While workers often find motivation in challenges and a sense of accomplishment, excessive demands and constraints can lead to overwork, resulting in reduced productivity.

The technological shift and increased automation, coupled with stringent rules and regulations, contribute to depersonalization in the workplace.

How to manage occupational stress?

The first step of occupational stress management is to find out what type of stress you’re experiencing. Acknowledging your stress increases the chances of being able to manage it. Keeping in mind certain principles for both employees and employers can pave the way for stress management. Below are some suggestions.

I. Navigating workplace stress amidst competition

  • Avoid over-commitment: Resist the urge to overload your schedule and prioritize tasks based on importance.
  • Organize and prioritize: Understand that controlling every aspect may lead to unnecessary stress. Recognize the difference between what is wanted and what is truly needed for a more balanced and fulfilling life.
  • Delegate your responsibilities: Embrace the power of delegation to avoid unnecessary stress. Assess the long-term benefits and let others handle tasks when appropriate.

II. Managerial support for employee stress management

  • Improve manager-employee communication: Managers should regularly engage in friendly and effective conversations with employees to foster a comfortable workplace atmosphere.
  • Promote employee involvement: Managers should involve employees in decisions about their work, making them feel valued and important to the team. It’s important to match the workload with what employees can handle, avoiding unrealistic deadlines and respecting their time.

III. HR’s contribution to work-related stress management

  • Manager training: Train managers to set realistic expectations for employees.
  • Wellness programs: Implement initiatives like nutrition sessions, cooking classes, and subsidized gym memberships to enhance employee health and reduce stress.
  • Family-friendly policies: Integrate policies that welcome families to employee events, fostering a supportive work environment.

How do you measure occupational stress?

Measurement tools play a crucial role in assessing and understanding the levels of workplace stress experienced by individuals. They provide structured frameworks to gauge different facets of stress in the workplace. This helps organizations and individuals identify stressors and implement effective stress management strategies.

The following are two instruments for measuring occupational stress.

Occupational Stress Scale

Statement1 (Never)2 (Rarely)3 (Sometimes)4 (Often)5 (Very Often)
Conditions at work are unpleasant or unsafe
My job negatively affects my well-being
Too much work or unreasonable deadlines
Difficulty expressing opinions to superiors
Job pressures interfere with family or personal life
Adequate control or input over work duties
Appropriate recognition for good performance
Able to utilize skills and talents to the fullest at work

Scoring Formula: Add the numbers you selected for all eight questions to calculate your occupational stress score. A higher score indicates a higher level of stress.

Occupational Stress Index

The OSI (Occupational Stress Index) organizes stress dimensions:

  1. Underload: When the demands of a task or job are too low, leading to a lack of engagement or stimulation.
  2. High Demand: The stress dimension associated with having excessive work requirements or challenges, potentially overwhelming individuals.
  3. Strictness: Involves rigid rules or expectations in the work environment, contributing to inflexibility or pressure to conform.
  4. Extrinsic Time Pressure: Stress related to external factors, such as tight deadlines or time constraints, influencing job performance.
  5. Aversive/Noxious Exposures: Refers to exposure to unpleasant or harmful elements in the work environment, contributing to stress.
  6. Threat-Avoidant Vigilance/Disaster Potential: Stress associated with the need to be constantly vigilant or cautious due to perceived threats or potential disasters in the workplace.
  7. Conflict/Uncertainty: Involves stress arising from interpersonal conflicts or a lack of clarity and certainty in work-related situations.
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