People all have a bad day once in a while. It is fine to feel a bit stressed about your work, especially when you have a deadline coming. However, if you are having a lot of blue days, or the thought of going to work starts to freak you out, you may be suffering from work-related stress.

The term stress was first used by the famous Hans Selye after completing his medical training in 1920’s. He proposed that the terminology stress was a non-specific strain on the body caused by irregularities in normal body functions as a result of the release of stress hormones within the body (Selye, 1977).

Work-related stress is a condition that occurs when the demands of the job are higher than the worker’s competence and coping capability. It not only affects the mental health of the stressed worker but also threatens the productivity of the organization.

Job Stress Model

The latest model of job stress is Job Demand-Resources (JD-R) by Arnold B. Bakker Evangelia Demerouti (2007). JD-R showed that every jobs have their own specific risk factors associated with job stress. The job stress is categorized into job demands and job resources. The physical, psychological, social, organizational aspects of job that require sustained physical and/or psychological effort or skills is refer to job demands. Job resources refers to physical, psychological, social, or organizational aspects of functional in achieving work goals, reduce job demands and its associated physiological and psychological costs and stimulate personal growth, learning and development. The figure 1.0 showed JD-R model. The job resources in the model have motivational potential whereby will lead to high work engagement, low cynicism and excellent performance (Bakker & Demerouti, 2007).

Figure 1.0: The Job Demands-Resources Model

Common work-related stressors

Potential stressors that can trigger work-related stress are:

  • The culture of the organization
  • Poor management
  • Job demands
  • Physical workplace
  • Working relationships
  • Lack of support
  • Changes in management policy
  • Role conflict
  • Trauma
  • Long working hours
  • Tight deadlines
  • Over-supervision
  • Lack of equipment and resources
  • Few promotional opportunities
  • Harassment

The work-related stressors can be categorized into individual capabilities and also the organizational factors. The individual capabilities are like worker’s skills, psychological health, physical health, coping mechanism whereas the organizational factors are like management directions or style, organization culture, working hours and so forth. Therefore, the stress consequences also will effect to individual health and organization as well.

Signs of work-related stress in individual employees

When the stress is exceeding the limit of individual capabilities to cope with it, the workers will end up with stress consequences. The stress will effect psychological health and also physical health. Then if the psychological strain is persisting, they will lead to psychological health problems like anxiety disorder, major depression disorders and psychotic problems.  Beside that the stress also will impaired the physical health status and lead to cardiovascular diseases, musculoskeletal diseases, respiratory problems and so forth. Therefore, the signs are varying from each individual depends on the health consequences.

Negative or depressed feelings

Negativity takes many forms. It may start as subtle as a bad feeling about yourself when you fail to complete a task. Then, it will progress to self-doubt, which means you begin to question your own competence. Even minor mistakes can make you disappointed in yourself. Loss of self-confidence results in depression and anxiety.

Aggressiveness

You suddenly feel anger towards everybody. The jokes which you used to enjoy now seem so intimidating that you have to fight back. Normal gestures of your co-workers feel like an insult. You cannot control your anger. You snap at every little things in your workplace.

Unusual mood swings

One day, you come to work all happy and shiny. But just half an hour later, you feel so down that you get all tearful. When the blue passes, you probably feel embarrassed and have no idea why your mood changes so quickly for no reason.

Mental issues

You start to forget more and more things. Your concentration span gets smaller. You cannot focus on your task. You feel confused at things that used to be within your area of expertise.

Changes in your lifestyle

Work-related stress may influence your life outside the workplace as well. You may experience abnormal sleeping patterns, which can be either excessive sleep or insomnia. The same applies to your eating habits. Your appetite can either be increased or decreased in an unpredicted way.

Substance abuse

To cope with your stress, you are likely to consume more alcohol, even abuse drugs. You may develop an addiction to alcohol, recreational drugs, or both.

Punctuation problems

Due to the lack of motivation and the fear of your job, you unconsciously arrive late and have the urge to leave as early as possible.

Signs of work-related stress in a group or organization

  • Internal dispute within the group
  • Increased staff turnover
  • Increased complaints
  • Increased sickness absence
  • Poor performance
  • Customer complaints about productivity
  • Difficulty in recruiting new staff

How to deal with work-related stress

If you are experiencing one or some of the symptoms above, you may be having work-related stress. You should talk to your manager or your trade union representative to find a way to ease the stress. However, while those symptoms may indicate stress, they can also be the warning signs of another medical condition. If you have been suffering from those symptoms for a long time, you need to seek medical care. If your problem stems from an illness, treating the underlying issue will help you get back your good mood. If you notice these signs in your group, you need to talk to your supervisor.

To reduce or control of the stress, we need to investigate the cause of the stress. The causes of the stress might be due to individual problems, organizational problems or both factors as the stressors. Thus, the intervention must be focused on the main factors of the stress. The examples of individual interventions are like mindfulness practice, increase the communication skills, cognitive behavioral therapy, whereas the organizational intervention is like employee assistance program and reduce the working hours. Besides that, the intervention can be done together which is the combination of individual and organization intervention.

While it is important to recognize early any changes in the dynamics of the group to take prompt action, you should be careful not to over-react to small changes in behaviors. Everyone has their good and bad days. Your co-worker may seem a little blue or agitated one day, but it does not mean he or she is having any problem with stress. The symptoms above should only be viewed as clues, not a guideline to diagnose stress.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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Dr. Ahmad Fairuz Mohammed Occupational Safety and Health & Public Health
Dr. Ahmad Fairuz Mohammed is currently CEO of the Medi Ihsan Occupational Safety and Health (Selangor) Sdn Bhd. He is also the Deputy ...
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Dr. Ahmad Fairuz Mohammed Occupational Safety and Health & Public Health

    Dr. Ahmad Fairuz Mohammed is currently CEO of the Medi Ihsan Occupational Safety and Health (Selangor) Sdn Bhd. He is also the Deputy Dean Faculty of Allied Health Sciences, and Assistant Professor of Public Health, Occupational Health Physician, Faculty of Medicine, Cyberjaya University College of Medical Sciences (CUCMS), Cyberjaya.

    Dr. Fairuz’s areas of expertise include Occupational Safety and Health and Public Health. He holds various fellowships and memberships at well-known medical associations and organizations such as the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA), Academy of Occupational and environmental Medicine Malaysia (AOEMM), Malaysian Society for Occupational Safety and Health (I-2357), Red Crescent Association, Malaysia, etc.

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