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Stress in the Workplace

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Organizational behavior is the study of individuals and their behavior within an organized work environment. Many different facets of the business world make up organizational behavior including: motivation, personality, leadership, communication, and so much more. However, I plan to focus on the topic of stress within organizational behavior. Depending on how it is handled stress can be both positive and negative. However, when it is not recognized and handled properly stress can cause serious problems. Throughout this paper I will not only define what stress is but also will identify some of the causes of stress. I believe that stress in the work place is one of the most destructive things that could happen to the individual and to the company as a whole. However, by knowing what causes stress we can combat the affects of stress by reducing and preventing the stress in our lives.

“Three out of every four American workers describe their work as stressful. And the problem is not limited to these shores. In fact, occupational stress has been defined as a “global epidemic” by the United Nations’ International Labor Organization.” (Maxon, 1999) One of the first steps to minimizing stress is being able to truly identify what stress truly is. Stress is the “psychological state perceived by individuals when faced with demands, constraints, and opportunities that have important but uncertain outcomes.” (Milbourn, 2012) Especially with the state of our economy these past couple of years people are feeling the economic stress to some extent. The state of the economy is one of the many causes of stress. With so many companies downsizing, merging, or closing their doors completely people are feeling the stress of the economic recession. “Adding to the pressures that workers face are new bosses, computer surveillance of production, fewer health and retirement benefits, and the feeling they have to work longer and harder just to maintain their current economic status.” (American Psychological Association, 2012)

As companies downsize the employees that are left are expected to shift to cover the jobs that their co-workers used to complete. This leaves many employees feeling ill prepared and untrained to accomplish their new tasks. The worker may begin to feel over-tasked. “Employees work more today than they did 25 years ago — the equivalent of a 13th month every year. Staff are getting downsized but the work remains, so workloads are getting upsized.” (Maxon, 1999) Job ambiguity is another cause of stress. “Job ambiguity refers to the lack of clarity surrounding a person’s job authority, responsibility, task demands, and work methods.” (Parr, 2011) Without clearly defined job descriptions workers begin to feel like they are unable to perform to their own standards as well as the standards of the company. Furthermore, without a clear definition of what is expected of them the worker won’t know how their work performance is going to be evaluated. This can cause them to receive a poor evaluation which can in turn cause them to get demoted, transferred, reprimanded, or even fired. I once got hired as a Human Resource Assistant.

I had never worked in the HR department before and was hired more on who I knew than what skills or experience I had to offer. I cried every day for the first month I worked there because I felt inexperienced and out of place. I was given little to no direction or guidance on what was expected of me. My boss was hardly ever in the office and even when she was and I asked what I should be doing she offered little insight into what exactly my job was. Finally, someone gave me the number of the girl who had done the job before me and I was able to call her to ask her advice. I worked there fore nearly 6 months before I really felt like I knew what I was doing. It was the most stressful 6 months of my life! Another common stressor is physical setting: “noise, lack of privacy, poor lighting, poor ventilation, poor temperature control, or inadequate sanitary facilities. Settings where there is organizational confusion or an overly authoritarian, laissez-faire, or crisis-centered managerial style are all psychologically stressful.” (American Psychological Association, 2012)

People are most productive when they are comfortable. If the office is too cold, too loud, unclean, etc. it could cause the employee to shift their focus off of the task they are doing and onto whatever it is that is causing their work environment to be less than comfortable. Finally, there are stressors in our personal lives that may have nothing to do with work but may spill over into our work lives. Things like divorce, birth of a child, death of a family member, and financial issues can cause stress in our personal lives. These stressors cause us to be distracted and we lose focus on what we are doing at work. This can cause accidents on the jobs or a decrease in productivity. Furthermore, as we let the stress of our personal lives spill over into our work lives we may become agitated, short-tempered, and difficult to be around. Our attitude then begins to affect those working around us, which in turn causes stress in their lives. I am definitely guilty of letting the stress from my personal life affect my work. Even something as small as fighting with my husband can leave me tense and frustrated. I then go to work with that tension bubbling inside of me.

If even the smallest thing goes wrong at work I react with an anger that isn’t warranted. I spend my day at work replaying our fight and focusing on my frustration instead of being diligent about my work. Stress can be both positive and negative depending on how you deal with it. There are two kinds of stress: Eustress and distress. Eustress is a constructive and positive stress that positively affects our attitude. Eustress “occurs at moderate stress levels by prompting increased work effort, stimulating creativity, and encouraging greater diligence.” (Schermerhorn 36) Stress causes a fight-or-flight reaction to happen within us. Either we allow the stress to motivate us to take action and fight against the stressor or we all the stressor to win as we react poorly to it. When stress is mismanaged the Eustress becomes distress very quickly. Distress is destructive stress that is detrimental for both the individual and the organization itself. “Too much stress can overload and break down a person’s physical and mental systems, resulting in absenteeism, turnover, errors, accidents, dissatisfaction, reduced performance, unethical behavior, and even illness.” (Schermerhorn, 2012)

Feeling this type of distress for a long period of time can cause an employee to suffer from job burnout. Job burnout “loss of interest in and satisfaction with a job due to stressful working conditions. A person who is “burned out” feels exhausted, emotionally and physically, and is less able to deal positively with work responsibilities and opportunities.” (Schermerhorn, 2012) Some of the other repercussions of stress include lower productivity, job turnover, and health issues. When an employee mismanages their stress it can cause lower productivity. Under the strain of stress an employee might make more mistakes, become easily distracted, be more disorganized, be forgetful, or even become more short-tempered. When an employee becomes focused on their stress they become less focused on their job and therefore productivity becomes lessened. “The Wall Street Journal reported that one third of people surveyed considered quitting their jobs because of stress and 14 percent actually did.” (Maxon, 1999) When a person becomes overly stressed in their work environment they begin to consider the option of quitting to find a job that is more satisfying to them.

This can be detrimental to a company. A rapid turnover rate means a lower rate of production as they spend more time interviewing and training new employees to cover the job. It has also been proven that over time stress can cause health issues. Stress can cause heart attacks, stroke, ulcers, etc. Stress breaks down your immune system, which leaves you more susceptible to colds and other viruses. Stress not only affects our physical health but also affects our mental health. It leads to depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. “Sixty percent of lost workdays each year can be attributed to stress. In addition, an estimated 75 to 90 percent of visits to health care providers are due to stress-related conditions, costing employers in increased health care costs.” (Maxon, 1999) Seven years ago at the age of 49 my father suffered a massive heart attack while sitting in his office at work. He was rushed to the hospital where he spent several days recovering. During this time the doctor talked to my family and me about the importance of my dad lowering the amount of stress in his life. My father has always been a very healthy man.

He has always eaten fairly healthy and for as long as I can remember my dad would get up early in the morning to go running before work. However, the stress of his job had put such a strain on his heart that it finally gave out on him. My dad lived through the heart attack and has since switched jobs. He makes less money but is much more relaxed and happier. “Workplace stress costs U.S. employers an estimated $200 billion per year in absenteeism, lower productivity, staff turnover, workers’ compensation, medical insurance and other stress-related expenses. Considering this, stress management may be business’s most important challenge of the 21st century.” (Maxon, 1999) Therefore, it is important to find ways to reduce or prevent the stress. It is in the best interest of the company if they spend a little time and money to create ways of minimizing stress. There are several approaches that can be used to manage stress. For example, there are time and management workshops that help teach people to balance their time better. By developing this skill the employee may feel more in control and less stressed. Another approach to reducing stress is managing your diet and exercise routine.

By simply eating healthier, getting more sleep, and increasing the amount of time you spend doing physical exercise you can decrease your stress levels. Physical exercise is a great way to literally expel the stress. It acts as an outlet for the stress and helps you turn bad stress into healthier stress. There are many programs out there that help with “social and emotional competencies such as self-confidence, self-control, communication, and adaptability.” (Parr, 2011) By learning to be a better communicator a person can lower their stress. Far too often some sort of miscommunication is the root to a persons stress in the work place. Furthermore, by learning adaptability people will feel less stressed when unexpected things pop up. Instead, they will simply adjust to accommodate the changes. Finally, I believe the best way to minimize stress is to find the right job.

“People who find a good fit tend to experience confidence and satisfaction in their work; those who find themselves in a bad fit may be more prone to withdraw, experience work stress, and even become angry and aggressive due to dissatisfaction.” (Schermerhorn, 2012) I took my first job when I was 16 years old. In the past 11 years I have worked in countless jobs ranging from waitress, to dishwasher, to teachers aid, to missionary. Last fall I took a job as a marketing consultant for a non-profit ministry. I LOVE my job. I can honestly say that finding the right job truly is the key to minimizing stress. I believe that when you love what you do it becomes less of a job and more of something you do because you enjoy it. I am currently pursuing my degree in Human Resource Management. Working in HR means that I will be working directly with employees that are experiencing the type of workplace stress that I discussed in this paper.

I now understand the importance of stress management programs. I’ve learned that one of the most beneficial things I can do for the company I work for is learn to recognize the signs of stress and implement stress management techniques to avoid a rapid turnover rate or employee burnout. After experiencing stress in the work place myself and watching how it negatively affected my dad’s health I truly do believe that stress is one of the most destructive things that an individual or a company can experience. However, stress can be used for productivity if we allow it to be. Stress can be a motivator that helps us stay focused on the task we need to accomplish. By knowing what causes stress in our lives we can be diligent about reducing or preventing it entirely.


American Psychological Association. (2012). Stress in the workplace. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/workplace-stress.aspx

Maxon, R. (1999). Stress in the workplace:a costly epidemic FDU Magazine , Retrieved from http://www.fdu.edu/newspubs/magazine/99su/stress.html

Milbourn, G. (2012). Job stress and job dissatisfaction: Meaning, measurement, and reduction. The Journal of American Academy of Business , 18(1), 01-09. Retrieved from http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?index=0;did=2682334301;SrchMode=2;sid=1;Fmt=3;VInst=PROD;VType=PQD;RQT=309;VName=PQD;TS=1340032314;clientId=74379

Parr, J. A. (2011). Stress, distress and preventable behaviour. Training Journal , 39-43. Retrieved from http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?index=4;did=2550522181;SrchMode=2;sid=2;Fmt=3;VInst=PROD;VType=PQD;RQT=309;VName=PQD;TS=1340043257;clientId=74379

Schermerhorn, J., Osborn, R., Uhl-Bien, M., ; Hunt, J. (2012). Organizational behavior. (12th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley ; Sons, Inc. ISBN: 9780470878200

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