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Career Development Center University of Illinois Springfield

Workplace Stresses

You may find yourself very unhappy with your workplace situation. You may feel a level of stress at work that can no longer be ignored. This may prompt you to seek a resolution to the situation by either addressing the issues at your current workplace or seeking a new job or career.

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Stress sets off an alarm in the brain, which responds by preparing the body for defensive action. The nervous system is aroused and hormones are released to sharpen the senses, quicken the pulse, deepen respiration, and tense the muscles. This response (sometimes called the fight or flight response) is important because it helps us defend against threatening situations. The response is preprogrammed biologically. Everyone responds in much the same way, regardless of whether the stressful situation is at work or home.

Short-lived or infrequent episodes of stress pose little risk. But when stressful situations go unresolved, the body is kept in a constant state of activation, which increases the rate of wear and tear to biological systems. Ultimately, fatigue or damage results, and the ability of the body to repair and defend itself can become seriously compromised. As a result, the risk of injury or disease escalates.

In the past 20 years, many studies have looked at the relationship between job stress and a variety of ailments. Mood and sleep disturbances, upset stomach and headache, and disturbed relationships with family and friends are examples of stress-related problems that are quick to develop and are commonly seen in these studies. These early signs of job stress are usually easy to recognize. But the effects of job stress on chronic diseases are more difficult to see because chronic diseases take a long time to develop and can be influenced by many factors other than stress. Nonetheless, evidence is rapidly accumulating to suggest that stress plays an important role in several types of chronic health problems, especially cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal disorders, and psychological disorders.


Stress and Productivity

Some employers assume stressful working conditions are a necessary mechanism to pressure workers to remain productive and profitable in today’s economy, regardless of employee health concerns. But, research findings challenge this belief. Studies show stressful working conditions are actually associated with increased absenteeism, tardiness, and cause workers to their jobs. All of which have a negative effect on the bottom line.

Recent studies of healthy organizations suggest policies benefiting worker health also benefit the bottom line. A healthy organization is defined as one that has low rates of illness, injury, and disability in its workforce and is also competitive in the marketplace. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) research has identified organizational characteristics associated with both healthy, low-stress work and high levels of productivity.

Examples of these characteristics include the following:

  • Recognition of employees for good work performance
  • Opportunities for career development
  • An organizational culture that values the individual worker
  • Management actions that are consistent with organizational values

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