Stress in the Workplace
Stress is commonly defined as a physiological response to an unpropitious circumstance, such as getting laid off or an interpersonal conflict with a coworker. A myriad of studies have linked chronic stress to illnesses ranging from Alzheimer’s to cardiovascular disease; yet, with such connections comes misconceptions, as there are now a multitude of myths projecting stress to be inherently detrimental, especially when it relates to the workplace. Therefore, in order to provide proper clarification, it is necessary to examine both the truths and myths about stress in the workplace.
According to the APA (2011), there are six specific stress myths that continued to perplex the public.
Myth #1: Stress is always bad
According to this myth, stress is always detrimental; therefore zero stress will lead to maximum happiness and productivity at work. While this might sound great in theory, studies have shown that in practice it can be quite flawed. For example, the right amount of stress has the potential to actually improve work performance due to the body releasing the performance-boosting hormone adrenaline.
Stress to the body is parallel to what tension is to guitar strings – too much and the string snaps, yet too little and the string neither moves nor makes a sound. Therefore, it is best to look at stress not from the perspective of “good” or “bad,” but rather from the angle of management. For example, will one panic the very moment they sense stress or will one give themselves the initiative to leverage stress positively in order to elevate their work project to the next level?
Myth #2: Stress is the same for everyone
Due to a personal physiological occurrence having a catch-all linguistic term, it can be easy for individuals to assume that stress is objectively the same. Yet, stress is actually subjective. For example, although one may be able to handle potential stressors – e.g. juggling multiple work projects simultaneously – without a problem, coworkers in a similar position might have an anxiety attack, or vice versa.
The subjectivity of stress is predominantly due to the various physiological responses of an individual’s body. Such responses are the result of a multitude of factors, including basic work components like prioritizing organization and developing positive colleague relations. The latter is particularly crucial, as possessing a circle of fellow co-workers to fall back on for support has been linked to positive outcomes in dealing with work-related stress.
Myth #3: No symptoms means no stress
Perhaps, at some point, one might have observed a colleague partaking in what many would consider a stressful situation (e.g. explaining a massive business failure to a supervisor). Despite the high-level pressure of the situation, it was observed that this colleague showed zero signs of stress or anxiety. How could this be? Does this mean that he or she wasn’t experiencing the stress that everyone else in the boardroom felt?
No, not necessarily. As aforementioned, stress afflicts individuals in different ways. Therefore, poised colleagues are not stress-free, but rather they have just uncovered methods in handling stress in a positive, symptom-free fashion.
Myth #4: Stress is everywhere, so you can’t do anything about it
Living in a fast paced culture, it may seem as though stress is inevitable. Yet, this is neither an accurate nor healthy way of thinking. Individuals can easily prevent stress in the workplace by planning and organizing their tasks. For example, when dealing with a commonly stressful situation – such as being overwhelmed with a large number of tasks – it is essential to segment tasks and work on the simple problems first. This will not only diminish stress, but it will also provide momentum that can be leveraged in executing more complicated tasks.
Myth #5: The most popular techniques for reducing stress are the best ones
Although this myth might sound appealing, in reality, there is not a one-size-fix-all approach in handling stress. Remember, we are all unique individuals with our own lives, situations, and reactions; therefore, it is best to design a comprehensive program around what works best for you.
Myth #6: Only major symptoms should be addressed
Work can at times be hectic. There are so many major projects, meetings, and deadlines that it can be easy to look past minute details.
Stress often functions in this very fashion. Initially, there may be small symptoms of negative stress – e.g. failure to carefully proofread an outreach – which may, in and of itself, seem rather innocuous. Yet, if left unmanaged, symptoms of negative stress can built into high-levels of negative stress, which thus are extremely detrimental to work productivity (e.g. some indicators of high level stress include fatigue, headaches, and anxiety attacks). Therefore, in order to maintain maximum work productivity, it is essential that workers address and resolve even the smallest symptoms of negative stress.
As noted, stress is not inherently detrimental to the workplace. But if left unmanaged, stress does have the potential to reduce work productivity, on both a team and individual level. Therefore, in order to keep work productivity and environment high, it is essential to develop positive ways to manage stress.
Also, it’s best to establish a couple of quick techniques so one can limit the amount of distraction. Such resolutions are often unique to each individual, so it’s important to figure out what works best.
For more information please visit USC’s Online Master of Science in Applied Psychology.