Melissa had been the ideal worker, always willing to take on new projects, work long hours and weekends -- until last year. There were subtle changes at first. Her demeanor turned from always positive to a growing streak of negativism. She began to have problems sleeping. She felt frustrated with a lack of progress within the firm, and a growing sense of no longer being a part of the team. She started to use sick days for the first time -- some for a nagging number of illnesses, some for “mental health” days. Luckily for Melissa, she had some friends who recognized the problem she was suffering from was job stress.
What is Job Stress?
Job stress is something we all face as workers -- and we all handle it differently. There is no getting around it. But, not all stress is bad, and learning how to deal with and manage stress is critical to our maximizing our job performance, staying safe on the job, and maintaining our physical and mental health. For workers like Melissa, infrequent doses of job stress pose little threat and may be effective in increasing motivation and productivity, but too much -- and too prolonged -- can lead to a downward spiral -- both professionally and personally.
Some jobs, by definition, tend to be higher stress -- such as ones that are in dangerous settings (fire, police), that deal with demanding customers (service providers), that have demanding time pressures (healthcare), and that have repetitive detailed work (manufacturing) -- but stress is not limited to any one particular job or industry.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, states that job stress, now more than ever, poses a threat to the health of workers – and the health of organizations. NIOSH defines job stress as the harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources, or needs of the worker. Stress also occurs when the situation has high demands and the worker has little or no control over it. Job stress can lead to poor health and injury.
Job Stress Statistics
Numerous studies examining job stress sound an alarming bell about the mental and physical health of American workers:
Symptoms & Warning Signs of Job Stress
While the causes can be something other than job stress, here are the most common symptoms and early warning signs of job stress and burnout:
Are you approaching Job Burnout? Take our free assessment: Job Burnout Quiz: How Close Are You To Burning Out?
Causes of Job Stress
There are two schools of thought on the causes of job stress.
According to one theory, differences in individual characteristics, such as personality and coping style, are best at predicting what will stress one person but not another. The focus then becomes on developing prevention strategies that help workers find ways to cope with demanding job conditions.
The other theory proposes that certain working conditions are inherently stress-inducing, such as fear of job loss, excessive workload demands, lack of control or clear direction, poor or dangerous physical working conditions, inflexible work hours, and conflicting job expectations. The focus then becomes on eliminating or reducing those work environments as the way to reducing job stress.
Strategies for Managing Job Stress
While many of the methods of preventing job stress need to be developed and supported by the organization, there are things that workers can do to help you better manage job stress.
Here are 10 tips for dealing with the stress from your job:
Okay, so it's a cliche, but your health is everything. You need to take care of yourself, and no job, customer, or boss is worth putting yourself at risk. Find a way out through one or more of our 10 strategies. Take control of your situation -- and fix it -- and you will have better mental and physical health, as well as better relationships with the people around you.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker's Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Dr. Randall S. Hansen is founder of Quintessential Careers, one of the oldest and most comprehensive career development sites on the Web, as well CEO of EmpoweringSites.com. He is also founder of MyCollegeSuccessStory.com and EnhanceMyVocabulary.com. He is publisher of Quintessential Careers Press, including the Quintessential Careers electronic newsletter, QuintZine. Dr. Hansen is also a published author, with several books, chapters in books, and hundreds of articles. He's often quoted in the media and conducts empowering workshops around the country. Finally, Dr. Hansen is also an educator, having taught at the college level for more than 15 years. Visit his personal Website or reach him by email at randall(at)quintcareers.com.