Occupational Stress

What Is Occupational Stress?

Occupational stress is the negative psychological and physical effects an employee experiences due to the responsibilities, environment, or other pressures of the workplace.

As everyone has different stress tolerance, the intensity is influenced by the individual employee, their specific role, the company culture, and more.

What Are the Different Types of Occupational Stress?

If you find that your employees are under constant stress, you should find out what type of stress they are experiencing. Doing so will help you determine the root cause of their stress and take action to address the situation.

Here are five common types of workplace stress:

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Major Causes of Occupational Stress

While the sources of occupational stress can vary from person to person, employees of all organizations—regardless of how big or how small they may be—can be affected by occupational stress.

Some common examples of occupational stressors include:

Regardless of the cause, the effects of occupational stress can be monumentally damaging to the productivity and overall well-being of the employee—in both their professional and personal life.

The Occupational Stress Scale

The Occupational Stress Scale, also known as the Occupational Stress Inventory, is a questionnaire used to assess stress levels in the workplace. It measures 14 attributes that fall under three main categories:

  1. Occupational stress (e.g., role ambiguity)
  2. Psychological strain (e.g., depression)
  3. Coping measures (e.g., self-care)

HR professionals can use the data to identify areas of concern and take action to reduce job-related stress, enhance productivity and job satisfaction, and improve employee well-being.

Occupational Health Stress at Work

Knowing the signs of work-related stress can help leadership address problems early before they become insurmountable.

Employees may not feel comfortable voicing that they’re burned out, so keep an eye out for these common symptoms:

Employees suffering from occupational stress generally exhibit signs of a stress response.

The three stages of a stress response are:

  1. Alarm: Physical, emotional, or mental stress may cause symptoms such as an increased heart rate, anxiety, or fear. This stimulates the sympathetic nervous system and sends a surge of adrenaline throughout the body, also known as a “fight or flight” response. In the sense of general life stress, this stage is often short-lived. However, with occupational stress, this stage can be long-term which triggers stage two.
  2. Resistance: The body tries to regain balance by boosting chemicals in the brain like melatonin to counteract the “alarm” response. However, with prolonged stress, the alarm stage overpowers the resistance stage; this toxic cycle can cause sleep deprivation, fatigue, irritability, and concentration issues.
  3. Exhaustion: After cycling between alarm and resistance for an extended period, the body succumbs to the stress and starts to shut down. Once the body’s mental and physical defense systems are compromised, it can quickly fall victim to illness and infection.

Many people who suffer from untreated, prolonged occupational stress are susceptible to many health concerns like viral and bacterial infections, increased hormone levels, certain diseases like diabetes and heart disease, and severe skin conditions. For these reasons alone, treating occupational stress is critical.

How to Cope With Occupational Stress

A degree of occupational stress is inevitable throughout our careers, but fortunately, there are several ways employees and HR departments can treat it and prevent it from frequently happening.

Tips for Employees

By taking care of their basic needs, employees can set themselves up for success at work. Getting enough sleep, eating a nutritious breakfast, and taking an exercise break during work, such as a short walk, can help employees feel focused and confident when completing their tasks.

Moreover, consistently working at a reasonable pace can prevent procrastination and help employees meet their deadlines. Periodically pausing notifications and time blocking their calendar can allow employees to meaningfully engage with messages as opposed to constantly being distracted throughout the day.

When things get overwhelming, relaxation techniques such as meditation and deep breathing exercises can help calm the body and mind. It can be helpful to have a “toolbox” to use in stressful moments that can include words of self-affirmation and a journal to release negative thoughts.

Tips for HR Departments

HR departments can prevent occupational stress among staff members by building a positive and proactive workplace culture. Quickly extinguishing bullying, discrimination, and harassing behaviors is vital, as is promoting an open-door policy in which individuals feel safe and comfortable reporting such behavior.

Plus, implementing employee assistance programs (or making employees aware of existing ones) can help them effectively address matters like workplace conflicts, personal issues, mental health issues, and substance abuse.

What Is Occupational Stress Management?

Occupational stress management is a program that both the employer and employee can follow to reduce strain at work. While the program may include some of the steps mentioned above, it can include more formal stress-relief efforts such as:

Included. Supported. Retained.

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