Time has passed since the summer holidays and Christmas seems a bit far away, so we think the timing is perfect for talking about workplace stress.
This is one of the major challenges of our time. It can affect our physical and mental health and thus affect the productivity of our team. However, maybe it’s surprising but despite the serious negative effects of stress, it is still difficult to identify.
What is not stress yet?
We can distinguish between psychosocial risks and stress; and within that we can talk about positive and negative stress as well.
A psychosocial risk is not necessarily equivalent to stress, but it can easily turn into it. For example, psychosocial risk may be if temporarily we have to work overtime, make high-responsibility decisions, or because of our position we are not part of a decision that affects us. We could mention, for example, tight deadlines or high expectations too. One of these is almost certainly found in 99% of the positions in the labor market today. However, with good management and good communication, these factors can be kept at an acceptable level of risk and not necessarily escalated into work-related stress.
If your colleagues know they only need to work overtime temporarily (for example, because of the season), if they feel they are getting all the support and understanding they need from the management (paying taxi cost at evenings, ordering dinner, providing more rest time during the overtime period and understanding regarding tiredness) if they know that these hours will be recognized in some way (in the form of promotion, reward, or extra salary), then this may not be a stress factor for employees. But if, due to poor communication or inappropriate managerial behavior, they do not know how long the lot of work will last or if they feel that it is perfectly natural for managers to be on board 10-12 hours daily; then this can be stressful.
Another example is high expectations. If we feel that management and colleagues are with us in any situation; then even in case of an issue, we know that there is apossibility and way to fix it. If, on the other hand, the atmosphere is not supportive, you will most likely think that if you make a mistake, you will lose your job, which is clearly stressful.
EU-OSHA has compiled a detailed summary of work-related stress for European workers, currently available in English. According to these, the most typical stress factors today are:
– unfulfilled expectations
– lack of personal control and decision
– Inadequate support from managers
– few or poor quality human relationships (including indecent behavior and violence)
– unclear responsibilities
– poor communication about organizational changes
Professionals differentiate positive and negative stress. The situations listed above are negative stress in our lives, so our body responds accordingly. Responsible parts of our vegetative nervous system are activated, heart rate, blood pressure and respiratory rate increase, and our body goes into “survival” mode. This is a kind of ancient emergency response needed to get through such a bad situation. Unfortunately, if this negative situation persists in long term, then serious physical and psychological symptoms can be expected. Chronic stress is closely related to the onset of menstrual disorders, migraine, cardiovascular disease, or even the development of depression. For example, according to a study, the probability of dying among Hungarian men aged 40-69 increased threefold in cases where men had to work in an insecure job. Low control in this age group doubled the chance of dying. In the same age group, low workplace support for women has proven to be a major risk factor for deaths until 2006. However, it sometimes causes irreversible damage to people’s lives and health; it also puts a huge financial burden on companies, because burnt out or just sick colleagues are unable to get their best shape for obvious reasons.
We can talk about positive stress when the obstacle we face is difficult but can be solved and we know it; so we look at the situation as rather an interesting challenge. According to an HR portal article, the development of a feeling of positive stress depends on the following factors:
- “Raised on a way to look at stressful situtation as a challenge to deal with, not as a scary and terrible insecurity.
- If we are stable in self-confidence and not dependent on the outcome of a current situation or the judgment of others, how much we are worth.
- If we have a solution to the situation, or we have a set of things that we can put together at least
- If there is not much what is depending on the situation, it’s rather without stake
- If we know in advance that in case of failure we have an other alternative in our mind
- If we can, regardless of the outcome, we will rethink and learn from our experience. “
What can a worker do in a stressful situation?
At an early stage, not everyone is aware of the symptoms of a prolonged, chronic stress situation. We will become unhappy, maybe anxious, lose our appetite, start to see the bad in everything, and spend less and less time on family and friends. If the situation is only temporary, it may sound silly, but it can help a lot if you spend more time in nature and try stress-relieving exercises like yoga, or start a gentle diet full of vitamins and nutrients. It may be worthwhile, for example, to intentionally supplement magnesium.
Some people swear by the positive effects of end-of-day table chocolates or a glass of red wine. These may improve your mood in case of minor problems, but their long-term use is not recommended. 🙂
What could be the solution for the employer?
Conscious HSE tools and solutions can effectively reduce and control workplace stress. One of the most important tools for this is the psychosocial risks assessment at work.
If you want to uncover the stress points and factors inherent in the company, it is definitely worthwhile to conduct a detailed psychosocial risk assessment. With a larger company and more complex processes, you may need a smaller dedicated project team to do this. Safety Centrum would recommend to include at least one HR expert in the project team who is familiar with the organization, hierarchy, and can provide information on issues and potential stress factors such as organizational changes or salary packages. There is a need for a health and safety professional who can compile a broader system of considerations that summarizes the effects on workers in each position (for example, the risk of back and waist pain when lifting materials; collecting ergonomic risks when sitting; or, for example, chemical risks to manufacturing colleagues). As risk assessment is partly an occupational health task, the involvement of the company’s occupational health doctor is especially important. In addition, it is recommended that a marketing colleague who has relevant experience in drawing up a questionnaire be present. In fact, it is very important in any risk assessment how we ask questions and what answers or grading options we offer to those who complete them. In addition, it is good for the project to have a dedicated leader on board, who can be a communication link to management; and emphasize the seriousness of the project to the employees.
Preparation of risk assessment
For a comprehensive assessment, it is advised to use multiple information sources at the same time. The most common are questionnaires and in-depth interviews or focus group discussions. A survey pre-compiled by professionals can even reach out to the entire workforce of the company and obtain anonymous information about the effects of stress on them. The great advantage of this method is the enormous number of people you can address; the downside is the time limit. We cannot expect hundreds or thousands of colleagues to devote 20-30 minutes to completing the questionnaire. This method, however, can be excellent for finding the focal points.
Depending on the company culture, focus group discussions or in-depth interviews may follow, after analyzing the questionnaires, to dig deep into the problems. It is important that good conversations require professional organization, so it is better to consult with professionals.
After analyzing the questionnaires and interviews, it is expected that the HSE and HR team will have a report detailing and specifying the effects of workplace stress on employees, teams or positions where stress is present. Thus, knowing the details will allow us to counteract the negative effects.
After the psychosocial risk assessment, when we see the problems, we will be able to deal with them fortunately. With the help of occupational safety experts, we can put together an action plan that provides a treatment and solution to all the problems that come up. However, it is important that a good action plan is not just a set of ideas on paper, which then resting in your drawer, but takes months of hard work and commitment.
We hope that with our compilation we helped you to better understand workplace stress and how to treat it. If you have a question on the subject, you can post it here as a comment, but if you would need help with your risk assessment just contact us. You can also search us on Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn.