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Workplace Stress

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Workplace Stress

Workplace stress includes the aspects of the workplace that constitute as causing a stress response in the body, such as never-ending deadlines or an overly competitive environment (leading to increased workload).

There can be many causes of workplace stress, such as physical stressors (noisy environment, long working hours or work overload, uncomfortable working conditions) or physiological stressors (relationship with peers, perceived control at work).

The following article will elaborate on perceived control at work and increased workload according to the syllabus.

Workplace Stress Work overload StudySmarterWork overload, Flaticon

Workplace stress causes

With high responsibility comes more stress. For instance, general managers and top executives usually have demanding and stressful jobs. However, it is not always that simple.

According to Karasek (1979), work-related stress elements, like work overload, can also lead to high absenteeism and stress-related illnesses. If an individual has more control over the elements of their job, they can reduce these consequences.

The most stress-causing jobs have two elements: high demand and low control, whereas the least stress-causing elements are low demand but high control.

Level of control

Control is the level of freedom an individual enjoys in taking and implementing decisions independently. In many working atmospheres where, for example, the leadership is centralised (top management taking and approving decisions), employees’ freedom to make decisions is limited, and work patterns are pre-defined. Fox et al. (1993) unveiled that high-demand professions, such as nurses, had little control of decision-making and had more chances of developing stress-related illnesses like high blood pressure.

Degree of workload

The high number of deadlines an individual has to meet in a specified period or the amount of work needing to be done (less or more) can be a source of stress. As Breslow and Buell (1960) concluded in their light industry workers study, those working around 48 hours or more per week are more likely to develop heart diseases than those who worked 40 or less than in a week.

Workplace Stress, overwhelming reaction of an employee over increased work deadlines, StudySmarterWorkplace stress due to deadlines, Flaticon

What are the consequences of workplace stress?

Workplace stress is one of the most significant sources of stress in the UK. According to a perkbox study, approximately 79% of adults aged 25 to 34 in the UK faced work-related stress in 2020. Work-related stress has several physical and psychological consequences. We will discuss them in light of the research studies conducted to evaluate them.

Less control at work is related to coronary heart disease

Marmot et al. (1997) investigated the relation of workload or control with developing coronary heart disease (CHD). They conducted a five-year longitudinal study on 10,000 British civil sector workers (male and female) in the age bracket of 35 to 55. Researchers grouped into three groups according to their work as administrators, executives, and clerical staff.

Procedure: Workers had to fill out a questionnaire and get a scan for coronary heart disease at the beginning of the study. Researchers followed them till the end of five years.

Findings: After five years, the researchers found that participants with a high workload had no significant likelihood of developing CHD. However, participants who perceived having little control over their job elements had an increased chance of developing a CHD at the end of the experiment.

Less demand and high control related to less physiological illness

Johansson et al. (1978) conducted a field experiment on the workers of a Swedish sawmill. They studied two groups of workers, one called the ‘finishers’ and the other the ‘cleaners’. The finishers had repetitive work on a conveyor belt machine, with less control and high demand or responsibility (their pace slowing down would directly affect the production). On the contrary, the cleaners had a high degree of control over their pace and working hours and had less responsibility than the finishers.

Procedure: Researchers measured stress hormones and adrenaline and nor-adrenaline levels through the urine tests for both the finishers and cleaners during the day, and at the time the workers were free. They also measured the rate of absenteeism and illnesses.

Findings: The finishers had a high level of stress hormones before starting their job compared to finishers. The cleaners had a low absenteeism rate or illnesses compared to the finishers. This study concluded that low control and high demand jobs are more related to stress-related illnesses than high control and low demand jobs.

Evaluation of workplace stress

Liu et al. (2007) found that workload as a stressor has no significant differences across cultures; hence it can be a generalisable workplace-related stressor in every culture.

The studies have economic importance since it highlights the crucial factors of workforce management. The absenteeism rate can be controlled since it caused the most economic drainage in the UK in 2013.

Including control as a source of stress might differ across cultures. Gyorkos et al. (2012) argued that workers in collectivist cultures (such as China) have less desire for control at work (not a strong stressor). This finding suggested that including control as a source of stress for all cultures may not be practical.

It may be the type of personality that causes more stress than less control. According to Meier et al. (2008), people with low self-efficacy (the belief in the ability to perform actions and complete them successfully) may automatically attract more stress even when they have more control at work. However, individuals with high self-efficacy scores perceived having less control at work were more stressed.

There can be individual differences in vulnerability to stress for different people. For example, personality type A might attract more stress overall in their life, so workplace stress would automatically become more demanding and stressful, causing stress-related illnesses to rise.

Workplace Stress - Key takeaways

  • Workplace stress includes the aspects of the workplace that constitute as causing a stress response in the body, such as never-ending deadlines.

  • There can be many causes of workplace stress, such as physical stressors (long working hours or work overload, uncomfortable working conditions) or physiological stressors (relationship with peers, perceived control at work).

  • Two leading causes of workplace stress are the level of control and the degree of workload.

  • According to Marmot et al. (1997), participants who perceived having little control over their job elements had a high likelihood of developing a CHD at the end of the experiment.

  • Johansson et al. (1978) concluded that low control and high demand jobs are more related to stress-related illnesses than high control and low demand jobs.

Frequently Asked Questions about Workplace Stress

Workplace stress includes the aspects of the workplace that constitute as causing a stress response in the body, such as never-ending deadlines or an overly competitive environment (leading to increased workload).

There are many types of stressors at the workplace, some examples are:

  1. Workload level.

  2. Work-life balance.

  3. Cultural expectations and goal alignment.

The workplace can be stressful because of many reasons, such as:

  • Less control over work elements, with high demanding jobs like nurses.

  • Lack of communication between top and ground management.

The 5 stages of stress include:

  1. The decision of fight or flight on first contact with stressors.

  2. Keeping a balance in the body as controlling the damage.

  3. Taking one step back for recovery.

  4. Adaptation to the stressor.

  5. If the first 4 stages are not taken in organised turns, it can cause direct burnout or depression.

Final Workplace Stress Quiz

Question

What is workplace stress?

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Answer

Workplace stress includes the aspects of the workplace that constitute as causing a stress response in the body, such as never-ending deadlines or an overly competitive environment (leads to increased workload).

Show question

Question

What are the physical causes of workplace stress?

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Answer

  • Noisy environment.

  • Long working hours or work overload.

  • Uncomfortable working conditions.

Show question

Question

What are the physiological causes of workplace stress?

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Answer

  • Relationship with peers.

  • Perceived control at work.

Show question

Question

Elaborate on the study by Karasek et al. (1979) about the causes of workplace stress.

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Answer

According to Karasek (1979), work-related stress elements, like work overload, can also lead to high absenteeism and stress-related illnesses. If an individual has more control over the elements of their job, they can reduce these consequences. The most stress-causing jobs have two elements: high demand and low control, whereas the least stress-causing elements are low demand but high control.

Show question

Question

Define the level of control as a source of workplace stress.

Show answer

Answer

Control is the level of freedom an individual enjoys in taking and implementing decisions independently. In many working atmospheres where, for example, the leadership is centralised (top management taking and approving decisions), employees’ freedom to make decisions is limited, and work patterns are pre-defined. 

Show question

Question

Define the degree of workload as a source of workplace stress?

Show answer

Answer

The high number of deadlines an individual has to meet in a specified time or the amount of work needing to be done (less or more) can be a source of stress.

Show question

Question

Which study supported low control and high demand related to more stress?

Show answer

Answer

Fox et al. (1993) unveiled that high demand professions, such as nurses, had little control over decision-making and had more chances of developing stress-related illnesses like high blood pressure.

Show question

Question

Which study provided support for work overload related to more stress?

Show answer

Answer

Breslow and Buell (1960) concluded in their light industry workers study, those working around 48 hours or more per week are more likely to develop heart diseases than those who worked 40 or less than in a week.

Show question

Question

What was the sample of Marmot et al. (1997)?

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Answer

10,000 British civil sector workers (male and female) in the age bracket of 35 to 55.

Show question

Question

What was the sample of Johansson et al. (1978)?

Show answer

Answer

It was a field experiment on the workers of a Swedish sawmill. They studied two groups of workers, one called the ‘finishers’ and the other the ‘cleaners’.

Show question

Question

What were the Marmot et al. (1997) study results on low control and high demand experiment?

Show answer

Answer

After five years, the researchers found that participants with a high workload had no significant likelihood of developing CHD. However, participants who perceived having little control over their job elements had an increased chance of developing a CHD at the end of the experiment.

Show question

Question

What were the results of the study on less demand and high control related to less physiological illness by Johansson et al. (1978)?

Show answer

Answer

The finishers had a high level of stress hormones even before starting their job. The cleaners had a low absenteeism rate or illnesses compared to the finishers.

Show question

Question

How did Johansson et al. check the stress hormone levels in the participants?

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Answer

Johansson et al. measured stress hormones and the adrenaline and nor-adrenaline levels through the urine tests for both the finishers and cleaners during the day, and at the time the workers were free.

Show question

Question

Provide one argument in support of work-related stress research.

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Answer

The studies have economic importance since it highlights the crucial factors of workforce management. The absenteeism rate can be controlled since it caused the most economic drainage in the UK in 2013.

Show question

Question

Provide one argument against workplace stress research.

Show answer

Answer

Including control as a source of stress might differ across cultures. Gyorkos et al. (2012) argued that workers in collectivist cultures (such as China) have less desire for control at work, making it a less significant stressor. This finding suggested that including control as a source of stress for all cultures may not be practical. 

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