Work Related Stress

What is work-related stress?

Stress in the workplace is not always a bad thing. Short-term stress often helps us reach deadlines or motivate us to create positive change. It is also normal to have a certain amount of negative stress at work as in other areas of our life. We all have to deal with issues like disappointment, changed plans and personality clashes. However when these continue for an extended period at work they can place extra stress on employees.

In 2013 Safe Work Australia released a report showing that absenteeism due to mental stress claims costs the Australian economy more than $10 billion each year. The report also showed:

  • Some of the highest claim rates were made by those with responsibility for the safety of others including emergency workers, train drivers, police officers or others in dangerous forms of employment.
  • Mental stress claims are mainly made by women and they have a high incidence of claims involving harassment or bullying.
  • Age plays a role in the type of claims made. Stress due to workplace hazards are more common in younger workers while job pressure is more of an issue for older workers.
  • Professionals are more likely to make mental stress claims than any other category of worker.


What causes work-related stress?

While the types of jobs we engage in have changed over the years, the push to make a profit has not. Through new technology, global expansion and tumbling dollar values, the push to increase performance is at an all-time high. For some this stimulates new ideas and creates excitement, however many others struggle to cope with the rapid changes and extra pressure.

Changes to the demographics of the workplace can also be unsettling. Industries that were dominated by one sex or cultural group are now having to reflect on their core values and to find constructive ways to embrace the change.

There are numerous other environmental, organisational and individual factors that can make people unhappy at work.

Environmental factors

Our physical surroundings definitely influence how feel within our workplace. Extreme temperature, uncomfortable furniture, unsafe equipment and so on may lead to physical and mental tension and affect performance.

Organisational factors

In any organisation, the mental health of all staff can be affected by the values and beliefs of those at the top through the decisions they make. Areas that can add to our stress levels include:

  • Feeling undervalued or not having enough control over decisions.
  • Being expected to work long hours or reach unrealistic targets.
  • Feeling anxious about our performance.
  • Not enjoying or feeling engaged with our work.
  • Having no opportunity for training or advancement.
  • Not receiving enough support, information or encouragement from management and colleagues.
  • Feeling frustrated with poor organisational structure and processes.
  • Fearing redundancy.

Individual factors

Sometimes the workplace itself might be functioning well but individual personalities create tension through poor communication, harassment, bullying or discrimination. If these issues are not well handled they may quickly escalate create a negative culture that can be much harder to overcome.


What are the most common signs of work-related stress?

Stress can creep up slowly on us. Little things that annoy us can build up and cause us ongoing tension. Sometimes we become so used to stress that we fail to realise the effect it has on us. We need to pay attention to our body’s signals and changes in our behaviour.

Signs that you may be experiencing work-related stress include:

  • Having sleep issues such as insomnia.
  • Using cigarettes or alcohol to help calm your nerves.
  • Changing eating habits such as skipping meals or binge eating.
  • Experiencing mood swings or increased loneliness or sensitivity.
  • Feeling apathetic about work or generally disconnected from things.
  • Having an uneven work/life balance.
  • Feeling anxious about going to work.
  • Experiencing physical symptoms such as headaches, body aches and pains or digestive issues.
  • Having frequent colds and other health concerns.


What can you do to reduce work-related stress?

Sometimes we get so caught up in our work that we neglect other areas of our life. Make the time to do things that you enjoy again. Spend more time with your family and friends, go for walk on your lunchbreak or take up a hobby. It is also vital to eat well and look after your physical health. You could even consider splitting your annual leave and having shorter, more frequent breaks.

In the workplace you could approach your boss, a colleague or a human-relations officer and tell them that you are under stress. Ask for their help to identify the issues and seek ways to address them constructively.


Why seek professional help?

Sometimes, for various reasons, there may not be a person you are comfortable discussing mental health issues with at work. Or if you happen to be the boss or self-employed there simply might not be anyone available.

A professional counsellor will give you the opportunity to share all your fears and concerns in a confidential, supportive environment. They will help you see the big picture and work out which stressors are within your control to change.

Counselling can also help you learn to accept that some things are out of your control. Your therapist will help you look for ways to avoid those stressors or learn to deal with them more effectively. In some cases relaxation techniques and therapies that allow you to release your emotions could also be used.

Sometimes work-issues stem from deeper personal beliefs and behaviours. By unravelling these it becomes possible to find alternative approaches that lead to a more positive outcome. It has been well documented that prolonged stress can lead to anxiety, depression, addition and other mental health issues. If you identify your stressors early and take steps to avoid them you can turn your life around.


Where to find help

Our True Counsellor Directory lists hundreds of psychotherapists and counsellors from Australia.

Some psychotherapists and counsellors listed in our directory offer counselling over the phone and online in addition to one-on-one consultations. Many also offer workshops and seminars.

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