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Problems caused by stress have become a major concern to both employers and employees. Symptoms of stress can manifest both physiologically and psychologically. Work-related stress is typically caused by demands and pressure from either within or outside of the workplace; it can be derived from uncertainty over where the job will take the employee, inconsistent or difficult expectations, interpersonal issues, or physical demands.
Although the importance of individual differences cannot be ignored, scientific evidence suggests that certain working conditions are stressful to most people. Such evidence argues that working conditions are a key source of job stress and job redesign should be used as a primary prevention strategy.
Studies of Work-Related Stress
Large-scale surveys of working conditions—including conditions recognized as risk factors for job stress—were conducted in member states of the European Union in 1990, 1995, and 2000. Results showed a time-related trend that suggested an increase in work intensity. In 1990, the percentage of workers reporting that they worked at high speeds for at least one-quarter of their working time was 48%; this increased to 54% in 1995 and 56% in 2000. Similarly, 50% of workers reported that they worked against tight deadlines at least one-fourth of their working time in 1990; this increased to 56% in 1995 and 60% in 2000. However, no change was noted in the period from 1995 to 2000 in the percentage of workers reporting sufficient time to complete tasks (data was not collected in 1990 for this category).
A substantial percentage of Americans work very long hours. By one estimate, more than 26% of men and more than 11% of women worked 50 hours or more per week (outside of the home) in 2000. These figures represent a considerable increase over the previous three decades—especially for women. According to the Department of Labor, there has been an upward trend in hours worked among employed women, an increase in work weeks of greater than forty hours by men, and a considerable increase in combined working hours among working couples, particularly couples with young children.
A person's status in the workplace can also affect levels of stress. Stress in the workplace has the potential to affect employees of all categories, and managers as well as other kinds of workers are vulnerable to work overload. However, less powerful employees (those who have less control over their jobs) are more likely to experience stress than employees with more power. This indicates that authority is an important factor complicating the work stress environment.
Economics and Stress
Economic factors that employees are facing in the 21st century have been linked to increased stress levels as well. Researchers and social commentators have pointed out that advances in technology and communications have made companies more efficient and more productive than ever before. This increase in productivity has resulted in higher expectations and greater competition, which in turn place more stress on employees.
The following economic factors can contribute to workplace stress:
Pressure from investors who can quickly withdraw their money from company stocks
Lack of trade and professional unions in the workplace
Inter-company rivalries caused by global competition
The willingness of companies to swiftly lay off workers to cope with changing business environments
Social Interactions and Stress
Bullying in the workplace can also contribute to stress. Workplace bullying can involve threats to an employee's professional or personal image or status, deliberate isolation, or giving an employee excess work.
Another type of workplace bullying is known as "destabilization." Destabilization can occur when an employee is not given credit for their work or is assigned meaningless tasks. In effect, destabilization can create a hostile work environment for employees, negatively affecting their work ethic and therefore their contributions to the organization.
Stress Outside of the Workplace
Non-work demands can create stress both inside and outside of work. Stress is inherently cumulative, and it can be difficult to separate our personal and professional stress inducers. Examples of non-work stress that can be carried into the workplace include:
Home demands: Relationships, children, and family responsibilities can add stress that is hard to leave behind when entering the workplace. The Academy of Management Journal states that this constitutes "an individual's lack of personal resources needed to fulfill commitments, obligations, or requirements."
Personal demands: Personal demands are brought on by the person when he or she takes on too many responsibilities, either inside or outside of work.
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