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Managing workplace stress

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Danladi is a middle-aged engineer working in an IT company in Lagos. In the past one year, two of his senior colleagues have resigned and left the company because of the culture of non-payment of staff salary. Consequently, Danladi became the head of IT in the company.

Only a fortnight ago, his 2007 blue Highlander Jeep was involved in an accident. The result is that Danladi was forced to be using public transport. A week ago, he got information that the company is planning to downsize and this piece of information has created much tension in the office. This is a typical case of stress in the workplace.

Besides economic or financial stressors (factors or variables that pressurise the coping strength and skills of people), in the workplace, there are others such as, emotional, mental, environmental, relationship, authority-based stressors. Truly, life is full of vicissitudes and the workplace is not neither insulated nor isolated from these challenges. The difference between one individual and the other is the degree of coping or management ability and skills.

Consequently, stress refers to the inability of an individual to handle the present gamut of challenges he or she is facing on a given occasion. Put differently, stress emerges when an individual perceives that his responsibilities exceed his resources. In the workplace, stress refers to the worker’s perception that his challenges or conditions overwhelm his ability to cope with them.

Like I mentioned earlier in the case of Danladi, first, there was the economic stressor of no payment of staff salary. Next was the transportation pressure as a result of temporary loss of personal mobility. The last is the psychological (mental and emotional) tension caused by the news of downsizing in the office.

Let me quickly note here that stress exists in two levels, namely, Eustress and Distress. According to endocrinologist Hans Selye, the former is the positive stress aspect of stress, which is necessary to handle the challenges of life. Eustress is the ability to fight, instead of flee from life challenges.

On the other hand, distress is the negative type of stress whereby the individual is overwhelmed by the challenges at hand. Distress leads to flight behaviour such as anxiety, phobia or depression. Other symptoms of distress include the following, heart palpitation, withdrawal syndrome, mensural problems in women, and in some cases skin diseases like eczema, or other forms of infections. Normally, these diseases are called psychosomatic (mind and body) disorders. At other times, or among different persons, other distress signs such as sweating, weeping, body shaking and trembling may occur. Furthermore, such victims of stress may experience cloudiness and confusion of mind, irritability as well as irrational thinking.

Like I noted earlier, the primary cause of stress is personal perception of challenges or problems as being overwhelming. This accounts for the fact why it is said that perception is everything. What is perceived as Eustress or Distress by the individual will provoke a corresponding chain of cognitive and emotional reaction. This may vary from person to person as well as from time to time, and environment to environment.
Consequently, the balance sheet between responsibility and available personal resources will significantly affect the degree of stress an individual experience. If the individual perceives that the degree of resources are far less than the responsibilities, he will likely report symptoms of stress. In other words, such a person would likely become distressed. The opposite is true too.

At other times, a history of stressful lifestyle can initiate as well as exacerbate stress in the life of the individual. For instance, a worker who was unable to handle inter-personal relationship in a former workplace may fall victim to a similar situation in a new work environment.

Differences in the temperaments of individuals is yet another significant factor which can affect the management of stress in the workplace. Generally, extroverts may cope better than introverts in some stressful work environments because of the former’s readiness to be more open in revealing their challenges. This openness to discuss problems can create a cathartic healing effect. On the other hand, introverts may likely be reticent and thereby create more burdensome and stressful conditions for themselves.

Consider the case of a melancholic (an introvert) who naturally tends towards perfectionism. He will likely experience distress working without success on a project like constructing a bridge on a difficult terrain, helping an autistic child in a school, more than a sanguine (an extrovert) who would transform the challenges into fun or play. On the other hand, the sanguine can be distressed by other working conditions whereby there exists no room for play.

Social network and ultimately net worth can and does affect the degree of stress in the workplace. The former refers to both the quantity and quality of helpful human relationships available to an individual. The sum total of social network is hereby referred to as net worth.

Homo Sapiens are deeply social beings. We live or die, succeed or fail, based on the type of relationships we have or lack. Consequently, work environments, which promote harsh, caustic, abusive and derogatory or other forms of negative attitudes are the breeding grounds for stressful living. Ironically, most workers will choose to work in a positive, empowering, motivational and empathic environment that offers less financial remuneration than a negative, caustic, abusive and discouraging workplace, which offers more pecuniary means.

A fundamental strategy to handling stress in the workplace is the provision of appropriate education and training for both employers and employees. These should come in the mode of life improvement educational enlightenment programmes, which will enable them to understand, appreciate as well as interpret the vicissitudes. This form of educational curriculum should include crucial issues like, emotional intelligence, development of mental power, understanding of temperaments and similar matters.

The company would benefit immensely when it develops a culture of organising regular retreats for workers. This will enhance the development of human capital.The use of feedback system is also an invaluable strategy to handle stress in the workplace. For this strategy to be effective, the leadership of the organisation should gain the trust of the employees by predetermining to encourage healthy feedbacks without sanctions for harsh opinions. Also, the management can enlighten the employees on the best approaches to feedback; some may be anonymous, while others could bear the identity of the feeder.

Perhaps, nothing creates more stress and strain for workers than non-payment of their normal monthly salaries. Therefore, the management should strive hard to meet up with handling these primary stressors in the workplace.

Next to pecuniary needs are health issues. The health of workers is vast. It includes, physical, psychological, social, as well as religious state of wellbeing. The management should recognise this and attend to it with every sense of seriousness.

In concluding this discourse, let me remind both employers and employees that health is wealth. Therefore, take the health and wellbeing of the workplace more seriously. The inability or negligence of the stressors in the work environment is responsible for huge loses in resources, revenue as well as invaluable human resources. Employers and employees should take responsibilities with regard to their tasks. The benefits would be mutual in terms of personal and organisational gains and growth.


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