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Managing stress — and seeking professional assistance from mental health experts when needed — can help combat mental illness on the job.
What is workplace stress?
Workplace stress is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as ‘the response people may have when presented with work demands and pressures that are not matched to their knowledge and abilities and which challenge their ability to cope’, and elaborated that it can be caused ‘by poor work organization (the way we design jobs and work systems, and the way we manage them), by poor work design (e.g., lack of control over work processes), poor management, unsatisfactory working conditions and lack of support from colleagues and supervisors’.
While workplace stress, stigma and attitudes towards employees suffering from stress or mental illness have been researched and interventions developed to address them better, globally, it still remains an often neglected aspect across different industries and countries, including India, and only a few of the learnings are actually implemented.
Common Sources of Work Stress
What causes this stress? From research and various surveys, heavy demand, lack of control over work, low level of support from colleagues and management, bullying and harassment, constant change, are the culprits. You can know you are stressed when you start worrying about work at home, dread going to work, lose sleep and /or appetite and become increasingly short-tempered.
Certain factors tend to go hand-in-hand with work-related stress. Some common workplace stressors are:
- Low salaries.
- Excessive workloads.
- Few opportunities for growth or advancement.
- Work that isn’t engaging or challenging.
- Lack of social support.
- Not having enough control over job-related decisions.
- Conflicting demands or unclear performance expectations.
Tips to Manage Stress
Here are some recognised and proven Stress Busters to help you combat the strains of work-related stress:
- Recognise signs early
- Don’t bring work home
- Learn to say no
- Always take breaks
- A few minutes of exercise every day goes a long way
- Speak to your supervisor; employers have a duty of care
- Create a network of support: family, friends & colleagues
- Get involved in activities you enjoy outside work, ex: hobbies, voluntary work, learning new skills, something positive to cherish
- Avoid smoking/drinking excessively to cope. Alcohol worsens low mood
- Use time management strategies to work efficiently
- Accept things you cannot change, like a full ‘in tray’, irrespective of how hard you work
- Learn Relaxation Techniques. Meditation & Yoga can help
- Contact your occupational health department, they may be able to access professional counselling for you
- Attack the root cause. Ask questions like: Do I like my job? Could I be better somewhere else?
If all above fails then it is advisable seek professional mental health advice. Depression and anxiety disorders can come in the guise of stress. These are treatable disorders, requiring assessment, treatment and support.
What can employers do?
Employers can address and reduce excessive workplace stress by focusing their efforts at the following three levels:
- Prevention level: by
developing organization-wide policies and practices in the following key
- Training for leaders and supervisors on effective ways to reduce stress;
- Working with employees to create challenging but realistic goals for optimal performance;
- Communicating clearly and managing conflicts respectfully;
- Identifying and using employees’ strengths and skills for career advancement;
- Compensating fairly;
- Ensuring safe work conditions;
- Modelling work-life balance;
- Building in opportunities to formally recognize individual and team goal achievement;
- Creating a work climate that encourages social support and connectedness; and
- Developing ways to reflect on positive daily workplace events and accomplishments.
Adopting effective stress reduction strategies also holds promise in preventing depression13 which can be costly to employers.
- Targeted early identification and
intervention level offer employees the following options:
- Stress screenings and information on stress reduction and the early warning signs of mental health conditions;
- Effective intervention programs like cognitive-behavioural therapy for stress management;
- Programs that effectively address stress like mindfulness, relaxation, yoga and tai chi and encourage exercise, emphasizing the value to mental and physical health; and
- Programs that improve resiliency.
When is the right time to bring up mental health concerns with your supervisor?
Disclosing a mental health condition is no different than disclosing any other medical condition. It depends on the purpose of the disclosure. Think about why you want to disclose your personal information. Share it on a need-to-know basis. Like any medical information, it is up to you about whether you want to be confidential. You might need to ask for time off, and you will need to share this with your manager. Sometimes you need to disclose because hospitalization is required.
How will you know when it is time to get professional help?
If you have experienced a change in mood for two weeks or more, you should speak with your primary care physician, a psychiatrist or another mental health professional.
Workplace stress can significantly impact the bottom line. However, it can be managed to improve productivity, employee health and to create a more positive workplace climate and culture.
Categories: Mental Health