Managing Job Stress

Home    |    Career Contents    |    Employer Contents    |    Contact Us



Managing Job Stress


Job Stress Surveys and Studies

What is Job Stress?

What are the Causes of Job Stress?

What are the Warning Signs of Job Stress?

What Can be Done about Job Stress?

What Organizational Changes Can Help Reduce Job Stress?

What Worker Characteristics Can Cause Job Stress?

What Can Workers with These Characteristics Do to Relieve
Job Stress?

What Other Strategies May Help Reduce Job Stress?

Back to Career Contents Page



Job Stress Surveys and Studies

Does this sound familiar?

Christmas crowds fill the aisles, and your cash register 
breaks down....

You're short-staffed at the restaurant, and a bus-load of tourists stream 
through the door....

You're giving a presentation to your biggest client company in an hour, 
and your materials and lost luggage are heading for Europe!


No matter where you work or what you do, you'll undoubtedly face stress on the job!  In fact, research surveys and studies reveal:


40% of workers report their job is "very or extremely stressful."

                                                             - Northwestern National Life

26% of workers report they are "often or very often burned out or
stressed by their work."

                                                             - The Families and Work Institute

29% of workers report they feel "quite a bit or extremely stressed
at work."

                                                             - Yale University

Three-fourths of employees believe the worker has more on-the-job
stress than a generation ago.

                                                             - Princeton Survey Research Associates

Problems at work are more strongly associated with health complaints
than are any other life stressor -- more so than even financial problems
or family problems.

                                                             - St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Co.

Back to Job Stress Contents




What is Job Stress?

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, job stress can be 
defined as the harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the 
requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources, or needs of the worker.

Job stress is often linked or equated with challenge, but the two are very different.  
Challenge motivates and energizes us psychologically and physically to learn new skills 
and master given tasks.  When a challenge is met, we feel a great sense of 
accomplishment.  We feel relaxed and satisfied. Challenge is beneficial in the work 
environment as it helps increase productivity.  This is what people are referring to 
when they say - "a little bit of stress is good for you."  It might be more accurate to 
say - "a little challenge is good for you."

Stress, on the other hand, is when job demands can't be met, relaxation has turned to 
exhaustion, and a sense of satisfaction has turned into feelings of tension.  In short, the 
worker feels overly taxed both psychologically and physically, and the stage is set for 
illness, injury, and job failure.

Back to Job Stress Contents    



What Are the Causes of Job Stress?

Quite simply, job stress results from the interaction of the worker and the conditions of the 
work.  Views differ on the importance of worker characteristics versus working conditions 
as the primary cause of job stress.

Some view differences in individual characteristics, such as personality and coping style, 
are most important in predicting whether certain job conditions will result in stress.  What 
may be stressful for one person may not be a problem for someone else.  This viewpoint 
leads to prevention strategies that focus on workers and ways to help them cope with 
demanding job conditions.

Although individual differences can't be ignored, research studies indicate certain working conditions are stressful to most people.  This scientific evidence places greater emphasis on working conditions as the key source of job stress, and job redesign as the primary prevention strategy.  Excessive workload demands and conflicting expectations, for example, are key sources of job stress.

Other sources may include:

Infrequent rest breaks; 

Long work hours and demanding work shifts;

Hectic and routine tasks that have little inherent meaning, do not 
utilize a worker's skills, and provide little sense of control;

Management styles - a lack of participation by workers
in decision-making, poor communication in the organization, 
lack of family-friendly policies;

Interpersonal relationships - poor social environment, lack
of support or help from co-workers and supervisors;

Work roles - conflicting or uncertain job expectations, too much
responsibility, too many "hats to wear";

Career concerns - job insecurity, lack of growth opportunity, 
rapid changes for which workers are unprepared;

Environmental conditions - unpleasant physical conditions
such as crowding, noise, air pollution; ergonomic problems;

Work conditions that pose risk to health and safety.

Short-lived episodes of stress pose little risk.  But if stressful situations go unresolved, 
the body can suffer from wear and tear, and the ability of a person's body to repair and 
defend itself can become seriously compromised.

Back to Job Stress Contents



What Are the Warning Signs of Job Stress?

The following may indicate signs of stress:


Sleep disturbances

Difficulty concentrating

Short temper

Upset stomach

Job dissatisfaction

Low morale

Signs of stress may also be associated with increased absenteeism, tardiness, and 
intentions of workers to quit their jobs.

Back to Job Stress Contents



What Can Be Done about Job Stress?

Job stress may need to be approached in two ways.  The two approaches would include:


Stress Management to improve a worker's ability to cope with
difficult work situations.  Companies sometimes offer stress
management training or offer assistance through an Employee
Assistance Program.

Organizational Change by the company upon identifying stressful
aspects of work, and designing strategies and improving work
conditions to reduce or eliminate the identified stressors.

Be aware management is often uncomfortable with the "organizational change" 
approach because it can involve changes in work loads, work routines, work schedules, 
work production, or changes in the organizational structure.  As a general rule, however, 
it takes organizational change to improve working conditions, and it takes improved 
working conditions to reduce job stress.  And it takes reduced to job stress to boost 
morale and retain workers.

Back to Job Stress Contents



What Organizational Changes Can Help Reduce Job Stress?

Helpful organizational changes may include:

Ensuring the workload is in line with workers' capabilities and

Designing jobs to provide meaning, stimulation, and opportunities
for workers to use their skills;

Clearly defining workers' roles and responsibilities;

Giving workers opportunities to participate in decisions and actions
affecting their jobs;

Improving communications;

Providing opportunities for social interaction among workers;

Establishing work schedules that are compatible with demands and
responsibilities outside the job.

Back to Job Stress Contents



What Worker Characteristics Can Cause Job Stress?

Worker characteristics that can cause job stress may include:


A need to be in control

The worker feels a need to be in control at all times;
The worker views lack of control as a sign of weakness;
The worker has difficulty delegating assignments to others;
The worker avoids showing signs of weakness or nervousness.

A lack or perceived lack of competence

The worker feels his or her work is inferior compared to others;
The worker feels he or she makes poor judgments;
The worker feels a lack of common sense;
The worker feels doubts about his or her competence and ability
to do the job.

A desire to please people

The worker relies on favorable opinions and input from others
as a basis for building self-esteem;
The worker fears he or she may disappoint others;
The worker cares more about others' needs than his or her own;
The worker avoids communications and actions that would
displease others.

A need to be perfect (perfectionism)

The worker feels under pressure to achieve;
The worker is highly self-critical;
The worker feels a job well done could have been done 
even better;
The worker sacrifices pleasure in order to excel and achieve.


Back to Job Stress Contents



What Can Workers with These Characteristics Do to 
Relieve Job Stress?

If one of the above profiles rings true for you, the following suggestions may help.


Mentally Reframe:


1.     Identify situations that are stressful for you.   At what times, and under
        what circumstances, do you feel job stress?  Make note.

2.     Gauge your thinking.   During those stressful times, do your thoughts turn
        negative and self-defeating?  Do your thoughts only add more pressure?
        Consider these examples:

Negative Thoughts:

"People can tell I'm nervous."
"I'm always making mistakes."
"I can't do anything right."
"That was a stupid thing I did."
"I'll never meet the deadline."
"My performance was awful."


Pressure Thoughts:

"I can't show I'm nervous or people will think I'm weak."
"I can't make a mistake or people will think poorly of me."
"If I don't do this right, everyone will see I'm not very skilled."
"The manager must not like me as she never returns my 


3.     Change your thinking.   If during stressful times you find yourself thinking negative
        or pressure thoughts, stop those self-defeaters in their tracks and reframe your

        Using the above examples, let's reframe.

Negative Thoughts:

Stress Producing:   "People can tell I'm nervous."
Stress Reducing:    "People seem interested in what I have to 

Stress Producing:   "I'm always making mistakes."
Stress Reducing:    "I made a mistake, but it's okay.  Next time I'll 
                                   know what to do."

Stress Producing:   "I can't do anything right."
Stress Reducing:    "I do most things well.  Some things just take
                                   practice, then I get it."

Stress Producing:   "That was a stupid thing I did."
Stress Reducing:    "I made a wrong judgment, but that's okay.  
                                   Next time I'll know to do it differently."

Stress Producing:   "I'll never meet the deadline."
Stress Reducing:    "I'll get it done.  I'll just start by making a list of 
                                   what I need to do."

Stress Producing:   "My performance was awful."
Stress Reducing:    "I did many things well, but there are a few 
                                   things I'd like to improve."


Pressure Thoughts:

Stress Producing:   "I can't show I'm nervous or people will 
                                   think I'm weak."
Stress Reducing:    "I'm well-prepared and confident I'll do 
                                   a good job."


Stress Producing:   "I can't make a mistake or people will think 
                                   poorly of me."
Stress Reducing:    "No one's perfect.  If I make a mistake, it's 
                                   okay.  I'll just show I'm like everyone else!"


Stress Producing:   "If I don't do this right, everyone will see I'm 
                                   not very skilled."
Stress Reducing:    "I have many good skills, and I can learn and 
                                   improve with time."


Stress Producing:   "The manager must not like me as she never 
                                    returns my greeting."
Stress Reducing:    "The manager must have a lot on her mind."


Replacing self-defeating thoughts with positive ones takes practice, but the results are 
worth the effort!

Back to Job Stress Contents



What Other Strategies May Help Reduce Job Stress?

The following strategies are also helpful for reducing job stress:


1.     Organize your time.   Use a schedule planner and schedule tasks.  Stick to
        the schedule!  Be sure to schedule in time you need to meet deadlines, make
        phone calls, send correspondence, write reports, and so on.

2.     Follow your bio-clock.   Try to schedule the hardest tasks during your hours
        of peak performance and concentration.

3.     Make "TO DO" lists.   List everything you need to do in order of priority.  As you
        finish a task, check it off and go to the next one.

4.     Throw it away.   Don't let things accumulate!  Sort mail and toss what you don't
        need.  Sort e-mails and delete what you don't need to read.  Sort files and toss
        what's out-of-date.

5.     Organize your work space.   Organize papers, files, or items so that you know
        where everything is, and things can be found quickly.

6.     Don't procrastinate.   Don't wait.  Do it now.  You'll be happy you got it done!

7.     Think in steps.   Take a large project and break it down into small steps.  Then do
         the project one small step at a time.

8.     Take breaks.   Avoid working around the clock.  Go get a cup a coffee.  Eat lunch
        away from your desk or work area.  Try to go home on time.

9.     Share a problem.   If you encounter an unusually challenging work problem, talk
        with co-workers.  They may not have a solution, but it helps to talk through issues.
        Sometimes just by talking through a problem, you can recognize a solution.

10.  Sleep.   Make sure you get enough sleep.  Lack of sleep impairs concentration
       which can add pressure and anxiety.

11.  Target ideas.   Each time you feel stress, write down a list of targeted things you
       need to do to reduce the stress for that event.

12.  Take a real vacation.   When you take time off, avoid thinking about work.  Focus
        on things you enjoy.  This applies to your time off on weekends as well.

13.  Transition.   Between work and home, do something to get your mind off work.
        Listen to the car radio, stop for a coffee, drop by the library, stop at the store.

14.  Leave work at work.   Take home as little work as possible.

15.  Practice relaxation techniques.   During times of stress, try:

deep breathing;

muscle relaxation techniques;


taking a walk;

mentally rehearsing by mentally walking through an upcoming event;

talking with a friend;

listening to relaxing music;


engaging in an activity you enjoy to divert your attention.


These are just a few suggestions that will hopefully help should you encounter stress in the workplace!

Back to Job Stress Contents




A portion of this section is based on information obtained from  Stress at Work  from: 

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)


NIOSH is the Federal agency responsible for conducting research and making 
recommendations for the prevention of work-related illness and injury.  NIOSH is part 
of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

As part of its mandate, NIOSH is directed by Congress to study the psychological 
aspects of occupational safety and health, including stress at work.  NIOSH works in 
collaboration with industry, labor, and universities to better understand the stress of 
modern work, the effects of stress on worker safety and health, and ways to reduce stress 
in the workplace.

Back to Job Stress Contents

Back to Career Contents Page


      Home    |    Career Contents    |    Employer Contents    |    Contact Us     |    Disclaimer