Most jobs involve some degree of stress and it is normal for people to experience stress from time to time, regardless of their role. However, stress-related Workers’ Compensation claims doubled in recent years in Australia and are now costing us in excess of $10 billion per year.
In this article, we explore the issue of workplace stress and what organisations should be doing about it.
Stress is a normal response to the demands of work and life. It can be beneficial in short bursts, helping you stay alert and perform at your best. This type of positive stress is called Eustress and can provide long-term solutions from challenging situations.
While Eustress can keep us vital and excited about life, prolonged or excessive stress known as Distress does the opposite, causing a person to become more vulnerable to and exacerbate the development of mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety. Furthermore, unhealthy stress can negatively affect relationships and life outside work, as well as increase the risk of injury, fatigue and burnout.
According to the ‘Heads Up’ organisation, one in five Australian workers have taken time off in the past 12 months due to feeling stressed, anxious or depressed.
Stress in the workplace can result from a multitude of factors, incidents of workplace bullying, harassment or discrimination included. According to findings from investigations conducted by iHR Australia, approximately half of the complainants sighted feeling stressed, anxious or fearful as a result of the complaint.
So, what signs of distress should you be on the lookout for?
Physical signs of stress:
- chest pain or a pounding heart
- reduced interest in sex
- nausea, diarrhoea or constipation
- getting colds more often
- muscle tension, pains and headaches
- episodes of fast, shallow breathing and excessive sweating
- loss or change of appetite
- sleeping problems
Mental and emotional signs of stress:
- feeling overwhelmed or frustrated
- feeling guilty or unhappy
- being irritable
- losing confidence and being indecisive
- thinking negatively
- having racing thoughts
- memory problems
- excessive worrying
75% of Australian employees believe workplaces have the ethical obligation to provide support to those being affected by a mental health condition, which includes those struggling to handle the stresses of the workplace.
Employers and managers are expected to create a mentally healthy workplace by identifying potential practices, incidents or actions that may lead to work related stress or anxiety. As well as identifying these factors, employers are obligated to take action that eliminates potential causes of stress.
Organisations can be proactive by implementing approaches that reduce stress related incidents in the workplace, such as encouraging the practice of stress management strategies, providing the details of their Employee Assistance Program and also providing training in Mental Ill Health and Well-Being.
There are some strategies everyone can adopt to manage and reduce their own stress levels. Positive work-life balance is a good place to start. Remember, we all have a duty under our Workplace Health and Safety legislation to practice self-care.
iHR Australia offers a half-day Resilience Program, which can be run in-house. In this program, participants will develop their own individually tailored resilience plan, in addition to identifying strategies for overcoming the typical blocks to self-care.
Resilience is a key factor when it comes to reducing the impact of workplace stress on mental health and is an important skill to develop in your workforce. A few simple steps are all it takes to ensure workplace stress doesn’t become unhealthy.
Dr Leigh Hodder is Senior Workplace Relations Adviser and Consulting Psychologist with more than 20 years’ experience across a range of industries, which include government, not for profit and private sectors. In addition to facilitating iHR Australia’s Mental Health and Well-Being training, Dr Hodder also conducts independent workplace investigations and mediations through iHR Australia.