Top 10 causes of stress at work and how to deal with it

Stress is a common condition that everyone faces. People of all cultures and upbringings feel the physical symptoms of stress at different stages of their life. Due to our ever-changing lifestyles, mental health issues surface commonly in the form of stress that should be actively managed for a fulfilling life. According to a study conducted by the Korn Perry Institute in 2018, 76% of the respondents said stress has a negative impact on work life balance in their personal relationships.

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Work related stress is no exception. Every person in the world who has ever held a job or run a business has experienced workplace stress. No matter who we are and what we do, everyone usually has someone they are accountable to in the workspace. That and the mixture of deadlines, extended work hours, office politics, long commutes and so on, can contribute to stress at work.

So what are the most common causes of work related stress? Are there any tell-tale symptoms or signs of work-related stress? Let’s first take a look at the top 10 causes of stress at work:

Top 10 causes of stress at work

The levels and degree of stress largely depend on both the individual and the nature of their profession as well as the general workplace environment. Some commonly identified causes of workplace stress include:

1. Work pressure & deadlines

Most corporations make for demanding paymasters. When employees are under constant pressure to meet deadlines with an excessive workload, it can lead to feelings of stress, anxiety, and burnout. Sometimes employees feel the need to constantly prove themselves at work and face high competition from their peers. This constant need to prove productivity and deliver tasks on time can cause a lot of stress at work. 

2. Lack of work life balance

A lack of work-life balance is another common cause of stress at work. When employees feel like they are spending too much time at work or are unable to take time off to relax and recharge, it can lead to feelings of burnout, exhaustion, and stress. Even with remote working today, even though flexible work hours has become a norm, it has led to over working in a lot of instances. It has also resulted in higher expectations from work, eventually leading to increased stress levels.

3. Toxic work environment and culture

 A toxic work environment can be a significant cause of stress at work. A toxic work environment can be characterized by negative attitudes, poor communication skills, lack of trust, and disrespect among both colleagues as well as supervisors. A toxic culture is also represented by a lack of support in the workplace which can affect employee mental health negatively and can also lead to stress at work. 

4. Unfulfilling job role

A lot of people work because they need to sustain life and not because they love what they do. The standard of living and expenses have been on the rise, causing most folks to decide on their occupation based on how much they get paid. In this bargain, you may end up with a job you dislike, or even hate, causing a lot of stress rooted in disappointment and unfulfillment in the long run.

5. Bullying and harassment

This is the most prevalent cause of stress in the workplace. We may come across many incidents of stress arising from some form of bullying or harassment. Even though criticism and negative feedback can be healthy and help improve employee performance, the way it is handled and conveyed can make a huge difference. Harassment can also be done in many forms such as emotional, sexual, and verbal. Who hasn’t been yelled at by a boss or found themselves at the receiving end of favouritism? These cases of workplace bullying can cause a lot of stress at work and negatively impact employee morale, eventually leading to poor job performance.

6. Poor managers

There is an old saying, “Employees don’t quit their job, they quit their managers.” According to the same study conducted by Korn Ferry, 35% of respondents state that their ‘bosses’ or reporting managers are the primary cause of stress at work. Good managers can lead a team and inspire them to constantly do better every day. Negative leaders, on the other hand, may intentionally or unintentionally, belittle their team’s efforts and do little to motivate their teams. This eventually leads employees to feel stressed out as they feel a lack of support and guidance from their managers.

7. Workplace politics

Most competitive workplaces manifest stress in the form of office or work politics. It’s not uncommon to feel underappreciated at work, however, what’s worse is feeling like someone else has an unfair advantage over you. Unnecessary favouritism and nepotism in the office can be a huge cause of anxiety and stress, also causing a loss of productivity at work.

8. Lack of job security

The current economy faces a lot of disruptions in terms of changes in the required skill sets, expanding operations globally, keeping updated with the latest technology and in more recent times, employee layoffs. This leads to a lack of job security and a constant sense of fear among job holders as well as job seekers. Are my skills enough? Will I be replaced by someone younger? What will I do if my industry becomes obsolete? Fear of losing one’s job and livelihood is a major cause of stress at work.

9. Poor communication

When communication between colleagues, managers, or superiors is inadequate, it can result in misunderstandings, confusion, and frustration, which can increase stress levels. Poor communication can also take many forms, such as a mismatch of expectations, vague instructions, insufficient training, inadequate feedback, from co workers and managers, or even a lack of transparency about company policies. This not only results in stressed out employees but also can lead to poor job performance and decreased productivity.

10. Lack of growth opportunities

Another common cause of stress at work is a lack of growth opportunities. Employees who feel stuck in their job or are not given opportunities to grow and develop their skills or advance their careers can experience feelings of stress and anxiety which in some cases can lead to burnout and even presenteeism

What are the symptoms of work related stress?

Work-related stress not only affects a person’s mental health but can also have a significant impact on an individual’s physical health. Symptoms of work-related stress are similar to common symptoms of stress such as headaches, body aches, and fatigue. Individuals experiencing work-related stress may also experience emotional symptoms such as irritability, anxiety, and depression. They may feel overwhelmed, unable to concentrate or make decisions, and even experience changes in sleep patterns. 

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In extreme cases, work related stress can also lead to behavioural changes such as increased substance use, changes in eating habits, and social withdrawal or isolation. 

Unfortunately, these symptoms grow over a period of time and are sometimes hard to identify and in many cases are written off as just a ‘bad day’. Hence, it is important to recognize your stressors and take steps to address them in order to prevent long-term negative effects.

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5 simple strategies for managing work related stress

‘How to manage stress at work’ is a million-dollar question! Depending on what’s causing you stress at work, here are some strategies you can try to manage stress:

5 simple ways to reduce stress naturally:

  1. One of the best ways to deal with stress at work is to lead a healthy life in general.  Develop a daily routine that involves some form of physical exercises and mindfulness exercises such as yoga and meditation. Maintaining a healthy diet and spending time with your loved ones are also great ways to manage your stress.
  2. Make time to destress, relax and rejuvenate for some time everyday, even if it’s just 10 minutes of deep breathing exercises. Try Wysa’s productivity toolpack during your work day to manage stress.
  3. At work, try to maintain a cordial relationship with your peers and manager at work. Address the cause of your stress, whether it’s a demanding boss or unrealistic delivery demands and aim to resolve it.
  4. Talk openly to someone you trust about the issues that are bothering you. If you are not ready to talk to a therapist or mental health professional, consider talking to a colleague you trust. Another route is trying out Wysa, where you can chat with an AI chatbot for free which can help talk through your feelings and suggest ways to resolve these issues.
  5. Building social support groups can be a major contributor to a more peaceful life for years to come. And this applies to work as well.

Commonly asked questions about stress

What is psychological distress?

By definition, psychological distress is “a state of emotional suffering associated with stressors and demands that are difficult to cope with in daily life” A more detailed insight into distress psychology also states that long-term exposure to psychological distress can lead to a negative mindset which can trigger many other issues such as chronic anxiety and depression.

What is eustress? How are distress and eustress different?

Stress is a part of our everyday lives. We experience it in varying quantities at every stage of our life. Although stress is often associated with negativity, this generalization is not always accurate. There are namely two types of stress, i.e., eustress and distress. 

Eustress is a positive form of stress that can keep us motivated and enhance our performance, while distress is negative stress that can hamper our ability to make good decisions and act as an obstacle to our performance. Eustress can provide a positive kick and a challenge that helps us get the best of our abilities, while distress can fill us with negative emotions and crippling fear that can overwhelm an individual. It is important to recognize the difference between eustress and distress and manage stress levels accordingly to maintain a healthy balance.

Can stress cause physical illness?

Stress, if left unaddressed, can lead to chronic stress which can contribute to physical illness such as obesity, high blood pressure and heart conditions. 

Can stress cause fever?

Yes. According to a study, psychogenic fever is a stress related condition, which has especially been identified in young women. It can result in body chills and high temperature. This can be triggered by emotional events or during highly stressful situations. 

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