What causes Stress in the Workplace?
This is a large multi-factorial issue that spills out into many realms. Every workplace has some degree of stress, and this is inevitable since we are dealing with humans who bring a variety of their own personal lives, as well as their own pathology to work. Levels of insecurity, perceptions of success, individual needs, jealousy, the narcissistic boss, and the gross inability of many individuals to not admit wrong doing when it comes to an honest mistake, all factor into the workplace stress scenario. Humans can be a strange breed of species; money motivates, human interaction is needed, and a need to be viewed as competent and wanting to be liked clouds our goals. The work environment can be pleasant, stressful, or grossly incestuous. Many individuals bring to work their personal problems, their home stress, and have minimal boundaries when it comes to what is appropriate to disclose and what is not. On the other hand when friendships develop there can be a time and place for sharing, bonding and appropriate support. Some individuals are hyper vigilant even paranoid, others are reclusive, and others show their narcissistic slip underneath their skirt of insecurity talking about themselves and their embellished accomplishments. All of these will become an interplay in the working environment. We will focus here on the dynamics between upper management and employees and the behavioral acting out that emulates a family environment.
Imagine the owners of a business and management as the parental figures of a family and human resources, billing etc. are the extended family members. The employees are the children in this family environment. When you have a management that has any dysfunction such as narcissistic traits, poor communication styles, and authoritarian discipline as opposed to collegiate interaction you have the setting for acting out by the children, even revolt. Employees will begin taking on different roles. These roles can be the escape goat, the emotional leader, the acting out child, and of course the “suck up.” Dysfunction in the work place invariably begins at the top. Poor, inadequate communication, lack of understanding and empathy for the employees, and strict discipline as opposed to behavioral reinforcement. The need or want for production out of the employees mimics the want or need as parents for our children to be productive in life. The difference; as parents we love our children and the “boss” usually does not possess this emotion towards their employees. Decreased production leads to the usual punishment, reduced bonus, and verbal warnings. Employees act out, stomp and scream and may or may not produce more. Combine this behavior with their own unique pathology, and you have a growing abscess of stress waiting to explode into a crisis, which can cause depression, decreased work productivity, and even spill out onto the employees home environment.
It is this author’s opinion that the majority of business owners do not have a clue of the far reaching effects of demeaning behavior, and over powering their employees for more production. Whether it is on the line in a factory, or in a hospital or clinic employees need to be treated with respect, and appreciation to increase productivity and decrease workplace stress. For myself, I error frequently as jumping into the personality pool of pathology to help the other employees. This metaphor is actually my fiancées, and her concern of me biting off more than I can handle when trying to help. She sees me as diving from a high dive into a large pool of pathology. This pathology can be employees personal life trauma, issues with management, and inter-office squabbles. I clearly have a tendency to spread myself to thin, and try to reach out the best I can to calm a crisis. This is a common scenario for many victims of abuse, the”white knight syndrome” the need to protect and help. I am thankful I have a life preserver, which is my my fiancée, who recognizes when I spread myself to thin, and become frustrated at the basic mis-treatment of employees for the owners gain.
We also have sibling rivalry. Employees vying for the attention of the parent, the boss and jealousy of each other given a variety of positions and promotions. Throw each persons pathology into the mix, the owners and their needs, as well as an economy that is disintegrating and you have chaos and stress.
How does one reduce workplace stress?
There are many ways to reduce workplace stress. there are individual ways, and then there are techniques for the corporation. Should they be open to change? Respect, and the want to create a pleasant work environment is crucial for employees. One would want the employee to be comfortable which translates into wanting to come to work, and increase productivity. Screening employees from the interview process. A good corporation screens out the pathology and the extremes in behavior initially. Of course you will not catch everyone, however this process can be fine tuned and will benefit one down the road. A team atmosphere must be empowered, everyone should feel they have a say, but then the feedback given should be implemented within reason and if not an explanation. Real, honest listening skills….What a concept? Communication, as in a dysfunctional family where communication is poor at best, open communication is imperative, decrease post-it notes, decrease e-mails of serious content and have face to face communication. Remember before the computer days when people actually sat down and talked. E-mails are proficient, and have their niche, however one does not get the inflection of the voice, the eye contact, and sincerity as much as a face to face discussion.
As an owner do not assume all the employees see you as a “nice guy.” No matter how open and how generous you are as an owner employees will NOT disclose all their true feelings and concerns. There is an inherent fear. As in a family, I know of no teenager that discloses everything to their parents. Recognize this and act accordingly.
Individual stress can be relieved with a variety of techniques from meditation, to medication. When workplace stress leads to tardiness at work, insomnia, substance abuse, home conflict, and inner office arguments one should seriously look at these red flags before they escalate. One should be conscious of the “poor me” scenario. Where an employee feels entitlement and they deserve more than they actually deserve. This personality type is perceived by others as ugly, and is a person others usually do not want to work around. There will always be a few that will climb on their bandwagon, and rally the crying towel, which is usually to no avail. It is important to stay within yourself, recognize your limitations, know what you do well, be willing to learn new tasks, and learn to communicate openly and honestly. There is really no need to disclose personal home trauma, and ask yourself, what are you really looking for when you do share? Mental health is a journey, filled with mistakes, and short comings. There is no better way to learn than to fail. Keep risking, recognize your stress, and do something to change it. You will be amazed how your work place will be better but your home life will improve also.