Stress is a fact of life. It goes with us to the office, follows us home, waits with us in traffic jams. A visit to the dentist, an upcoming exam, a boss's bad day, an approaching deadline, or company for dinner are all part of what we call stressful.
Stress in the workplace is widespread. It occurs in every workplace and for a variety of reasons. Overworked employees have "emotions that are right on the edge, fatigue, and absenteeism. But what is this thing called 'stress'? It is a combination of physical and emotional responses we feel as a result of unexpected major and minor events in our lives (Don Hawkins), but Hans Selye in his landmark book The Stress Of Life describes stress as our body's response to any demand made on it - whether a good, positive kind of stress, an expected part of life that leads to happiness or fulfillment ( what Seyle calls eustress), or distress, excessive levels of ongoing or damaging stress. In other words, we might explain stress as the result of Any event, major or minor, that happens to us.
In fact the concept of stress actually comes from the field of physics, when outside force adds pressure to bend or distort another item. Think for a minute about all the forces that act on your life: a flat tire, being stuck in the rush-hour traffic, an argument with a spouse, one more project added to an already heavy workload. Any of these tings will add significant stress.
In 1993 the Work Institute in the US released a national study of the changing workforce, a study that examined the work, lives, and attitudes of employees in companies ranging in size from Fortune 500 firms to the corner drugstore. Here were some of their findings:
80% said their jobs required them to work very hard.
65% said they must work very fast.
42% felt "used up" by the end of the workday.
At least one-third felt they did not have a "supportive" work culture. Not only did those surveyed indicate their work to be stressful and difficult, they experienced a time gridlock, as the average workweek for full-time employees reached 44.3 hours. More than a quarter of those surveyed worked fifty hours, and 10 percent worked more than sixty hours per week.
More than 3,400 workers participated in this landmark study, and 42 percent of respondents worked for companies that had reduced their staff the previous year. So much for those previous predictions that advancing technology would allow companies to switch to a four-day workweek or shorter on-the-job hours. The workplace is becoming harsher, and there are higher expectations in terms of hours we put in and how hard you work.
It seems that the quality of work life is not becoming anymore a priority to the corporations of the 21st Century. Many employees nowadays have been forced to play what we can call 'The Survivor Game' which is a no fun game, as those who stay on the job play the guessing game of "Who's next?".
In order to put work-related stress into perceptive, we need to understand how it affects us. Keep in mind that both major life events and minor life hassles contribute to our stress. The constant criticizing of a fellow employee or back-stabbing in the lunchroom can, over time, become as stressful as the threat of losing one's job. Cumulative effect of minor stresses can sometimes seem greater than the stress of major life events. After all, we tend to prepare ourselves when there is serious illness, death, or other great difficulties, and often we have the support of others.
How does stress-in the workplace and in the home-influence our physical responses? Primarily, adrenaline rushes into our bodies, charging our muscles and speeding our heartbeat, yet often giving us a heightened state of physical readiness with nowhere to go. Stress is a modern phenomenon brought in by the mismatch of today's environment and the body's "fight or flight" response, which centuries earlier was needed to cope with wild animals.
Instead of the wild animals, many of us today face irate customers, grouchy bosses, interrupting phone calls, broken equipment, or rush projects, but our bodies still respond as though they were facing a physical crisis; our blood pressure rises, muscle tension increases, and loads of adrenaline, fats, and sugars rush into the bloodstream for quick energy.
However, there is a God gift called "adaptation" that we usually experience to cope with stress. Modern life has fortunately adapted many of us to a higher state arousal. We have come to live with higher blood pressure and more adrenaline coursing through our veins. Our normal or "resting" level has increased significantly, but part is the problem is a frequent feeling of being out of control.