Health and the Workplace
Job Stress and Your Health
What is job stress?
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 can lead to poor health and even injury.
The concept of job stress is often confused with challenge, but these concepts are not the same. Challenge energizes us psychologically and physically, and it motivates us to learn new skills and master our jobs. When a challenge is met, we feel relaxed and satisfied. Thus, challenge is an important ingredient for healthy and productive work. The importance of challenge in our work lives is probably what people are referring to when they say "a little bit of stress is good for you."
When the challenge has turned into job demands that cannot be met, relaxation has turned to exhaustion, and a sense of satisfaction has turned into feelings of stress, the sate is set for illness, injury and job failure.
What are the causes of job stress?
Nearly everyone agrees that job stress results from the interaction of the worker and the conditions of work. Views differ, however, on the importance of worker characteristics versus working conditions as the primary cause of job stress. These differing viewpoints are important because they suggest different ways to prevent stress at work.
According to one school of thought, differences in individual characteristics such as personality and coping style are most important in predicting whether certain job conditions will result in stress -- in other words, what is stressful for one person may not be a problem for someone else. This viewpoint leads to prevention strategies that focus on workers in ways to help them cope with demanding job conditions.
Although the importance of individual differences cannot be ignored, scientific evidence suggests that certain working conditions are stressful to most people (for example, excessive workload demands and/or conflicting expectations). Such evidence argues for a greater emphasis on working conditions as the key source of job stress, and for job redesign as a primary prevention strategy.
According to the NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health), these are job conditions that may lead to stress:
- The design of tasks. Heavy workload, infrequent rest breaks, long
work hours and shiftwork; hectic and routine tasks that have little inherent
meaning, do not utilize workers' skills, and provide little sense of
- Management style. Lack of participation by workers in
decision-making, poor communication in the organization and lack of
- Interpersonal relationships. Poor social environment and lack of
support or help from coworkers or supervisors.
- Work roles. Conflicting or uncertain job expectations, too much responsibility,
too many "hats" to wear.
- Career concerns. Job insecurity and lack of opportunity for growth,
advancement, or promotion; rapid changes for which workers are unprepared.
- Environmental conditions. Unpleasant or dangerous physical conditions such as crowding, noise, air pollution, or ergonomic problems.
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