We all struggle with stress at work and from work. A recent study found that 80% of employees in the U.S. are stressed out at work.
So what’s with stress? If we’re all stressed out why don’t we do anything about it? The reality is that most of us don’t know why we’re stressed, we don’t recognize the underlying causes. Instead, we simply feel as if we’re unique and that there is something wrong with us for not being calm, cool, and collected.
So, what’s our first step in managing stress in a healthy way? Let’s begin by taking a look at the root causes of workplace stress.
1. Complexity of Work
2. Opacity of Work
3. Volume of Work
4. Deadlines of Work
5. Responsible for Results
6. Expectations of Others
What is the tie that binds these all together? The need to feel in control.
The root source of our stress is that we’re trying to control the uncontrollable. We have no control over the way work flows to us. All of these elements are external stimuli that trigger stress. We have no control over external stimuli. We can only control how we respond to them.
The flow of work itself is rapid and massive. The work is unclear (opaque) and complicated with many unknown interconnected parts and outcomes that we are responsible for.
All of our basic human needs are involved in this complex web of external stimuli. Most of us are addicted to our paycheck because we perceive that our needs are tied to them.
Maslow defined basic needs in the Maslow Hierarchy of Needs as:
- physiological needs (food, shelter, warmth)
- safety (financial, material, psychological)
- belongingness (work family, trade groups, professional societies)
- esteem (status, approval, promotion, pay)
- Self-actualization (meeting our own expectations for our life potential)
It’s completely understandable that we would be stressed out by work. If we don’t perform up to expectations of others, like our boss, they might sanction us in some way.
Social sanctions might include:
• the silent treatment
Administrative sanctions might include:
• performance counseling
• performance write-up
Financial Sanctions might include
• reduction in pay
• loss of bonus
• unpaid suspension
• loss of pay increase
• loss of promotion
Professional Sanctions might include:
• loss of recommendation
Those sanctions look pretty bad, don’t they? That’s why stress at work is so prevalent. It’s only natural that our stress system gets triggered when our basic needs aren’t met such as our safety, and the safety of our family, being threatened.
It should make sense why you feel the way you do. You are, in many ways, trying to meet the unrealistic expectations of others.
The good news is that there are methods to deal with all these external stimuli. We can’t change the stimuli because they’re external but we can change how we process the stimuli to create a calm, cool and collected mental space where we can do our best work.
To learn more, stay tuned for the next installment of the series on dealing with workplace stress.