We’ve probably all experienced that horrendous Sunday-night feeling. You know the one — the dread of waking the following morning and having to face another round of deadlines, the boss from Hell or another 60-hour week. Unpleasant, certainly.
But could stress in your job actually affect your health? According to health psychologist and independent consultant Professor Robert Edelmann, it’s all too possible. “Stress at work can lead to increased blood pressure, headaches and migraine, stomach problems, including irritable bowel syndrome and ulcers, and other, non-specific ailments,” he says. “These might be things like non-cardiac chest pain and chronic fatigue syndrome. There’s no doubt about it — stress puts a major strain on the body.” So, what are the main causes of stress at work? Professor Edelmann names his big five:
1. Workload With today’s long-hours culture and a work(life balance seriously out of kilter, workload is a major factor in today’s workplace. Says Professor Edelmann: “If workload is the issue, then you will have a feeling of being overwhelmed. This will be accompanied by increasing disorganisation, inability to think, and an overriding worry over where to start.”
2. Bullying Workplace bullying — in which colleagues, or the boss, use intimidation, aggression or humiliation to achieve their ends — is increasingly common. Professor Edelmann says, “Victims will develop a feeling of victimisation, and will feel fear, anger and anxiety. They might well also not be able to take in what is happening.”
3. Feeling out of control Feeling out of control usually manifests itself as a sense of having no ability to influence decision-making and, ultimately, of having no control over your own work. This is particularly acute among people who work long hours and have a big workload.
4. Job security When your job’s under threat, you work harder to justify your position. This can make you even more stressed and prone to burnout.
5. Lack of support Not getting the support of management can make you feel isolated and anxious.
Professor Edelmann says that, whatever the cause of workplace stress, the symptoms are virtually identical. “What tends to differ is the focus — what exactly you’re thinking about or dwellling upon. What happens next tends to be the same — usually a loss of sleep, irritability, concentration problems, tiredness and lethargy, followed by increasing physical-health problems.” He adds that people often cope by doing the very things they shouldn’t do. These include not recognising or acknowledging what is happening to them, drinking and smoking more, and assuming that they must be weak or that stress is something that affects other people.
So, what should you do? Says Professor Edelmann: “You should listen to friends and colleagues — the ones who’ve been telling you that you seem to be under pressure, or made some other passing comment. After that, take a few days off if necessary, take a long hard look at work and take the necessary steps. “These will depend on the nature of the stressor. If it’s to do with work pressure, then think about prioritising and reorganising work. If it’s to do with bullying, then, if the matter cannot be addressed directly with the perpetrator, seek out management or your trade union for support. You should also record all instances of bullying in a diary. “If it’s the work environment, management issues or a lack of control, then look at ways to bring these up with those concerned. Lack of job security can be the hardest to deal with and it may be a case of trying to change the focus of your thinking – value what you have rather than worrying about what might — or might not — be.” If all else fails, Edelmann says, look for a new job.
Kate Lorenz is the article and advice editor for CareerBuilder.co.uk. She’s an expert in job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.