Workplace stress

According to the Mental Health Commissionopens in new tab, 70 percent of Canadian employees are concerned about the psychological health and safety of their workplace. In Survey on COVID-19 and Mental Healthopens in new tab, Statistics Canada and the Public Healthy Agency found that one in five Canadians aged 18 or older screened positive for symptoms of depression, anxiety or Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Stress causes physical, psychosocial and behavioural signs and symptoms, but the risk is not just personal well-being. In the workplace, stress can translate into performance issues, job dissatisfaction, absenteeism, staff turnover, compromised working relationships, lack of motivation and decreased creativity.

Causes of stress in the workplace

In the workplace, stress can be the result of any number of situations. Some examples, adapted from Murphy, L. R., Occupational Stress Management: Current Status and Future Direction. in Trends in Organizational Behavior, 1995, Vol. 2, p. 1-14, include:

Factors unique to the job

  • Workload (overwhelmed or under-utilized)
  • Pace/variety/meaningfulness of work
  • Autonomy (e.g., the ability to make your own decisions about our own job or about specific tasks)
  • Shiftwork/hours of work
  • Physical environment (noise, air quality, etc)
  • Isolation at the workplace (emotional or working alone)

Role in your organization

  • Role conflict (conflicting job demands, multiple supervisors/managers)
  • Role ambiguity (lack of clarity about responsibilities, expectations, etc)
  • Level of responsibility

Career development

  • Under/over-promotion
  • Job security (fear of redundancy either from economy, or a lack of tasks or work to do)
  • Lack of career development opportunities
  • Overall job satisfaction

Interpersonal relationships at work

  • Supervisors
  • Coworkers
  • Subordinates
  • Volunteers
  • Threat of violence, harassment, and/or personal safety

Organizational structure/climate

  • Participation (or non-participation) in decision-making
  • Management style
  • Ineffective communication patterns

How to reduce workplace stress

There are many strategies to help minimize stress in the workplaceopens in new tab, including:

  • Providing a safe and comfortable physical working environment such as noise, air quality, hazards, quality of lighting, and ergonomics.
  • Giving employees a variety of tasks to do.
  • Letting employees make their own decisions when possible.
  • Providing opportunities for people to enhance their skills.
  • Encouraging social support in the workplace.
  • Implementing a meaningful employee recognition program.
  • Providing sufficient information about the position during the recruitment process to ensure a good fit between the person and the role.
  • Defining employees' roles and responsibilities.
  • Ensuring workloads are reasonable.
  • Providing flexible work arrangements.
  • Providing opportunities for leaves of absence.
  • Implementing a workplace wellness program.
  • Communicating organizational changes to staff and allow time for employees to adjust.
  • Ensuring after-work activities are not mandatory.
  • Providing intentional social opportunities in the workplace.
  • Conducting thorough onboarding and training to help staff feel confident and set them up for success.
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