Stress is an inevitable, important and pervasive component of contemporary life.

For most people, the word stress is associated with negative implications such as ailments, reduced performance and negative attitudes. Others argue that stress is the spice of life because it helps us to rise up and meet the challenges of life. The stress that is associated with such positive implications is referred to as eustress.

Whether stress or eustress, there is no doubt that there are many stressful factors at the workplace.

Of vital concern to most organizations is the stress with negative implications. Most employers have put in place, sound stress management practices. This is because they are aware of the effects of stress at the workplace such as the astronomical costs incurred from stress-related absenteeism, turnover, accidents, decreased productivity, medical expenses and sometimes, litigation costs. This article examines the sources of stress at work and the effects of stress on the workers’ physiological and psychological well-being.

What is stress?

Stress occurs when a stimuli or certain circumstance is perceived as being a stressor.

According to Beehr and Newman (1978), organizational stress is a: “condition, when job-related factors interact with the worker to change, disrupt or enhance his or her physiological and psychological condition such as the person’s mind and body is forced to deviate from the normal functioning”.

stress refers to the adverse psychological, physical and behavioral reactions that occur in individuals as a result of their being unable to cope with the demands being made on them. This implies that stress is caused not by external problems. when an individual fails to deal adequately with the pressure created by a certain stimulus, then the symptoms of stress appear.

A stimulus becomes a stressor only when perceived as such. This is particularly true for psychosocial stressors, where stress may be said to be in the eyes of the beholder (the individuals’ perception). For example, a demanding job may be perceived by one as a stressor while to another person, it may not be perceived as such. On the other hand, physical environment stressors will result in direct physical trauma regardless of the workers perception, for instance, extreme heat from a blast furnace will affect the worker whether he perceives it as a stressor or not. The perception of a stimulus as a stressor stimulates a series of short-term physiological, psychological and behavioral outcomes otherwise known as symptoms of stress.

How do I know whether I am suffering from stress?

In the short-term, before stress becomes severe, a person may show physiological symptoms similar to instinctive reactions to fear, such as extra adrenalin secretions, increased heartbeat, and trembling hands. The stress may also manifest itself as allergies or stomach upsets. If the stressor persists overtime or increases in intensity, it is considered to be chronic. It evokes long-term outcomes, some are worse as suicidal attempts.  In the long-term, these symptoms aggravate to more serious outcomes. Owing to the fact that the stressor has persisted for long, the body adaptive capabilities are depleted and over time, it begins to suffer diseases of adaptation.

In the long-term, you may suffer physiological symptoms such as indigestion, headaches, fatigue, back pain, high blood pressure, stomach ulcers, nausea, diarrhoea and fatal ailments such as coronary heart disease, brain attack, cancer and cirrhosis of the liver.

Long term psychological symptoms include phobias, obsessions, anxiety, and depression.

You may also exhibit behavioral reactions such as lack of appetite, loss of sleep, forgetfulness, irritability and aggressiveness, oversleeping, overeating, increased cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption, absenteeism disorderliness, and generally taking too long to complete tasks.

According to OSHA(2007) Section 50(1), ‘any occupier shall ensure that effective provision is made for securing and maintaining sufficient and suitable lighting whether natural or artificial in every place of his workplace in which persons are working or passing.’   

On the other hand, Section 49 (1) states: ‘an occupier shall ensure that effective and suitable provision is made for securing and maintaining, by the circulation of fresh air in each workroom, the adequate ventilation of the room.’

Regarding air pollution, Section 89 (1) states: ‘in every workplace in which, in connection with any process carried on, there is given off any dust or fumes or other impurities of such a character and to such extent, as to be likely to be injurious or offensive to the persons employed, or any substantial quantity of dust of any kind, all practicable measures shall be taken to protect the persons employed against inhalation of the dust and fume or other impurities….’

From the above many sources of stress at work, it is evident that stress is inevitable at the workplace no matter what measures the employer may put in a place to avoid or reduce its occurrence. Albeit such efforts being applaudable, it is important as individuals that we take responsibility to prevent ourselves from suffering stress and/or reduce its effect on our psychological and physiological well-being.

How do I know if there are stressors in my workplace?

There are many antecedent conditions at the workplace that may contribute to your stress as an employee. The stressors include one or more of the following:

  • Pressure from working on-time deadlines;
  • Poorly defined roles leading to role ambiguity and role conflicts;
  • Lack of opportunities for promotion;
  • Lack of chances for career development;
  • Lack of autonomy for the employee to control job-related decisions;
  • Excessive paperwork and red tape;
  • Lack of emotional and intellectual stimulation in the job;
  • Failure to achieve good working relations with colleagues, supervisors, customers and other external groups;
  • Male patronage and sexual harassment;
  • Work overload and under load;
  • Psychological trauma especially for policemen, firefighters and doctors who in the course of duties witness events of death, distress and suffering;
  • Sense of personal responsibility for clients especially for social workers and doctors;
  • Underutilization for skills due to wrong placement;
  • Routine simple repetitive tasks such as those associated with assembly-line jobs in factories;
  • Machine-placed tasks where workers have no control over tasks and have difficulty placing themselves with the machine;
  • Tasks requiring attention to detail;
  • Night-shift work, for it interferes with the workers psychological functions such as body temperatures, heart rate, blood pressure and alertness;
  • Jobs requiring alertness, high quality and efficiency such as air control;
  • External environmental threats such as the possibility of industry collapse or competition from rivals that may cause workers to fear for the loss of their jobs;
  • Development of technology which may be perceived by workers as a threat leading to retrenchments or pressure to learn new skills to work with the new technology;
  • Employees’ personal and domestic problems (marital problems, financial problems, sickness or death in the family) which may overflow to the workplace and affect performance;
  • Personality of the worker-type A personality are more prone to stress than type B;
  • Ability of the employee to cope with change;
  • Poor heating systems exposing employees to extreme heat (like those working near a blast furnace) or extreme cold (like those working in refrigerated chambers);
  • Other factors in the physical work environment such as excessive noise, poor ventilation, poor lighting, unclean and unhygienic sanitation facilities, polluted et al. In Kenya, the Occupational Safety and Health Act (2007) has stipulated the measures to be taken by employers in the provision of a safe and healthy environment.   




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