What is work Stress?

Stress is an essential part of work life. Certain businesses are more exposed to stress than others. A recent study by ASSOCHAM revealed that construction, shipping, banks, trading houses, electronic and print media, courier companies, small units, retail outlets, card franchise, companies and government hospitals carry higher stress potential. Of course, BPO, call centers and IT companies top the chart of stress prone businesses.

Stress is an individual’s response to a disturbing factor in the environment and the consequence of such reaction. Stress obviously involves interaction of the person and the environment. To quote a definition: stress is an adaptive response to an external situation that results in physical, psychological and/ or behavioral deviations for organizational participants. The physical or psychological demands from the environment that cause stress are called stressors. They create stress or the potential for stress when an individual perceives them as representing a demand that may exceed that respond.

Stress can manifest itself in both a positive and a negative way. Stress is said to be positive when the situation offers an opportunity for one to gain something. Eustress is the term used to describe positive stress. Eustress is often viewed as a motivators since in its absence the individual lacks that ‘edge’ necessary for peak performance. It is negative when stress is associated with heart-diseases, alcoholism, drug abuse, marital breakdown, absenteeism, child abuse and a host of other social, physical, organizational and emotional problems.

Stress is associated with constraints and demands. The former prevents an individual from doing what he or she desires. The latter refers to the loss of something desired.

Constraints and demands can lead to potential stress. When they are coupled with uncertainly of the outcome and importance regarding the outcome, potential stress becomes actual stress. Stress is high when there is uncertainty of outcome and the outcome is significant.

What is not Stress:  To make the meaning of stress more clear, it is useful to state what does not constitute stress. Each of the following does not amount to stress:

Stress is not simple anxiety or nervous tension. These symptoms do not constitute stress. People exhibiting these behavior may not be under any stress. Similarly, individuals who are under stress may not exhibit anxiety or nervous tension.

Stress need not always be damaging : people frequently stress without any strain at all. Daily activities of life may be stressful, but not always harmful.

Stress is not always due to overwork : stressed-out individuals are not always those who are overworked. Stress may also result having too little to do. Stress cannot be avoided. It is necessary to realize that stress is an inevitable part of life and that it cannot be avoided. What can, however be avoided are the negative reactions to stress.

The body has a limited capacity to respond. Stress is the body’s response mechanism. The body has only limited capacity to respond to stressor. The workplace makes a variety of demands on people and too much stress over too long a period of time exhaust the ability to cope with the stressors.

The stress experience : Not all individuals experience stress with the same intensity. Some people over react to stressors and get highly stressed. Others have the stamina, and composure to cope with any stressors. How an individual experiences stress depends on:

  • The person’s perception of the situation.
  • The person’s past experience.
  • The presence or absence of social support.
  • Individual differences with regard to stress reactions.

Perception: perception refers to a psychological process whereby a person selects and organizes stimuli into a concept of reality. Employee’s perception of as situation can influence whether or not they experience stress. A simple transfer from one place to another may be perceived by one employee as an opportunity to see new places and learn new things. The same transfer may be understand by another employee as extremely threatening and indicating unhappiness of the management with his/her performance.

Past Experience: Whether a person experiences stress or not depends on his/her past experience with a similar stressor. Writing anonymous letters against the boss or giving leads to the press and getting false stories published against the boss are common among disgruntled employees. Over a period of time, the boss will get used to such allegations, though initially he/she undergoes stress.

The relationship between experience and stress is also based reinforcement. Positive reinforcement or previous success in a similar situation can reduce the level of stress that a person experiences under certain circumstances; punishment or past failure under similar conditions can increase stress under the same circumstances.

Social Support: The presence or absence of other people influences how individuals in the workplace experiences stress and respond to stressor. The [presence of co-workers may increase an individual’s confidence, allowing the person to cope more effectively with stress. For example, working alongside someone who performs confidently and competently in a stressful situation may help an employee behave in a similar way. Conversely, the presence of follow workers may irritate some people or make them anxious, reducing their ability to cope with stress.

Individual Differences: Individual differences in motivation, attitudes, personality and ability also influence whether employees experience work stress and if they do, how they respond to it. What one person considers a major source of stress, another may hardly notice. Personality characteristics, in particular, may explain some differences in the way employees experience and respond to stress. Type A individuals, for example, tend to experience more stress than Type B personalities.

Personality Type: in respect of personality two concepts- Type A personality and Type B personality- are relevant in this context.

Type A Personality is stress-prone and is associated with the following behavioral patterns:

  • Always moves, walks and eats rapidly.
  • Feels impatient with the pace of things, hurries others, dislikes waiting.
  • Does several things at a time.
  • Feels guilty when relaxing.
  • Tries to schedule more and more in less and less time.
  • Uses nervous gestures such as clenched first and banging the hand on the table.

Type B Personality, on the other hand, is less stress-prone. Following are the typical characteristics of Type-B personality:

  • Is not concerned about time.
  • Is patient.
  • Does not brag.
  • Plays for fun, not to win.
  • Relaxes without feelings ability.
  • Has no pressing deadlines.
  • Is mind-mannered.
  • Is never in a hurry.

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