Workplace stress influences performance at work and behavior at home as well as both mental and physical health. Awareness has been on the rise in recent months. Researchers have looked at the specific stressors of specific vocations (ranging from surgeons to teachers), as well as specific logistical factors of a workplace that may put employees at risk for high stress and mental health issues. Many of the factors that increase workplace stress are fairly intuitive: long hours, high levels of competition, and threat of layoff to name a few. Likewise, initiatives such as work-sponsored stress counselors have proven to help alleviate some of these psychological burdens. But what about factors that are harder to quantify: how do we identify additional causes of psychological burden, and then what do we do to help?
One such burden is responsibility, which is often seen as a good thing; most of the time, it is. Having responsibilities increases feelings of self-worth and value to the company, and can provide a sense of accomplishment when goals are met. But responsibility can also be stressful, especially when the well-being of others’ is directly tied to one’s own duties. So it’s not just the top-level executives who feel the weight of responsibility: warehouse supervisors are just as likely to carry this burden. A study from Canada’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) finds that the more invested a person is in their job, and the more responsible they are, the higher their stress. This alone is enough to justify the expense of work-based stress counseling services and the inclusion of mental health coverage in employee health plans. After all, from a business perspective, having your most conscientious, invested, and responsible employees at the greatest risk for burnout is not good.
It’s not just psychological risk factors like “investment” and “sense of responsibility” that are hard to quantify. Some of the positive psychological factors of a workplace are equally difficult to pin down. Autonomy is a great example. Workers who feel free to make their own choices at work are consistently happier and more productive. But “autonomy” looks different in different professions and pay scales, and even varies from culture to culture. These ambiguities are important to keep in mind when assessing workplace culture, and can be part of a well-balanced program to support both mental and physical health at all levels of a company.
© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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