Occupational stress has long become one of the major reasons for employees’ health problems. Different organizations try to create a positive working atmosphere and, therefore, healthy working environment. However, it is not always that employees’ health is regarded as more important than company’s profits. A number of factors make any work stressful, but it is excessive stress that is most harmful. Workplace stress is a result of challenges related to work content and work context; if these challenges grow into pressure and become excessive, organizations dealing with emotional labour put the health of their employees in danger, which can lead to behavioural, psychological, and medical disorders, and thus disrupt the working process.
To begin with, employees face a number of challenges at work, which is often stressful and harmful for their health. A healthy working environment is about having a balance between employees’ abilities and resources available to them; moreover, support on the part of supervisors and the exact quantity of work required, are also important factors when it comes to a healthy working environment. However, it is not always enough to only take into account these factors; organizational strategies should be aimed at not only sustaining a healthy working environment, but also at promoting it. This, above all, presupposes minimising work-related stress. Workplace stress is an integral part of the working process, irrespective of the size of organisation (small, medium, or large), but it can be easily dealt with if there is a proper amount of support on the part of supervisors and relevant control over the work process.
At this stage, it is necessary to differentiate between workplace stress and workplace challenge. Challenge, or pressure, at work is difficult to avoid in any environment because working standards have significantly risen over the past years. Apart from huge amounts of work, short deadlines, and numerous responsibilities, employees in well-established organisations also encounter competition from other personnel. This means that, unlike stress, workplace challenges can sometimes even be useful for employees because they motivate them to learn more and work better. However, when these challenges are excessive, they can be difficult to manage and can grow into stress. Stress is harmful for employees’ health and for the health of the organisation in general. Stress occurs when the demands that are being placed upon a person tax or exceed available resources as appraised by the individual involved. Despite being trained on how to manage stress, the majority of employees, as a rule, forget this knowledge in stressful situations. Frequent encounters with such situations can lead to the decline in work efficiency, lack of will to cooperate, negative behaviour, and depreciation of an organisation. Therefore, any organisation that promotes a healthy working environment should be able to draw a distinct line between challenge and pressure in the workplace.
With regards to this, challenges in the workplace can be divided into two main categories. The first category includes challenges related to work content. Among these, there are challenges connected with the specifics of a job. Monotonous jobs, at which employees have to perform meaningless tasks, can be stressful for those people who expect diversity from their work. In addition, work pace can also be stressful; working on a tight schedule can be pressing and can lead to nervous tension amongst employees. Inflexibility of working hours can be a challenge for some employees; the same concerns inadequately designed working shifts (too long or unpredictable). Finally, too much or too little control over an employees’ performance is also a contributing factor. Therefore, lack of control is less dangerous for employees’ health but more harmful for their job satisfaction: “Employees with high control see […] demands as challenges to overcome rather than threats” (Spector, 2002, p. 135). However, much depends on whether this control is simply high or excessive. The second category includes challenges related to work context. These involve everything concerning the functions of an employee within an organisation: payment, status, role expectations, relationships with colleagues, career opportunities, ability to balance between work and career, etc.: “Stress levels increase if role expectations are confusing, ambiguous or conflicting. […] Because expectations at work often conflict with expectations at home, work-family conflict often stimulates a stress response” (Hargrove, Quick, Nelson, & Quick, 2011, p. 183). Therefore, the inability to cope with some of these functions can be stressful for employees.
Namely, these functions and roles are most often associated with the concept of occupational stress. Taking into account how stress emerges and what it involves, occupational stress can be defined as conditions of the workplace that provoke negative emotional responses in employees and can lead to their health problems and counterproductive behavior (Spector, 2002). Employees dealing with physical labour are less subject to such negative consequences than the ones involved in emotional labour. Physical labour is, without any doubt, exhaustive, but it rarely has negative psychological consequences. There are people involved in emotional labour who can develop a range of disorders because of excessive occupational stress. Firstly, excessive stress can lead to negative behavioural consequences for employees. This category of consequences includes eating disorders, as well as substance and alcohol abuse (Hargrove et al., 2011). Alcohol abuse is a common problem for people overwhelmed with emotional labour; when such factors as excessive stress are involved, this problem is even more frequently met. The same concerns eating disorders. These can include either consuming too much food or ignoring it altogether: “Individuals who cope with distress with dysfunctional eating behaviors may develop follow-on medical conditions of anorexia, bulimia or, more commonly, obesity” (Hargrove et al., 2011, p. 186). Also, one of the most predictable behavioural consequences of excessive stress in emotional labour is violence at work and at home.
Another group comprises psychological consequences that are no less rare than behavioural ones. One of these consequences is worker burnout. This syndrome is a common response to excessive stress and involves such ramifications as the “deterioration of both mental and physical health, deterioration of social and family relationships, decreased job performance, increased intention to leave, absenteeism, and turnover” (Mikolajczak, Menil, & Luminet, 2007, p. 1108). In other words, an employee becomes too exhausted and loses his/her interest in work. Other psychological consequences include sleeping disorders, insomnia, as well as anxiety disorders and depression. Altogether, behavioural and psychological consequences may lead to such medical outcomes as heart disease, headaches, back pain, and a range of gastrointestinal illnesses. In this way, excessive occupational stress is hazardous for employees involved in emotional labour.
In result section, it is difficult for some organisations to draw a distinct line between workplace stress and workplace challenge. Workplace stress is most often a result of high demands on employees that do not match their abilities and resources. Therefore, occupational stress in emotional labour is more frequently met than in physical labour. The, consequences of excessive stress in emotional labour are numerous. They include behavioural problems (alcohol and substance abuse, as well as violence), psychological consequences (burnout, sleeping disorders, depression, etc.), and medical problems (chronic diseases and headaches). This shows that minimising workplace stress can lead to a better and sustained performance of employees; this should be taken into account when designing stress management strategies for an organisation.
Tags:Health & Environment General
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