If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed or stressed at work, you're not alone. Stress is a very common issue in the workplace and affects, not only our productivity and motivation, but our mental and physical wellbeing as well.
The way many of us have been working just isn’t working any more, and employers are experiencing higher and higher levels of stress and burnout within their teams. Without proper understanding and management, these negative impacts can extend further.
Understanding the physical effects:
The most common physical manifestations of stress are tension headaches or migraines, as the body's fight or flight stress response triggers the release of chemicals that narrow the blood vessels in our brains. These headaches can make it difficult to work effectively, as the pain disrupts our ability to focus and complete tasks efficiently.
Your body also tends to tense up under stress, which can lead to muscle tension and pain, making it harder to maintain working postures or use your work equipment effectively.
Stress is also closely linked to our sleep and can often cause sleep disturbances or insomnia. Difficulty falling or staying asleep and poor sleep quality can undermine energy levels and cognitive function during the day.
Lastly, the body's natural response to stress is the release of hormones that increase heart rate and blood pressure. If not managed properly, this can lead to a range of physical health issues such as heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure.
Understanding the mental and emotional effects:
When stressed, your motivation and ability to focus can be significantly lower. This makes tasks and behaviours that would normally be simple, such as concentrating or decision making, much more difficult. The resulting feelings of frustration, anxiety and overwhelm then make it even harder to stay on task and complete work to your usual standard.
There is also an impact on memory and cognitive function. When under stress, the body releases cortisol, which interferes with the consolidation of memories and makes it harder to recall information. This can lead to forgetfulness and “silly” mistakes, which in turn impair work performance and productivity.
Eventually, prolonged stress can lead to burnout - a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion which inevitably means reduced productivity and job satisfaction. In fact, burnout is a primary cause of stress-related on-the-job injuries, illness and absenteeism. It is therefore essential that employers take steps to address it in their workplace as soon as they spot any warning signs.
Stress & Ergonomics
Whilst it might not always be the first thing we think of, the ergonomics of our work setup can have implications for our stress levels. Creating a comfortable and safe working environment for each individual can help to reduce the physical and mental strains that lead to work-related stress.
For example, properly fitting (and correctly set-up) chairs and desks will limit muscle tension and pain, adjustable monitor stands and appropriate lighting help minimise eye strain and headaches, and improved workplace acoustics can create a calmer and more focused work environment.
Considering ergonomics in workspace design can serve to boost wellbeing and reduce anxiety within teams. This can be done by creating, for example, inviting break-out spaces for collaborative tasks or quieter pods for focused work and bringing in elements of biophilic design – more plants, natural materials and daylight.
Learn how to manage your stress and energy
If you are interested in learning more about dealing with workplace stress, we have a 3-part webinar series to coincide with Stress Awareness Month in April and Mental Health Awareness Week in May.
This free series will cover Personal Energy Management, Developing Personal Resilience and Stress Management. The first instalment, led by Robert Manson, (formerly of GSK, Morrisons and RWE) will be held on Wednesday, April 19th at 10am.To find out more, or register, click here.