Workplaces can be competitive and high-pressure environments. Even if you love what you do, the sense of responsibility can mount up over time. Dealing with people, having to complete tasks on a schedule, and performing to a specific level can wear you down over time. Work stress is a huge problem these days, and one that is becoming more and more of an issue as the nature of the jobs we do changes.
Workers are Stressed Worldwide
Stress affects workers all over the world. Japan is widely considered to be one of the places in the world where stress in the workplace is particularly common. The workplace culture in Japan is quite reserved and Japanese workers tend to suppress their expression of emotions, including positive feelings. This means that they are more likely to become distressed.1 When this is combined with a culture that prizes hard work and sees extensive overtime as a positive thing, it is easy to understand why stress, psychiatric disorders, ill health, and even suicides are commonplace.
Workplace stress is so common in Japan that in 2015 the government started a mental health initiative called the Stress Check Program, which is intended to prevent suicide and psychiatric illness in workers in Japan.2 Since it’s still relatively new, there is limited information about how effective it is. Researchers are watching its progress over the next couple of years to see if it does improve worker mental health, because to date, the idea of a legally backed Stress Check program is something that is only being tracked in Japan. If successful, then other countries may consider applying similar ideas. Japan may have a reputation for having stressful schools and workplaces, but the government is aware of the issue and is working to improve the quality of life for the citizens of the country.
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While Japan is the place that most people think of as being a high-stress country, stress at work is common worldwide. According to a report from Udemy, more than half of all full-time workers in America feel that they are more stressed now than they were a year ago.3 Sources of stress include feeling pressure to learn new skills, fear that technology may take away their jobs, and the struggles of workplace politics.
Europe is widely considered to be a place where the working quality of life is better than in the U.S. or Japan, but that doesn’t mean that European countries are immune to stress. Work-related stress in Sweden, for example, saw a surge at the start of the millennium but has declined again since then.4 Sweden has a comparatively short working week, and also has more union density than many other countries, which means that, in general, workers enjoy better conditions than in other parts of the world.
The Job You Do Matters
The Health and Safety Executive in the UK published a report into workplace stress5 and found that the most common causes of stress were
- Lack of support in the workplace
- Violence and bullying
- Changes to the job or working environment
The industries that were the most stressful were:
- Health and social care
- Public administration and defense
One common thread within those industries is that they may struggle with a lack of funding and low human resources, in the UK at least. The UK’s National Health Service provides health care that is free at the point of access, but there is a skills shortage in the healthcare industry. Education is also stretched with a shortage of classroom assistants and teachers having to work with increasingly large class sizes, across all age groups.
Several other industries are not immune to stress. One recent study in the United States that looked at individual jobs, rather than sectors, found that the top ten most stressful jobs in the U.S. are:
- Airline pilot
- Police officer
- Event coordinator
- Public Relations
- Corporate executive
- Taxi driver
The first two jobs on the list had job stress scores at over 70 out of 100, far above the others on the list. It’s easy to understand when lives are on the line, a job can be stressful, which applies to pilots and police officers.6
Of the other jobs, most involve being in the public eye and facing a lot of scrutiny. Taxi drivers, meanwhile, face unpredictable workloads and deal with the public on a constant basis, which can make the job quite difficult.
Your Company Matters Too
It makes sense that some high-stakes jobs are more stressful than others. What many people don’t realize, though, is how much impact the company you work for can have on your well-being. The bigger the company, the more stressed employees are. Women tend to be more stressed in the workplace than men, and older men tend to report more stress than younger men.
This could be due to the fact that in bigger companies, individual employees may be more likely to feel isolated and powerless. In a small company, every employee feels like their contribution is recognized and makes a difference, which has a huge impact on morale and well-being.
Dealing With Stress at Work
No matter your job, you’re likely to experience stress at some point. It’s normal to feel pressure to perform if a deadline is looming, and you may feel stress if your company is restructuring and you’re not sure what that will mean for your job. The challenge comes when stress becomes chronic because it can cause physiological changes and can even contribute to depression and anxiety disorders. Uncontrolled stress is bad for your health in numerous ways.
That’s why it’s so important to find ways to manage your stress, whether that’s something that you do by yourself, or you work with your company to find ways to reduce the stress. Some useful coping mechanisms, as suggested by the American Psychological Association, include:7
Identify your triggers: Keep a diary for a couple of weeks, until you figure out what situations create the most stress, and how you tend to respond to those triggers. Identify what is making you feel stressed and whether your response to that stress is healthy.
Find better responses: If you are responding poorly to stress, then note what you are doing that you could do better, and find ways to improve your responses. If your response to a bad day at work is to get drunk, replace that drinking with going for a run instead. You will feel better by releasing endorphins that come with exercise.
Set boundaries for yourself: It’s easy to end up feeling under pressure to be constantly reachable, which is unhealthy and it makes it more difficult to decompress after work. Set yourself some boundaries. Tell yourself not to check your email when you ’re home, or don’t answer the phone during your lunch break. Make use of your out of office settings so that you can actually forget about work while you are on vacation.
Consider a career change: People who work outdoors or work with their hands often report feeling lower levels of stress compared to people who are stuck in front of the computer all day. A career change isn’t suitable for everyone, but some people do find that they hate the job that they are in. The challenges and stresses of the job can take you by surprise. If you’re unhappy in the job you’re in, consider whether you have a skill that could lead you to a more relaxing and fulfilling form of employment.
Stress happens to everyone at some point. Sometimes the cause of stress is something that is easily remedied and that could be handled simply by talking to your employer. Perhaps you are struggling in your job and some training would help you. Perhaps new tools could make your job easier, or you need an assistant. Alternatively, it could be that setting ground rules for customers, or changing a step in your workflow, could take away one of the difficult aspects of the job. Don’t be scared to talk to your employer. Your physical and mental health come first and any good employer will understand that happy, healthy employees are worth more to the company than ones on sick leave.