Stress, which is essentially a physiological response to a disturbance in our equilibrium or homeostasis could be viewed as essential and good (eustress) when in occurs in levels that we can cope with easily and harmful when it occurs in excess (distress).
In this context, our engagement at workplace is a mixed bag and therefore, the understanding of workplace stress may vary. There are some aspects of work that could help us put in our best, provide us a cognitive and emotional treat while there could be other aspects which could be the source of distress or bad stress.
Stress doesn’t exist in the environment or in the individual. Instead, it exists in the interaction of the two, led by the cognitive appraisal of the events by the individual. When commuting through traffic, the noise doesn’t consist of stress. Traffic noise could be stressful for the individual who may either not be used to it or is overly aware of the traffic. It may be less stressful for someone who may be either habitual of the noise or is less concerned of the same.
Impact of an event or environment on a person varies based on the subjective interpretation of the event by the individual (cognitive appraisal) and the coping ability that they may have.
When we face a stressful situation at workplace, like say meeting scheduling a mid-year review with an unfriendly manager, the effect of the event will depend on our cognitive appraisal of the situation. In this case, there is a primary appraisal, which is our perception of the event. This may be positive (oh it’s time to get an extra bonus!) or negative (oh! I would have to justify all the errors and delays in my work) or may just be neutral. Our perception of the consequences of an event is what psychologists define as primary appraisal.
Secondary appraisal, on the other hand, is our perception of how well we can cope with the event. It refers to our confidence in our own abilities and coping strategies. These two forms of appraisal determine our emotional, cognitive and physiological response to an event. They together make an event eustress or distress! A person who is confident of the work they have put in and their ability to deal with different personalities, may not feel distressed by the same event – say, of having to get into a mid-year performance review conversation. Everyone has a different level of threshold stress that they can cope with confidently and predictably. Stress response is an individual characteristic.
Here are the top two contributors of workplace stress:
- Time stress – Workplaces are ridden with deadlines and schedules that invariably are the most common reason for stress. Because time is seen as money, and when multiple people work together, time commitments directly influence relationships, mastering one’s time is one of the most important skills to learn. By proactively planning, organizing and prioritizing work, one may remove the sense of urgency from their daily tasks. The key to reducing time related stress is in prioritizing and proactiveness.
- Relationship Stress – Because workplace is an outcome of people working together, the quality and richness of relationships is an important factor for success. Our relationships with various stakeholders – managers, leaders, sub ordinates, peers and partners may lead to stress. People are driven differently, have different emotional needs and behavioural preferences. By learning to deal with different personalities and accepting that not every relationship needs to be a close relationship, we can reduce relationship related workplace stress.
Finally, stress is our response to a situation and not the situation itself. By developing habits, skills and coping strategies for common sources of stress at workplace, we can experience a less stressful and healthy workplace!