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Beat the Burnout: A Guide to Dealing with Stress at Work

Updated: Dec 23, 2023

Feeling overwhelmed and stressed at work? You're not alone! In today's fast-paced world, it's all too easy to get caught up in the rat race and forget to take a moment for ourselves. But don't worry, we're here to help! In this blog, we're going to explore the world of work stress, its causes and effects, and most importantly, how to manage it in a fun and effective way. So sit back, relax, and let's start de-stressing the workday together!


work-stress-can-impact-on-health-and-wellbeing
Learn to identify and manage work stress.

What is Work Stress?

Simply stated, work stress is a state of physical and emotional exhaustion and tension that occurs when the demands and expectations of work exceed an individual's ability to cope with them.


What are the Signs of Work Stress?

The signs of work stress can vary from person to person, but common symptoms include:


  1. Emotional symptoms: Depression, anxiety, irritability, anger, loss of libido, and so on.

  2. Physical symptoms: Fatigue, headaches, muscle tension, sleep disturbance, and gastrointestinal issues.

  3. Behavioural symptoms: Substance abuse, social withdrawal, decreased job satisfaction, and increased absenteeism.

  4. Cognitive symptoms: Difficulty concentrating, forgetfulness, indecisiveness, and negative self-talk. That's right! It is highly unlikely to be presenile dementia!

  5. Psychological symptoms: Burnout, decreased motivation, and a negative outlook on work, and even life in general.

It's important to remember that everyone reacts to stress differently. What may be a sign of stress for one person may not be for another.


If you are experiencing symptoms of work stress, it's important to seek support from a trusted friend, family member, or mental health professional.


What Causes Work Stress?

Work stress can arise from a variety of sources. Sources of stress like overwhelming workloads, unrealistic expectations and tight deadlines, can contribute to work stress. This can cause employees to feel stressed and burnt out, leading to decreased job satisfaction and work performance. So let's have a closer look at the factors contributing to work stress...


Workplace hazards and poor work conditions that can lead to psychological injury and work stress include:

  1. High workloads and tight deadlines

  2. Long work hours

  3. Excessive work expectations

  4. Job insecurity

  5. Poor management and lack of support from managers and colleagues

  6. Bullying

  7. Work conflict

  8. Lack of resources

  9. Lack of job training

  10. Poor life balance

  11. Unclear job role

  12. Poor communication

  13. Lack of control

  14. Organisational change

  15. Financial Stress

It's important to note that these factors can vary depending on the individual and the specific workplace. Work stress can have serious impacts on employees' mental and physical health, as well as their attendance, job performance, work satisfaction and productivity.


It is important for employers to understand and address the sources of work stress. Employers should identify and address these hazards to promote a healthy and safe work environment and reduce the negative effects of work stress.


Employees should also seek help and support to manage stress and maintain their well-being.


What is Burnout?

Burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by long-term exposure to stressful work conditions. It is characterised by feelings of cynicism and detachment from work, decreased motivation, decreased job satisfaction, and increased emotional exhaustion. Burnout can also lead to physical symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, and decreased immunity.


The causes of burnout can be complex and can vary from person to person. However, common contributors include a high workload, lack of control or autonomy, lack of support from colleagues and supervisors, and an unclear work-life balance. People who experience burnout often feel that their efforts at work are unappreciated and that their personal and professional lives are out of balance.


If left unaddressed, burnout can have serious consequences, including decreased job performance, increased absenteeism, and even health problems. It is important for employees to recognise the signs of burnout and to seek help if they are experiencing it. This may involve talking to a psychologist, making changes to their work schedule or responsibilities, or finding ways to improve their work-life balance.


What is a Toxic Work Environment?

A toxic work environment is a workplace that is harmful to the mental and emotional health of employees. It is characterised by negative and hostile conditions that affect the well-being and productivity of employees. Some common characteristics of a toxic work environment are listed below.


Factors Contributing to Work Stress

Workload and Tight Deadlines

Overwhelming workloads and unrealistic expectations can cause employees to feel stressed and burnout, leading to decreased job satisfaction and work performance. Heavy workloads and tight deadlines, can contribute to work stress in a few ways:


  1. Excessive workload: When an individual is given more tasks than they can handle, it can lead to feeling overwhelmed and increased stress levels.

  2. Deadlines: The pressure of meeting tight deadlines can create stress, especially if the workload is already high or the deadlines are unrealistic.

  3. Burnout: Prolonged exposure to high workloads can lead to burnout, which is characterised by physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion.

Overall, the workload can have a significant impact on a person's stress levels and well-being and it is important to find ways to manage the workload effectively.


Work Hours

Work hours can contribute to work stress in several ways:


  1. Long hours: Prolonged work hours can result in a lack of time for rest, recreation, maintaining a healthy personal life and fulfilling family commitments. We should work to live, not live to work!

  2. Irregular hours: An inconsistent schedule, such as rotating shifts, or on-call work, can disrupt sleep patterns and body clock, cause fatigue, and increase stress levels, as well as contribute to weight gain.

  3. Commuting: A long or difficult commute can add to the stress of work hours, especially if it is combined with a demanding job and long hours.

Overall, work hours play a significant role in shaping a person's experience at work and can have a significant impact on their stress levels and well-being. It is important to find ways to manage work hours effectively to maintain a healthy work-life balance.


Work Expectations

Expectations can contribute to workplace stress in several ways:


  1. High expectations: When expectations are set too high, it can increase stress levels and lead to feelings of pressure and fear of disappointing others, or even failing.

  2. Unrealistic expectations: Unrealistic expectations can create stress, especially if they are consistently not met. One can develop learned helplessness (ie., 'I always fail so why try? I might as well give up!').

  3. Unclear expectations: When expectations are not clearly defined, it can cause confusion and stress as individuals try to meet the demands of their job.

  4. Changing expectations: When expectations are frequently altered, it can make it difficult for individuals to prioritise and manage their workload.

  5. Self-imposed expectations: Individuals may also experience stress from their own high standards and expectations, which may be at odds with the expectations of others. This is especially true if you are overly conscientious, or even worse, a 'perfectionist'! Often 90% is good enough to get the job done rather than 150% which is overkill!

Overall, expectations play a crucial role in shaping an individual's experience at work and can have a significant impact on their stress levels and well-being. It is important to have clear and realistic expectations in the workplace and to find ways to manage expectations effectively.


Job Security

A lack of lack of job security and job uncertainty can contribute to anxiety in several ways:


  1. Fear of job loss: The fear of losing a job due to downsizing, automation, or other factors can cause significant stress and anxiety.

  2. Financial insecurity: Job insecurity can lead to financial stress and uncertainty, which can contribute to anxiety. 'How will I pay the mortgage and support my family?'

  3. Loss of identity: A job can provide a sense of identity and purpose. The loss of a job can cause stress and anxiety related to losing your sense of self, or meaning and purpose in life.

  4. Difficulty finding new employment: The fear of not being able to find new employment can cause anxiety, especially if the job market is competitive.

  5. Uncertain future: Job insecurity can cause stress and anxiety about the future and make it difficult to plan for the future.

Overall, job security is a significant factor in determining an individual's well-being and can have a major impact on their stress levels and anxiety. Maintaining job security is important for maintaining mental health and well-being.


Bad Boss

Oh! The bad boss! People are often promoted on their technical skill. When they become managers they often do not get appropriate training. They flounder in their positions without management skills trying to achieve outcomes which require them to lead and influence people. Unfortunately, some get it very wrong. Poor management and lack of support from superiors and colleagues can contribute to workplace stress in several ways:

  1. Micromanagement: Overbearing or intrusive management styles can create stress and feelings of inadequacy. It undermines your self-worth and is counterproductive. Believe me, I know! I once worked for a crazy boss for whom nothing was ever good enough!

  2. Lack of support: A lack of support from co-workers or superiors can cause employees to feel isolated and demotivated. A lack of guidance from a boss can also make it difficult for employees to perform their job and contributes to stress.

  3. Hostile or aggressive behaviour: A boss who engages in bullying, harassment, or other forms of hostile behaviour can create a toxic work environment and increase stress levels.

  4. Divide and conquer management: Hard to believe, but some managers somehow think that you divide and conquer teams to maintain control. A very poor management style! It is divisive and creates a negative work environment. Chronic conflict and negativity between employees or with management can create a toxic work environment.

  5. Unfair treatment: When employees are treated unfairly, such as being overlooked for promotions or receiving unequal treatment compared to their peers, it can create stress and feelings of injustice.

  6. Lack of communication: Poor communication from a boss, such as failing to provide clear direction or ignoring concerns, can increase stress levels.

Overall, a bad boss can have a significant impact on an individual's experience at work and contribute to high levels of stress and anxiety. It is important to address any negative behaviours from a boss in order to maintain a healthy and supportive work environment.


Bullying

Unfair treatment, including favouritism, discrimination, or unequal treatment of employees can create a toxic work environment. Harassment and bullying include verbal or physical abuse from co-workers or superiors. All of these factors can create a hostile and intimidating work environment that can cause significant stress and trauma, leading to decreased job satisfaction and mental health.


Bullying in the workplace can contribute to work stress in several ways:


  1. Psychological impact: Being bullied can have a significant psychological impact, causing feelings of fear, anxiety, depression and low self-esteem.

  2. Isolation: Being bullied can lead to feelings of isolation, making it difficult for individuals to form positive relationships with their colleagues, contributing to stress.

  3. Power imbalance: Bullying often involves a power imbalance, with the bully having more authority or control, which can create stress, anxiety, fear, feelings of vulnerability and disempowerment.

  4. Health effects: Chronic stress caused by bullying can have a negative impact on physical and mental health, exacerbating symptoms such as headaches, digestive problems, and depression.

  5. Loss of job satisfaction: Being bullied can lead to a loss of job satisfaction, making it difficult for individuals to find fulfilment and enjoyment in their work.

Overall, bullying in the workplace is a serious issue that can have a significant impact on an individual's well-being and contribute to high levels of stress and anxiety. It is important to address and prevent bullying in the workplace in order to create a safe and supportive work environment.


Work Conflict

Conflicts with co-workers or superiors can contribute to stress in several ways:


  1. Psychological impact: Workplace conflicts can have a significant psychological impact, causing feelings of anger, frustration, and anxiety.

  2. Decreased job satisfaction: Conflicts can lead to a decrease in job satisfaction and make it difficult for individuals to find fulfilment and enjoyment in their work.

  3. Distracted focus: Conflicts can be distracting and make it difficult for employees to focus on their work.

  4. Decreased productivity: Conflicts can also decrease productivity as employees are preoccupied with avoiding or resolving the conflict rather than focusing on their work.

  5. Long-term effects: Chronic conflict in the workplace can have long-term effects, also potentially leading to burnout.

Overall, conflicts in the workplace can have a significant impact on an individual's experience at work and contribute to high levels of stress and anxiety. It is important to address conflicts effectively in order to maintain a healthy and supportive work environment.


Poor Resources

Limited or insufficient resources in the workplace can contribute to job stress in several ways:


  1. Increased workload: When resources are limited or unsuitable, employees may have to work longer hours or take on additional responsibilities.

  2. Lack of efficiency: Insufficient resources can also reduce efficiency and make it difficult for employees to complete their work in a timely manner.

  3. Increased pressure: Limited resources can increase pressure on employees to perform and meet expectations.

  4. Inadequate equipment: Insufficient equipment or technology can make it difficult for employees to perform their job efficiently and to the best of their ability.

  5. Decreased job satisfaction: When resources are limited, employees may feel that their work is not valued or that they are not being provided with the tools they need to succeed, leading to decreased job satisfaction.

Overall, sufficient resources are essential for employee well-being and can help reduce stress levels in the workplace. Limited or insufficient resources can have a significant impact on an individual's experience at work and contribute to high levels of stress and anxiety.


Job Training

Job training can impact work stress in a number of ways:


  1. Lacking skills: Insufficient or inadequate job training can contribute to stress by leaving employees feeling unprepared and unable to perform their job to the best of their ability. This can lead to feelings of frustration and a lack of confidence, which can exacerbate stress levels.

  2. Increased pressure: Job training can also add to an employee's workload, if not managed appropriately. This can increase pressure on employees to perform and meet expectations, leading to increased stress levels.

Overall, adequate job training is essential for employee well-being and can help reduce stress levels in the workplace. Insufficient or inadequate job training can have a significant impact on an individual's experience at work and contribute to high levels of stress and anxiety.


Life Balance

Poor life balance can have a negative impact on job stress by:


  1. Increased stress levels: When employees are not able to maintain a balance between work and personal life, they may experience increased stress levels as they struggle to keep up with their responsibilities in both areas.

  2. Burnout: Poor life balance can lead to burnout, as employees are constantly feeling overwhelmed and exhausted from the demands of work and personal life.

  3. Decreased job satisfaction: When employees are unable to achieve a balance between work and personal life, they may experience decreased job satisfaction and a feeling of dissatisfaction with their careers.

  4. Decreased well-being: Poor life balance can also have a negative impact on physical and mental well-being, as employees may experience increased stress and anxiety and a decreased sense of overall health and happiness.

  5. Decreased work performance: Poor life balance can also lead to decreased work performance, as employees may struggle to focus and be productive in their work due to stress and burnout.

Overall, poor life balance can have a significant impact on job stress and can lead to decreased well-being and job performance. Maintaining a balance between work and personal life is crucial for reducing the negative effects of job stress and promoting physical and mental well-being.


Job Role

Role ambiguity arises when our job roles are not clearly defined and we become confused about job responsibilities and expectations. This can lead to increased stress levels, frustration, and decreased job satisfaction and performance.


Job role and lack of role clarity can contribute to work stress in several ways:


  1. Role ambiguity: When employees are not clear on their job responsibilities or expectations, they may experience increased stress as they struggle to meet these expectations or understand their role within the organisation. It can also lead to conflict in the workplace as employees are not clear about each other's responsibilities.

  2. Confusion and frustration: Confusion about job responsibilities and expectations can also lead to frustration, as employees may feel that they are not able to perform their job to the best of their ability. They may even take on work that is not their responsibility, or fail to complete work that is, not knowing they are responsible for it.

  3. Decreased job satisfaction: Lack of role clarity can also lead to decreased job satisfaction, as employees may feel that they are not valued or appreciated for their contributions to the organisation.

  4. Decreased work performance: When employees are not clear about their roles and responsibilities, they may struggle to focus and be productive in their work, leading to decreased work performance and increased stress levels.

When employees are not clear on their job role and responsibilities, it can lead to increased stress levels, confusion, and decreased job satisfaction and performance.


Overall, a clear job role and well-defined responsibilities are important for reducing work stress and promoting job satisfaction and work performance.


Poor Communication

Lack of clear communication between employees and superiors can lead to confusion and frustration. Poor communication, or at least a lack of clear communication between employees and superiors, can cause confusion and increase stress levels, leading to decreased job satisfaction and work performance.


Lack of Control

Lack of control, autonomy, choice, and decision-making power over work tasks or schedules can cause employees to feel frustrated and powerless. They may feel that they are simply carrying out orders and have no opportunity to use their skills and creativity. It can make employees feel that their contributions are not valued, and that their opinions and ideas do not matter. They have no ownership of their work and therefore may have more limited investment in it. This can lead to feelings of frustration and disillusionment, which can contribute to work stress, decreased job satisfaction and burnout.


In conclusion, lack of control, autonomy, choice, and decision-making power is a major contributor to work stress and it is important for employers to provide employees with opportunities for autonomy, choice, and decision-making power in order to foster a positive and supportive work environment.


Organisational Change

Organisational change, such as downsizing, restructuring, or changes in management, can cause work stress for a number of reasons:


  1. Uncertainty: Change often brings with it a sense of uncertainty, as employees may not know what the future holds for them or their job. This uncertainty can cause employees to feel anxious and stressed.

  2. Loss of job security: Downsizing, restructuring, or changes in management can lead to job losses, which can cause employees to feel anxious about their job security and financial stability.

  3. Increased workload: Changes in the organisation may result in an increased workload for some employees, as they may need to take on additional responsibilities or work longer hours. This can lead to burnout and decreased job satisfaction.

  4. Change fatigue: Too much change can lead to what is sometimes referred to as "change fatigue," in which employees become overwhelmed by the constant changes and transitions. This can cause stress and decrease employee engagement.

  5. Resistance to change: Some employees may resist changes in the organisation, as they may feel that the changes are not necessary or will have a negative impact on their work. This resistance can cause conflict and stress within the workplace.

Organisational change can be a major source of stress for employees. It is important for employers to effectively manage and communicate changes. This includes providing the appropriate support and resources to help employees cope with change. It is also important to address any concerns and resistance to change in order to minimise its impact on work stress.


Financial Stress

Financial stress can cause workplace stress in several ways:


  1. Distraction: Worries about financial problems can be a major source of distraction, affecting an employee's ability to focus on work tasks.

  2. Decreased job performance: Financial stress can lead to decreased work performance, as employees may struggle to concentrate or be productive in their work.

  3. Decreased job satisfaction: Financial stress can also lead to decreased job satisfaction, as employees may feel that they are not valued or appreciated for their contributions to the organisation.

  4. Increased absenteeism: Financial stress can lead to increased absenteeism, as employees may need to take time off work to deal with financial problems.

  5. Physical health problems: Financial stress can also lead to physical health problems, such as headaches, sleep problems, and decreased immune function.

Overall, financial stress can have a significant impact on work stress and work performance. It is important for employers to understand and support employees who may be struggling with financial problems, and to offer resources and support to help employees manage financial stress and maintain their well-being.


WHERE DO YOU GET HELP WITH WORKPLACE STRESS?

If you are experiencing work stress, there are several sources of help that you can consider:


  1. Employee Assistance Program (EAP): Many organisations offer an EAP, which provides confidential support and resources for employees facing personal or work-related problems. EAPs often employ counsellors who are not registered psychologists and are, therefore, not bound by the same strict regulatory government oversight, training requirements and ethical conduct.

  2. Mental health professionals: Talking to a mental health professional, such as a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist, can help you manage stress and improve your overall well-being. It is best to check the person you see is a registered health professional with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA).

  3. Support groups: Joining a support group, either online or in-person, can provide a safe and supportive environment to share experiences and receive support from others who may be facing similar challenges.

  4. Employee union or human resource department: If you feel that your work stress is related to workplace conditions or practices, you may want to consider reaching out to your employee union or human resource department for support and guidance.

  5. Self-care practices: Incorporating self-care practices, such as exercise, mindfulness, and good sleep habits, into your daily routine can help reduce stress and improve your overall well-being.

It is important to reach out for help and support if you are experiencing work stress, as it can have serious impacts on your mental and physical health. The above resources can provide guidance and support to help you manage stress and maintain your well-being.


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The information provided on this website is for informational purposes only. Prior to making any decisions, we recommend consulting your treating doctor, health professionals, and legal representatives. This is particularly important if you have health concerns, existing mental health or medical conditions, or if you feel you are not coping.


(c) 2023 Dean Harrison

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