Are you overwhelmed by workplace stress? You are not alone. For most us, the workplace is ever changing and a major source of daily stress. Economic upheavals, downsizing, layoff worries, mergers, and bankruptcies have cost hundreds of thousands of workers their jobs while millions more wonder how long they will be employed. The economic and personal health effects of workplace stress are at epidemic levels, making it one of the most important health challenges of the 21st century.

The nature of work today is changing at whirlwind speed. Rapidly changing technology, national and international economic pressures, shifting demographics, and global environmental concerns make the nature of work an evolving process—one that requires workers to constantly keep up or risk failing or being replaced.

Job stress or work-related stress is the harmful physical and emotional response that occurs when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources, or needs of the worker, leading to poor health and possibly injuries.

While some workplace stress is normal, excessive stress can interfere with productivity and impact an individual’s physical and emotional health. Those suffering from job stress may experience many different symptoms including the following:

  • Muscle aches
  • Grinding teeth
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety, jitteriness, and nervousness
  • Aggressive, territorial, and/or reckless behavior
  • Rigidity and inflexibility in the face of change
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms (indigestion, ulcers, increased gastric acid, constipation, diarrhea)
  • Job dissatisfaction
  • Decreased creativity and attention span
  • Obesity
  • Increased errors in judgment
  • Increased injuries, sprains, and strains (due to physical job demands and reduced hand-eye or foot-eye coordination)
  • Depression
  • Suicide
  • Increased metabolism (increased heart rate and respiratory rate)
  • Decreased protein synthesis (leading to decreased wound healing)
  • Increased blood clotting
  • Increased local inflammation
  • Increased immune and allergic responses
  • Increased blood cholesterol and fatty acids
  • Cardiovascular diseases (such as hypertension, increased risk of a cardiovascular event such as a stroke or heart attack)
  • Musculoskeletal disorders (such as back pain)
  • Workplace injuries
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Possible increased risk of cancer and impaired immune function

Job Burnout

Job burnout is a special type of job stress characterized by a state of physical, emotional, or mental exhaustion combined with doubts of job competence and the value of the work performed.  Symptoms of job burnout can be signficant and can include these health effects:

  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Alcohol or substance abuse
  • Heart disease
  • High cholesterol
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Stroke
  • Obesity
  • Vulnerability to illnesses and possibly even cancer
  • Negative effects on personal relationships

Job burnout is the result of several factors including the following:

  • Lack of control, such as the inability to influence decisions that affect the job (including schedules, assignments, or workload) as well as a lack of resources needed to properly perform the work required
  • Unclear job expectations, especially about the degree of authority related to the job or what supervisors or others expect
  • Dysfunctional workplace dynamics, such as working with an “office bully,” being undermined by colleagues, or being micromanaged by a boss
  • Mismatch in values between the way the employer does business or handles grievances and the values of the employee
  • Poor job fit or a job that doesn’t fit the individual’s interests or skills
  • Extremes of activity such as when a job is always monotonous or always chaotic, requiring constant energy to remain focused
  • Lack of social support in the job or personal life
  • Work-life imbalance, especially when the job takes up so much time and effort that no energy is left to care for one’s self or spend time with family and friends