What Are the Causes of Stress in an Organization?

10'000 Hours/DigitalVision/GettyImages

More than one-third of Americans experience chronic stress in the workplace. The organizational causes of stress range from job insecurity and heavy workloads to unsafe working conditions. These issues can affect employees' health and well-being, leading to poor work performance.

A healthy job is one where employees feel comfortable in their roles and can maintain a work-life balance. While it's true that work is inherently stressful, it shouldn't disrupt employees' lives and affect their well-being. Yet, more than one-third of Americans experience chronic work stress. This can negatively impact work productivity, team morale and employee health. The organizational causes of stress range from heavy workloads and tight deadlines to verbal abuse and financial struggles.

Workplace Stress Definition and Facts

Stress is a natural reaction to excessive demands and perceived threats. From an occupational perspective, it's the gap between employees' needs and abilities and what their workplace offers and requires. Approximately 80 percent of people feel stressed on the job, according to the American Institute of Stress. About 25 percent say that their job is the primary stressor in their lives, leading to:

  • Back and neck pain
  • Poor sleep
  • Eye strain
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Weakened immune system
  • Digestive distress
  • Heart palpitations
  • Weight gain
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Fatigue
  • Mood swings
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Poor mental focus
  • Loss of motivation
  • Diminished work capacity

More than 30 percent of employees who are constantly under stress report back pain, and another 20 percent of stressed workers experience fatigue. Additionally, those who find themselves in this situation are more likely to use drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism. Headaches, difficulty concentrating, diminished creativity and disinterest are all common complaints. Each year, work-related stress costs U.S. companies over $300 billion as a result of employee turnover, medical costs and absenteeism.

Organizational Causes of Stress

Let's say you've been working on a project for weeks, and when it's finally ready, your manager tells you to revise everything within days. Your co-workers are behind the schedule, so you end up doing their job as well. Everyone in your team is feeling pressured, and conflicts arise when you least expect it. This is just one example of a situation that can cause extreme stress.

Now, imagine the following scenario. You're going back and forth to meet your responsibilities, but your superiors refuse to promote you or give you a bigger paycheck. Maybe your colleagues are constantly teasing you for one reason or another. Perhaps you feel that your manager is always looking over your shoulder or enforcing unrealistic deadlines.

These situations are common in the workplace, leading to organizational stress. If you do a web search for the phrases "workplace stressors" or "top 10 causes of stress at work," you'll see that there are dozens of factors that come into play. Weak management, harassment, bullying, unsafe working conditions, excessive or insufficient workload and team conflicts are just a few to mention. If left unaddressed, these issues can affect employees' personal and professional lives as well as their mental and physical well-being.

Poor Compensation and Workplace Stress

According to a 2018 survey, one in five employees is living paycheck to paycheck. Approximately 30 percent are constantly stressed out about money. More than 20 percent of Americans have no retirement savings.

A low salary can make it difficult to support yourself and your family. You might not even be able to develop your career. Workshops, courses, seminars and professional training all cost money. If you're struggling with this issue, ask for a raise. After all, you have nothing to lose.

Reward Your Employees' Hard Work

If you're a business owner, remember that your employees are your greatest asset. Reward their hard work with bonuses, discounts, vacation time and other incentives. This will help you attract and retain talent, improve team morale and reduce workplace stress. Plus, your staff will feel more motivated and achieve better results.

Startups and companies with a limited budget can offer nonfinancial rewards. For example, consider providing your employees with free training, company-sponsored trips, gym membership discounts, team-building activities, stock options and more. You can simply send them handwritten "thank you" notes to show your appreciation for their efforts.

Consider launching competitions in the workplace. Reward top performers with Uber credit, extra vacation time, gift cards or employee of the month awards. These things cost next to nothing and can have a big impact on their morale and engagement. Another option is to make office upgrades, such as ergonomic desks, new computers, open spaces or a mini gym. It's the small details that matter.

Excessively High Workloads

A heavy workload causes mental and physical stress, leading to poor performance and diminished productivity. At the same time, it affects employee morale and increases the risk of other problems, such as burnout, absenteeism and higher turnover rates.

As a manager, you want your employees to work harder and get more done in less time. However, this isn't always the best approach. It's one thing to put pressure on your staff in emergency situations and another thing to constantly enforce tight deadlines. Consider purchasing new software and equipment to free up employees' time and help them work more efficiently.

Avoid overloading your top performers, as it can affect their motivation and lead to job burnout. Work overload has been linked to sleep deprivation, high blood pressure, fatigue, anxiety and performance-related issues. Set realistic limits for what needs to be done and by when. Assign tasks evenly among team members and monitor their performance.

Concerns About Job Security

Job insecurity is one of the primary causes of stress in the workplace. This factor has been associated with higher rates of coronary heart disease, cardiac death, depression, back pain and morbidity. Furthermore, it may increase the risk of job-related injuries and accidents.

Employees who are concerned about their jobs cannot perform optimally. They are more likely to make bad decisions, engage in destructive behaviors and fail to meet occupational safety standards. Job insecurity can lead to serious mental disorders and pain conditions. It literally makes your employees sick.

Discuss this problem with your staff. Let them know under what conditions you would fire them, such as in the case of bullying or excessive absenteeism. Assure them that as long as they do their job properly and follow the rules, they have nothing to worry about. If for some reason you need to lay off employees, let them know about it ahead of time so they can plan their budget accordingly.

Bullying and Harassment

A staggering 75 percent of American workers have been bullied at work. This issue is four times more common than racial discrimination and sexual harassment. It affects the victim's confidence and self-esteem, causes mental stress and affects performance.

In a survey by CareerBuilder, 45 percent of respondents reported being bullied by their superiors. Another 46 percent blamed their colleagues. Some were falsely accused of mistakes they didn’t make or yelled at by their bosses in front of their peers. Others reported being picked on for their gender, race and other personal attributes.

As a manager, it's your responsibility to prevent bullying in the workplace. This problem can escalate and lead to expensive lawsuits, affecting your image and revenue. Plus, it has a devastating impact on your employees’ well-being and work performance. Encourage your staff to bring this issue to your attention and take their complaints seriously. Enforce a policy that defines bullying and harassment and the consequences.

References

About the Author

Andra Picincu is a digital marketing consultant with over 10 years of experience. She works closely with small businesses and large organizations alike to help them grow and increase brand awareness. She holds a BA in Marketing and International Business and a BA in Psychology. Over the past decade, she has turned her passion for marketing and writing into a successful business with an international audience. Current and former clients include The HOTH, Bisnode Sverige, Nutracelle, CLICK - The Coffee Lover's Protein Drink, InstaCuppa, Marketgoo, GoHarvey, Internet Brands, and more. In her daily life, Ms. Picincu provides digital marketing consulting and copywriting services. Her goal is to help businesses understand and reach their target audience in new, creative ways.