Workplace stress causes burnout, productivity loss
TRIBUNE NEWS NETWORK
DOHA STRESS is the most common health problem in the workplace these days, according to Dr Hind Rifai, consultant psychiatrist at Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC).
Excessive level of stress can lead to what is commonly termed as burnout and known to be one of the major causes of absenteeism and loss of productivity within corporations.
Stress-related health issues result in over 250 million lost working days in the US each year, accounting for half of all lost working days, and this trend is being experienced by many other developed nations.
Physiologically, stress can be defined as any imbalance of homeostasis (the body’s internal balance) and a sustained overproduction of the adrenal hormones.
Stress can more simply be defined as anything which places a burden on an individual, be it physical or emotional.
Stress is most certainly subjective and situations that one person considers to be stressful may not be deemed stressful by another. When an individual is faced with what they perceive to be a stressful situation, their body releases the hormone adrenaline into the blood. Adrenaline prepares the body for immediate action, known as the fight-or-flight response. When people experience stress (perceived danger), the body prepares itself to either fight (face the situation head on) or to flee (runaway).
It is the same natural response that occurs in animals when faced with danger.
On many occasions, stress and the subsequent release of adrenaline is looked upon positively.
Sportspeople experience feelings of stress immediately prior to competition. This stress, when managed correctly, heightens the individual’s alertness and enables the sportsperson to focus on the task at hand. However, when an individual is unable to manage stress it can negatively impact upon their health.
Pressure experienced in the workplace is one of the leading causes of stress and may lead to a wide range of symptoms, including increased irritability, poor sleep, anxiety, panic attacks, loss of appetite and symptoms of depression.
Research has indicated that if left untreated, these symptoms can become chronic and lead to burnout. When burnout develops there is a high risk of it having a significant impact on a person’s health that can result in frequent headaches, elevated blood pressure and blood sugar, heart disease and abnormal immune responses that lead to frequent infections, skin rashes and allergies.
Burnout is a state of emotional, mental and physical exhaustion that drains a person’s energy, leaving them feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical and resentful.
Although burnout is not a formal term for a clinical psychiatric or psychological disorder, it has common symptoms that are linked to diagnosable conditions such as depression, anxiety or mood disorders.
Some of the most common job-related factors contributing to stress include a high workload, lack of recognition and rewards, conflict between co-workers, perceived inequality within the company and a marked disparity between the organisation’s corporate values and the employee’s personal values.
Employees should ideally be able to recognise the warning signs of impending burnout and understand that their symptoms are likely to worsen if left unattended.
By taking pro-active and positive steps to regain a more comfortable work-life balance, an individual can prevent burnout from becoming a fullblown breakdown.
Employers need to be aware of and sympathetic to the levels of stress experienced by their staff and engage in preventative action to help lessen the impact of difficult working conditions.
These include regular work breaks, vacations and days off, providing separate spaces for break-time whenever possible, avoiding office overcrowding and providing good lighting and temperature control in work environments.
A careful evaluation of work processes and job content is also crucial and should include focusing on the positive skills and abilities of each employee when distributing tasks, providing professional development opportunities and including colleagues and workers in decision- making where possible.
Good employers will understand that maintaining a balance between pushing their employees to be productive and caring for their employees’ wellbeing pays dividends all around. Research has shown that it is in an employer’s interest to provide a work environment that is not overly stressful, as too much stress leads directly to reduced productivity and performance at work.
It is now accepted that that large corporations have an occupational health service and specialist workers whose role includes playing an active part in the detection and prevention of stress and burnout among workers throughout the organisation.
These specialists provide preventive education and can link with appropriate community resources for more specialised services when they are required.
Stress management or burnout support groups as well as referral for psychotherapeutic treatments are recommended for workers who are suffering from mental illness caused by stress. A large number of organisations with occupational health services should look carefully to ensure that their team is trained specifically to recognise and provide initial counselling and treatment for staff suffering stress and burnout symptoms.