All About Job STRESS, Part 1: Dealing With The Working World

All About Job STRESS, Part 1: Dealing With The Working World

About job stress and health: The nature of work is changing at whirlwind speed.

Perhaps now more than ever before, job stress poses a threat to the health of workers and, in turn, to the health organizations.

Health - How To Deal With Workplace Job Stress - A Handy Chart
Dealing With Workplace Job Stress

Through its research programs in job stress and in educational materials the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is committed to providing organizations with knowledge to reduce workplace stress.

This article highlights the causes of stress at work and outlines steps to prevent job stress.

What Workers Say About Job Stress

The longer he waited, the more David worried.

For weeks aching muscles, loss of appetite, restless sleep, and a complete sense of exhaustion had plagued him.

At first he tried to ignore these problems, but eventually he became so short-tempered and irritable that his wife insisted he get a checkup.

Now, sitting in the doctor’s office and wondering what the verdict would be, he didn’t even notice when Theresa took the seat beside him.

They had been good friends when she worked in the front office at the plant, but he hadn’t seen her since she left three years ago to take a job as a customer service representative.

Her gentle poke in the ribs brought him around, and within minutes they were talking and gossiping as if she had never left.

“You got out just in time,” he told her. “Since the reorganization, nobody feels safe. It used to be that as long as you did your work, you had a job. That’s not for sure anymore.”

“They expect the same production rates even though two guys are now doing the work of three. We’re so backed up I’m working twelve-hour shifts six days a week. I swear I hear those machines humming in my sleep. Guys are calling in sick just to get a break. Morale is so bad they’re talking about bringing in some consultants to figure out a better way to get the job done.”

“Well, I really miss you guys,” she said. “I’m afraid I jumped from the frying pan into the fire. In my new job, the computer routes the calls and they never stop. I even have to schedule my bathroom breaks. All I hear the whole day are complaints from unhappy customers. I try to be helpful and sympathetic, but I can’t promise anything without getting my boss’s approval.”

“Most of the time I’m caught between what the customer wants and company policy. I’m not sure who I’m supposed to keep happy. The other reps are so uptight and tense they don’t even talk to one another. We all go to our own little cubicles and stay there until quitting time. To make matters worse, my mother’s health is deteriorating.”

“If only I could use some of my sick time to look after her. No wonder I’m in here with migraine headaches and high blood pressure.”

“A lot of the reps are seeing the employee assistance counselor and taking stress management classes, which seems to help. But sooner or later, someone will have to make some changes in the way the place is run.”

Scope Of Job Stress In The American Workplace

David and Theresa’s stories are unfortunate but not unusual.

Job stress has become a common and costly problem in the American workplace, leaving few workers untouched.

For example, studies report the following:

One-fourth of employees view their jobs as the number one stressor in their lives.

-Northwestern National Life

Three-fourths of employees believe the worker has more on-the-job stress than a generation ago.

-Princeton Survey Research Associates

Problems at work are more strongly associated with health complaints than are any other life stressor-more so than even financial problems or family problems.

-St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Co.

Fortunately, research on job stress has greatly expanded in recent years.

But in spite of this attention, confusion remains about the causes, effects, and prevention of job stress.

What Is Job Stress?

Job stress can be defined as the harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources, or needs of the worker.

Job stress can lead to poor health and even injury.

The concept of job stress is often confused with challenge, but these concepts are not the same.

Challenge energizes us psychologically and physically, and it motivates us to learn new skills and master our jobs.

When a challenge is met, we feel relaxed and satisfied.

Thus, challenge is an important ingredient for healthy and productive work.

The importance of challenge in our work lives is probably what people are referring to when they say “a little bit of stress is good for you.

But for David and Theresa, the situation is different-the challenge has turned into job demands that cannot be met, relaxation has turned to exhaustion. A sense of satisfaction has turned into feelings of stress.

In short, the stage is set for illness, injury, and job failure.

What Are The Causes Of Job Stress?

Nearly everyone agrees that job stress results from the interaction of the worker and the conditions of work.

Views differ, however, on the importance of worker characteristics versus working conditions as the primary cause of job stress.

These differing viewpoints are important because they suggest different ways to prevent stress at work.

According to one school of thought, differences in individual characteristics such as personality and coping style are most important in predicting whether certain job conditions will result in stress.

In other words, what is stressful for one person may not be a problem for someone else.

This viewpoint leads to prevention strategies that focus on workers and ways to help them cope with demanding job conditions.

Although the importance of individual differences cannot be ignored, scientific evidence suggests that certain working conditions are stressful to most people.

The excessive workload demands and conflicting expectations described in David’s and Theresa’s stories are good examples.

Such evidence argues for a greater emphasis on working conditions as the key source of job stress, and for job redesign as a primary prevention strategy.

In 1960, a Michigan court upheld a compensation claim by an automotive assembly line worker who had difficulty keeping up with the pressures of the production line.

To avoid falling behind, he tried to work on several assemblies at the same time and often got parts mixed up.

As a result, he was subjected to repeated criticism from the foreman.

Eventually he suffered a psychological breakdown.

By 1995, nearly one-half of States allowed worker compensation claims for emotional disorders and disability due to stress on the job [note, however, that courts are reluctant to uphold claims for what can be considered ordinary working conditions or just hard work].

 National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health

 How To Deal With Job Stress: A Handy Chart
All About Job STRESS, Part 2
All About Job STRESS, Part 3
All About Job STRESS, Part 4
All About Job STRESS, Part 5

More Information about Job Stress:

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health 4676 Columbia Parkway Cincinnati, Ohio 45226-1998 NIOSH provides information and publications about a wide range of occupational hazards, including job stress at Job Stress (/niosh/topics/stress/) , call 1-800-CDC-INFO, or order online at (

The Encyclopaedia of Occupational Health and Safety, 4th Edition (ISBN 92-2-109203-8) contains a comprehensive summary of the latest scientific information about the causes and effects of job stress (see Vol. 1, Chapter 5, Mental Health; Vol. 2, Chapter 34, Psychosocial and Organizational Factors). International Labour Office (ILO) Publications Center) 301-638-3152 P.O. Box 753 Waldorf, MD 20604 Other Publications about Job Stress (/niosh/topics/stress/) Go to the NIOSH job stress internet site, or call the NIOSH 800 number (1-800-35-NIOSH). Location of a Psychologist or Consultant in Your Area American Psychological Association (APA) 1-800-964-2000 750 First St., N.E. fax: 202-336-5723 Washington, DC 20002-4242

State psychological associations maintain a listing of licensed psychologists who may be able to help with stress-related issues. Call the APA or your State psychological association for more information, or refer to the APA internet site ( ( with this information .


Mention of any company name or product does not constitute endorsement by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

This document is in the public domain and may be freely copied or reprinted.

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