It’s the end of another long year at work. As we stagger to the beach, exhausted from the meetings, deadlines and overtime, it’s also time to reflect on why our jobs leave us feeling so stressed and what we can do about it.
While experiencing stress at work is unavoidable to some extent, many Australians fail to speak up about it, new research shows.
According to a survey by Mental Health Australia, only 18 per cent of Australians have sought help when feeling stressed or down.
Many respondents in another recent report by the Australian Psychological Society said work remained a major source of stress. The results showed that workplace wellbeing was lower than it was when the survey began in 2011, with 31 per cent of Aussies citing work as a major cause of stress.
Organisational psychologist Dr Kathryn Page told The New Daily that a “stigmatised view of stress” prevented many workers from speaking up.
“I think workers are afraid of appearing weak or unable to cope with stress,” she said.
“There is a trend towards training workers to be resilient. This is great. But workplaces also need to identify and address the work-based causes of stress to make a more sustainable impact on workplace stress.”
Workplace stress already places a heavy burden on the economy, as statistics by Safe Work Australia revealed mental stress costs Australian businesses more than $10 billion per year.
Absenteeism is a major contributor – an occurrence where employees feel so overwhelmed they begin to take leave from work to reduce their stress.
Dr Page said stress becomes unhealthy when it begins to affect a person’s ability to function, such as disrupting sleep, causing friction in relationships or productivity at work.
In the worst of cases, long-term exposure to stress can result in a range of health complications such as depression, anxiety or cardiovascular disease.
But there are ways to determine whether you or someone else you know is stressed. The quiz above is based on psychological testing and may help you determine whether you’re stressed out at work.
How to seek help
If you’re feeling as though you can’t cope with stress, there are numerous ways you can get help.
Dr Page recommended that individuals visit a GP as a first measure – as doctors can help to ascertain what level of support may be needed.
Another option could be to seek confidential counselling through your workplace, she said, which is offered by many organisations through Employee Assistance Programs. This can be organised by contacting your HR consultant, manager or supervisor.
Dr Page noted that in spite of the stigma, it’s important to speak to your manager if you are feeling overloaded, stressed or burnt out.
“Managers play a really critical role in preventing and managing stress at work – for example, reducing workload, providing support, or giving workers more control over when, where and how they work,” she said.
“It’s important for all employees, regardless of level, to speak out on stress so that senior leaders can accurately read the extent of the problem and adjust the work and workplace accordingly.”
She said that although it was common for people to access emails after work, it’s important that this be a personal choice, as opposed to a person feeling overwhelmed with their workload and playing catch-up.
“As a manager, I’d be concerned about someone taking two or more days off work. I’d also look out for changes in the quality of their work and any subtle (or significant) personality or behaviour changes.”
Hobbies can help you reduce stress
There are ways to combat stress without seeking the help of a professional.
Dr Page recommended regular exercise, socialising with others and allowing time for rest and recovery.
Meditation, yoga and other relaxing hobbies can be practiced to combat stress, so long as the activity allows the person to feel recovered.
Note: The questions and answers in the quiz have been adapted from a psychological scale by Professor Sheldon Cohen and the Australian Psychological Society’s Stress and wellbeing in Australia survey 2013. This quiz is not a clinical diagnosis. Individuals concerned about their wellbeing should visit their GP for further assistance.