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Last week we saw that we all experience a certain amount of stress, caused by various factors and uncertainties that we face at or outside work. At work, people are expected to adjust to competitive pressures, organizational restructuring, new technologies and the ever present push for improved quality and productivity. Stress is defined as a state of tension experienced by individuals facing extraordinary demands, constraints or opportunities. Stress does not always act as a negative influence on our lives and there are actually two faces to stress, one constructive and one destructive. Constructive stress acts in a positive way for the individual or organization, while destructive stress or distress is dysfunctional for the individual and the organization. Excessive high levels of stress can overload and break down a person’s physical and mental systems. Performance may suffer and workers experience illness brought on by very intense stress and they may react by being absent from work, making mistakes, causing accidents, dissatisfaction, reduced performance or even unethical behaviour, like cheating.
We also looked at stressors, which are factors that cause stress and which can be classified into three categories: work factors, non-work factors and personal factors.
Now if all workers face stress to a certain extent it is important that managers know about stress and about ways to manage stress effectively. First stress must be recognised. Some people display certain stress related behaviour like:
Always moving, walking and eating rapidly.
Feeling impatient with the pace of things.
Hurrying others, being annoyed by waiting.
Trying to do several things at once.
Feeling guilty when relaxing.
There is no doubt that stress impacts the health of an individual as well and the following could be signs of excessive stress:
Change in eating habits.
Change in alcohol consumption or smoking.
Aches, pains, upset stomach.
Restlessness, inability to concentrate, sleeping problems.
Feeling disoriented, overwhelmed, depressed or irritable.
The key thing is to look for changes from normal patterns, like from regular attendance to absenteeism, from punctuality to tardiness, from diligence to carelessness, from a positive attitude to a negative attitude, from openness to resistance or from cooperation to hostility.
As we see, the role of stress in the work setting is complex, with constructive stress facilitating performance and destructive stress reducing performance and impairing the worker’s health. Key for management is thus to find a good fit between the individual, the work environment and the amount of job stress involved. Such a fit stimulates productivity without damaging health.
Stress prevention is probably the best first-line strategy for dealing with stress, i.e. keeping stress from reaching destructive levels in the first place. In particular, stressors emerging from personal and non work factors must be recognised, so that action can be taken to prevent them from adversely affecting work. This involves taking action for yourself or others. Some strategies for management to prevent or cope with stress may include:
Participation – allowing workers to have more say in decisions affecting them and their work.
Job redesign – creating jobs that make work more interesting and responsible for individuals and teams.
Goal setting – making sure that every worker understands job expectations and has challenging but achievable performance goals.
Communication – providing everyone with continuous information about performance accomplishments by themselves, their team and the organization as a whole.
Selection, placement and training – emphasizing a proper person – job match when filling jobs; moving people as appropriate to new jobs; and giving the opportunity to update and expand workers’ skills through training and development.
Now, I realise that some of the strategies mentioned above are kind of foreign to the culture and traditions of management in Ethiopia, which is more top down and less participatory. Yet, as we move more and more into an open market economy, which demands more competitiveness and productivity, we must be looking for ways to increase and maintain performance of individuals, teams and the entire company. So in my opinion, managers will do well to seriously consider strategies that seem to work elsewhere and find a way to exercise them in our own particular context.
Finally, it is my opinion that every individual is responsible to find a healthy balance in their lives and make sure that outside work sufficient time is spent at home with the family, to keep fit, to socialise and to grow mentally and spiritually. To bring such a balance into your life requires a personal effort and planning for activities not only at work but perhaps even more for the activities away from work.