1.3. The effects of work stress on individuals and on organizations
People experience stress in different ways. Work stress can cause different kinds of problems at the individual level. For example it can cause unusual and dysfunctional behaviour at work and contribute to poor physical and mental health. Work stress has also physiological and emotional effects. Physiological effects are raised blood pressure, aches and pains, dizziness and lowered resistance to minor illness. Individual signs of stress are alsoimmediate body changes that may be associated with distress, such as changes in heart rate and breathing rate, muscle tension, nausea or vomiting. When under stress, people may have feelings of anger, protest or frustration and feelings of anxiety or being out of control.
When affected by work stress people also may:
- become irritable and lose of concentration, have poor memory and learning difficulties;
- become unable to relax
- have difficulty to think logically and make decisions
- enjoy their work less and feel less committed to it
- feel tired depressed, anxious
- have difficulty sleeping
- lose balance between work and non-work life
Signs of stress can be noticeable to colleagues and managers. These are for example deteriorating relationships with colleagues, irritability, indecisiveness and reduced performance. Stressed employees may also engage in unhealthy activities like increased smoking or alcohol consumption, or drug use and abuse.
Stress does not only affect the health of employees but also that of organisations. Signs of unhealthy organisations include high staff turnover, increased absenteeism, reduced work performance, poor timekeeping and customer complaints.
At an organisational level work stress can often be observed as a deteriorated work climate. Deterioration in climate and morale is often closely associated with work relationships and directly affects employee satisfactions and welfare. In addition, the number of days lost to illness can increase. This is seen especially in the growth of short-term sick leave of 1 –3 days.
Work-related stress also has an impact on product and service quality as well as the organisation’s image. The recruitment of new and capable employees can be impaired if the company is seen as a bad employer.
The effects of stress on organisations are:
- increased absenteeism
- decreased commitment to work
- increased staff turnover
- impaired performance and productivity
- increased unsafe working practices
- increased accident rates
- increased complaints from customers
- increased liability to legal claims and actions by stressed workers