Stress At Work

One of the great paradoxes about stress is that two people working in the same job, with the same backgrounds and qualifications, can experience the same levels of stress differently.

Even particularly stressful occupations like air traffic controllers, test pilots, or coal miners will always yield a certain percentage of people who show no ill effects from the punishing levels of stress they encounter every day.

Researchers call this phenomenon stress-hardiness. Stress hardy workers exhibit what psychologist Suzanne Kobasa calls The Three Cs. These three Cs stand for control, challenge and commitment. People who believe they are in control of their lives handle stress better. People who feel challenged by their work and see it as an opportunity to learn and grow. People who feel a sense of commitment to their work feel good about what they do and feel they are making a difference in the lives of the people around them.

Most working people don't realize that stress at work simply goes with the territory. Without some stress you wouldn't be very productive. That's why, when your boss places reasonable demands on you (like giving you a deadline you both agree on) it can actually help you get the job done more efficiently.

Of course, not all occupations are equally stressful. A small town librarian probably isn't going to have as much stress at work as a big city printer. But if the librarian is stress-sensitive and the printer is stress-hardy, the librarian might be the one to suffer from stress-related disorders.

That's why determining how much stress at work is too much can be a tricky proposition. Start this process by asking yourself three questions:

  1. How adept am I at handling stress at work?
    Ask yourself or a trusted co-worker: Do others in my office seem to handle stress at work better than I? Am I easily frustrated by every day difficulties like a jammed printer, or broken piece of equipment? Do I get short-tempered with people when I’m under a deadline or feeling over-worked? Stress hardy individuals handle garden-variety stresses like these with little or no trouble at all
  2. Is my occupation more stressful than other occupations?
    Try to determine the level of control vs. responsibility you have in your job. If you have lots of responsibility and little control chances are you are going to have lots of stress too. That's why middle-level managers have more stress than their bosses. The middle-level manager has more responsibility and less control. If your level of responsibility and control are out of balance talk to your supervisor and see if you can make adjustments. Sometimes minor changes in your job description can make a big difference. P.S. Agree to take on more responsibility in exchange for more control.
  3. Is my working environment contributing to my level of stress?
    Chronic time pressure, unsafe working conditions and job instability are just a few of the conditions that contribute to stress at work. But an organization that understands the 3 C's can create work you feel passionate about: By giving you assignments that (slightly) stretch your capabilities you feel challenged. By giving you meaningful work that makes a real difference in people's lives you feel committed. And by giving you input over how your job should be handled you will feel more in control. That's why you need to remember the Three C's. Find a job you feel passionate about and you will be able to handle stress at work more effectively.

Take a Stress Test now to determine your level of Stress at Work >

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