Uziel et al. (2019) describe job stress as undesirable physical and emotional reactions when job expectations do not meet workers’ capabilities, resources, or needs. It follows that stress in the workplace can result in various illnesses, physically or mentally. Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress (Uziel et al., 2019). In employees, burnout can be characterized by feelings of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, a reduced feeling of personal accomplishment, general occupational stress, and exposure to trauma (Salvagioni, 2017). These characteristics of burnout are becoming increasingly common in workplaces across North America, which is cause for concern (Salvagioni, 2017; Uziel et al., 2019). With this in mind, this paper will examine a stressful job held by a family member. This will lead to a brief discussion on strategies that organizations can do to reduce stress levels and highlight the importance of industrial psychologists in workplaces.
Contributory Factors in a Stressful Job
My aunt is employed as a personal assistant to an executive manager in a certain corporation. The job is particularly stressful since it inherently involves many pressures, and she sometimes found herself overworked to the point where she had little time to spend with family and friends. In addition, in some situations, she was forced to multi-task because she had many responsibilities. For example, she ensured meetings were scheduled; travel arrangements were made, memos and reports were typed, presentations developed, phones answered, and overseeing the training of office workers.
As a result of the vast number of administrative chores that she is responsible for, it is evident that being an executive assistant is already incredibly stressful and demanding. The very nature of the position in itself is inherently stressful even before adding on other occupational factors that might contribute to further stress and burnout. Moreover, she was in charge of many tasks, including personal ones for her employer. Overall, her role as an executive assistant is demanding and difficult because they are frequently unrecognized and underappreciated. This contributes to a considerable amount of stress.
Particularly when she just started working, she indicated there was some workplace conflict with her boss. Specifically, her boss was a micro-manager and incessantly checked in on her progress on the various tasks she was working on. Over time, this began to stress my aunt out to the point where it took a toll on her mental health. She felt frustrated and began to develop lingering self-doubt and whether she would last in the position. These emotions experienced are seemingly consistent with research by Aamodt (2015), who indicated job insecurity is often a primary stressor for employees. My aunt’s situation was that she was not often praised for her work, while a younger employee at the company was praised more frequently. This aggravated her feelings of insecurity, as it instilled a fear of being replaced, albeit in her mind.
Strategies for Reducing Stress Levels
There are several leadership behaviors and organizational policies that can be employed to reduce work stress. First, leaders should use organizational-level approaches to stress reduction at work that promote employee well-being while also boosting corporate success. This strategy entails balancing workloads by tailoring them to employees’ abilities and available resources, allowing them to have as much control over their duties as possible, and making job expectations realistic through the use of achievable deadlines (Peart, 2019). Additionally, establishing fair work shifts, ensuring that employees have adequate time to recuperate before their shift, and maintaining a stress-free work atmosphere (Peart, 2019; Schonfeld, Bianchi, & Luehring-Jones, 2017).
Creating a culture of acknowledgment is also important. Recognizing team members’ hard work and accomplishments reduces stress, improves feelings of connection and belonging in the workplace, and reduces the fear of job insecurity (Foy et al., 2019). Further, in reducing workplace stress, the most important component is to control job performance, social support, and work-life conflict (Foy et al., 2019).
Finally, organizational communication is critical. Establishing job enrichment opportunities and appreciating employees can facilitate a safe working environment, improving workplace relationships (Aamodt, 2015). It bears mentioning that complete elimination of workplace is impractical, as some stress can be healthy and productive. However, excessive stress adversely impacts both the individual and the company’s overall health (Aamodt, 2015).
Role of Industrial and Organizational Psychologists
Industrial psychologists play an essential role in the workplace by facilitating processes and creating communication channels that allow for productive and meaningful dialogue. This may also comprise an instruction for workplace leaders and managers on how to communicate with staff better and more appropriately to help mitigate the risks of burnout occurring. For example, constructive conflict resolution is often encouraged and mediated by industrial-organizational psychologists.
This relates to the aforementioned example of stress that my aunt experienced. When she had disagreements with her boss, the industrial psychologist acted as a mediator to assist in resolving the conflict. It was more about hearing the perspectives from both sides and understanding one another, rather than assigning fault or blame. The psychology was extremely helpful in resolving job-related stress concerns and helped my aunt and her boss resolve their disagreement. It allowed everyone involved to return to work feeling satisfied and that the lingering issues had been addressed in a mutually beneficial way. As a result of the mediation with the psychologist, my aunt also felt that it effectively alleviated the stress she was experiencing at work.
Aamodt, M.G. (2015). Industrial/organization psychology: An applied approach (8th ed.). Wadsworth-Cengage Publishers. http://gcumedia.com/digital-resources/cengage/2015/industrialorganizational-psychology_an-applied-approach_ebook_8e.php
Foy, T., Dwyer, R.J., Nafarrete, R., Hammoud, M.S., & Rockett, P. (2019). Managing job performance, social support, and work-life conflict to reduce workplace stress. International Journal of Productivity and Performance Management, 68(6), 1018-1041.
Peart, N. (2019). Making work less stressful and more engaging for your employees. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2019/11/making-work-less-stressful-and-more-engaging-for-your-employees
Salvagioni, D.A., (2017). Physical, psychological and occupational consequences of job burnout: A systematic review of prospective studies. PLOS One, 12(10). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0185781
Schonfeld, I.S., Bianchi, R., & Luehring-Jones, P. (2017). Consequences of job stress for the mental health of teachers. In T. McIntyre, S. McIntyre, & D. Francis (Eds.)., Educator stress: An occupational health perspective (pp.55-75). Springer Publishers.
Uziel, N., Meyerson, J., Birenzweig, Y., & Eli, I. (2019). Professional burnout and work stress among Israeli dental assistants. Psychology of Health and Medicine, 24(1), 59-67. doi:10.1080/13548506.2018.1475679