Many jobs are inherently stressful due to heavy workloads, time pressure, and the nature of the work itself (i.e., dangerous; severe working conditions, etc.). But organizational policies and practices and the climate of the workplace can be a much bigger source of stress for workers. The sad thing is that many of these sources of stress can be alleviated by better leadership practices.
Here are 4 warning signs that your workplace is a stress factory:
1. Job Ambiguity. ("No one knows what's going on around here"). When workers' jobs are poorly defined and when procedures and goals are ambiguous, it makes it difficult for workers to know what to do. This ambiguity leads to stress, as employees constantly ask, "Is this my responsibility?" "Am I following proper procedures?" or "Why am I doing this?"
2. Favoritism and Inequities. ("I can't get ahead in this company"). A major source of stress is lack of fair treatment. When workers perform well and meet or exceed goals they expect to be recognized and rewarded. However, in many companies, promotions, raises, and other perks are based on favoritism or simply given based on seniority, regardless of performance. Not only does this create stress, but it kills motivation in the better performing employees "Why should I work hard if nobody notices?"
3. Politics and Power. ("It's a jungle out there"). All too often, workplaces can be governed by political game-playing where power-hungry predators win at the expense of hard-working employees who just want to do their jobs. Often, these highly-politicized organizations exist because of the other two factors: jobs and procedures are ambiguous and rewards are not merit-based. "To get ahead, you have to play the game!"
4. Punitive and Bullying Supervisors. ("Keep your head down!"). Let's face it, being punished and bullied is in itself a major stressor. When it is occurs constantly, it can make the workplace a living hell.
Causes and Solutions.
Any one of these can be a significant source of workplace stress. However, they tend to go together in the major "stress factories." Because jobs, procedures, and goals are ambiguous and poorly defined, favoritism and politics develop as people try to get ahead. The root cause is that supervisors and leaders are simply not doing their jobs.
Good human resource practices - clearly defined jobs, proper employee training, effective performance evaluations, and merit-based rewards can put an end to ambiguity and favoritism, and can significantly reduce the political climate. Proper leadership (there is no place for bullies and punitive leaders) that includes good and clear communication, positive and inspiring goals, and care and concern for employees, not only alleviates stress, but it turns organizations into high-performing "great places to work."
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