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Managing Stress at Work


Stress is a critical topic at work which is little understood. More often than not workers refer to stress as something that happens to them, for instance, an injury or retrenchment. Others still associate stress with the effects of the event and the retrenchment. Though stress has something to do with all the above, it is more about the thoughts workers have about that particular situation.  Any occurrence that befalls the worker is automatically evaluated in the mind. The worker then determines how the situation threatens them, alternatives of handling the situation and availability of skills to take control of the situation. A decision that categorizes the situation’s demands as beyond one’s skills is denoted as ‘stressful’ prompting a ‘stress response’. The alternative decision that classifies the situation as within the ones’ abilities is labelled as ‘stress free’(Hart 1999).

In addition, not all the situations that are labelled stressful at the workplace are negative. For instance, having too many sales could be stressful, but in the long run, the employee and the company stand to benefit. Such situations only imply that the worker is not adequately prepared to handle them. In certain occasions, stress can act as a motivator and may be desirable. A negative response to it could result in detrimental health effects or absence of happiness. According to Labour Force survey (LFS), in the year 2010/2011 more than 35% of the stress cases in the world were due to work-related stress illnesses. This was a slight decrease from the previous year. It further indicated that health, social work and education sectors often reported the highest cases of work-related stresses. However, comprehending how each employee reacts to different forms of stress, workers and employers can learn how to handle and use stress to their advantage.


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Sources of Stress at the Workplace

Work-related stress can be acquired from four major sources. These include:

The environment: One’s surrounding can bombard them with intense levels of pressure that could result in stress. Poor and unsafe working conditions at the workplace are examples of such negative environmental factors.

Social stressors: Work-related social stress can take various forms. It can be a result of job deadlines, financial constraints due to salary delays, rigorous job interviews and disagreements among co-workers or fallouts with top management.

Physiological causes: The situations and circumstances that affect a worker’s normal body functions can also be the cause of stress. For instance, long working hours that reduce the sleeping hours of the employee can in the long-run amount to stress. Others include accidents at the work place, especially in the industrial sector.

Thoughts: One’s brain has the ability to analyze and classify situations as difficult, painful or desirable and interesting. Many of the situations at the workplace are stress provoking, but one’s thoughts have the last say on whether these situations present a problem to us.

Stressors at the Workplace

These refer to situations labelled as stress provoking in the workplace. Though the word ‘stress’ is used to refer to the negative situations at the workplace, it is not always an unpleasant thing. Therefore, the stressors can cause positive stress, which motivates, acts in the short-term and, consequently, leads to new improved performance or distress. The later is associated with anxiety, unpleasantness, reduced performance and physical problems that may arise presently.

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Since the effect of each stressor on a worker may vary from person to person, the classification of the stressors based on the nature of their effect may not be possible. When treated generally, there are numerous stressors at the workplace (Stranks 2005).

Negative stresses: First, a worker can experience stress due to an injury sustained in the line of duty. Secondly, fallout with a fellow employee or top manager may cause psychological stress to the worker. On the other hand, job insecurity can also implant negative thoughts into the worker’s mind. Others include excessive job demands, inadequate training for the task, inconsiderate commuting, hectic time schedules or compulsory presentation before fellow employees. These may influence the employee’s performance resulting in underutilization of their potential.

Positive personal stressors: These are stressors that motivate the employee to work better. They often require tightening of one’s work schedule to make time to take care of the additional responsibilities. Such stressors include a job promotion, retiring, uptake of additional classes or the start of a new or well-paying job.

Signs and Symptoms of Stress

Managers should know how to identify stress levels that are beyond control or that have adverse effects on their employees. Reactions, due to overload, can be variable since they affect the body, the brain and one’s character. However, there are three basic ways that employees are bound to react to overload. First is increased level of irritability. The employee is overly emotional and thus, easily offended. Secondly, one can show signs of withdrawal or depression coupled with reduced work energy and enthusiasm. Lastly, the employee can feel himself belittled by the pressure while internally being deeply upset(Stranks 2005). The warnings and signs of stress can be classified as below:

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Cognitive symptoms: these are associated with memory complications, lack of concentration, pessimism, poor judgment and constant uneasiness.

Emotional symptoms: the employee may develop certain emotional reactions that were initially non-existent. These include moodiness, increased irritability, a feeling of loneliness or general depression, and uneasiness.

Physical symptoms: these are symptoms that affect one’s body. They include ache and pain, constipation, nausea, frequent cold, excessive sweating or shallow breathing.

Behavioural symptoms include increased eating habits, too much or reduced sleep, neglect of one’s duties and excessive consumption of alcohol.

Effects of Stress at the Workplace

The most detrimental effect of stress is the reduced productivity of the employee. Many companies remunerate their employees every end of the month. When employees are under stress, the company is bound to experience reduced sales in that time period. These will lead to higher cost on the firm relative to the corresponding returns. Therefore, there is a need for the firm to ensure that their employees are not under negative stress as this often translates to monetary loss.

Alternatively, an organization has to create an opportunity to impact positive personal stress. This has the effect of ensuring the work is done in time which improves the reliability of the employee in the eyes of the customers. Such stress should not be unduly pressuring and should be checked to ensure that it does not result in negative stress, which could lead to reduced returns for the company.

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Stress Theories

Theories that relate the external demand and the bodily functions can be classified into two: approach to systematic stress, dependent on physiology and approach to psychological stress based on cognitive psychology.

Systematic Stress

Selye’s theory: According to this theory, all the  stimulus when applied for a long duration of time have a common effect that will no longer be dependent on the stimuli. Managers should be cautious of the stress levels of their employees to avoid fatalities.

Psychological Stress

Lazarus theory: According to this theory, psychological stress refers to a relationship that one identifies as important for their well-being and in which the requirements are more than the available resources.

Managing Stress

In order to avoid the negative effects of stress discussed above, the employer and the employee have to seek ways to manage the stress levels. Work-related stress can be removed in different ways. First of all, the employee should try to focus his thoughts on the present activities and avoid worrying about the future. Secondly, there is a progressive muscle relaxation that helps one relax their body parts through activities such as massage. Alternatively, deep breathing that calms the metabolic rate and allows deep relaxation of the body organs can also be used. Companies should invest in the above initiatives and make their employee feel happy in carrying out their daily activities.

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Case Study

In order to evaluate the effect of stress on job performance, Kazmi et al. carried out a study in Abbottabad District. According to their findings, the best way to manage workplace stress is improving the health concerns and interpersonal relationships. A firm should invest in instilling a culture of openness and mutual understanding in place of criticism. The research indicates that stress significantly affects the way a person performs at the workplace. It also proves that men succumb to stress more than women.


Stress may be desirable or undesirable depending on the situation. Negative stress can discourage the worker while positive stress can encourage him. Top managers should learn how to identify stress among their employees, for instance, through changed irritability. The immediate step is to implement the methods of removing stress to ensure the costs do not increase in relation to the sales cycle. These options include: quiet meditation, muscle relaxation, physical exercises, self-massage and imagery. Practicing these will ensure that both the company and the employee are happy and ready to boost the sales level.



The leader-follower phenomenon has continued to challenge human beings since time immemorial. Different scientists have delved into research on the discussed topic and come up with different theories. However, none of these is sufficient in explaining the reasons why some people evolve into leaders while others simply become followers. An attempted comprehension of this topic and the theories would be reinforced by a definition of the term(Winkler 2009).

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Leadership refers to the process by which a leader seeks the intentional participation of his subordinates while trying to achieve the firm’s goals. Unlike the popular believe, leadership is not a moral concept. Therefore, not all leaders are respectable people. The characteristic aspect of leadership is the follower’s perspective. Past research indicates that people tend to show admiration for leaders who can ignite emotional responses in others. These responses border on making people feel important and useful, bonding them together for meaningful achievement of certain goals and the ability to cause excitement. Leaders must possess certain traits that set them apart from followers.

Group Power

A popular way to exert influence applied by several leaders is through the application of power and control. This power can be dependent on a variety of forces, which include legitimate power, coercive power, reference power and the informational power. Legitimate power has to do with the position held by the leader. For instance, an appointed leader is still identified as the top official by his followers. Coercive power is the leader’s ability to negate positive outcomes or effectively deliver unwelcome news. The different forms of power are useful in different ways. For instance, reward power can increase motivation to work, while expert power can ensure things are done in the right manner(Winkler 2009).

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Styles of Leadership

This refers to how a leader models his organizational conduct. The style of leadership determines the effectiveness of a leader more than his personal traits. The manner in which the leader relates to the group during communication and the assignment of duties determines the group’s functionality.  Different researchers have often grouped leadership styles into three. They include:

Authoritarian: This is a leader who borrows greatly from legitimate, rewards and coercive power in enlisting corporation from the followers. It can often be marked by aggressiveness and dictatorship. This form of leadership is effective in situations when a crisis is to be resolved but fail in occasions when the leader is absent. It has the effect of ensuring the group members do not assume a sense of ownership since they are rarely involved in the decision making process.

Democratic: These are leaders who sample opinions of the group members before reaching any decision. The style has the tendency of increasing group member satisfaction and reducing their frustrations. The process is lengthened by the collection of ideas but compensated by the morale boost in the employees or group members. This style is more concerned with quality rather than quantity.

Laissez-faire: This is where the leaders’ influence on the group of people is minimal or non-existent. Normally, the group consists of equals. In this set up, the members depend on one another for the motivation and retention of focus. The style is highly effective since the individuals have the ability to complete the assigned task and be self-motivated.

Though democratic leadership style is often touted as the best of the three styles, it only works best in stress free and average conditions. Autocratic leadership style is suitable in case of a crisis, when a wise decision has to be made, and the time frame is limited. Laissez-faire style, on the other hand, requires the group members to be self-motivated and knowledgeable. The question of the most effective leadership style is best tackled by the situational theorists.

Leadership Theories

There is no particular theory of leadership that is universally accepted. There are even researchers who question the essence of leadership since it is based on the manipulation of other people and the denial of freedom of speech in others.

McGregor theory: McGregor advanced a theory that enlists the style, conduct, circumstance, and adaptation to the circumstance. According to the theory, the style used is dependent on personnel and knowledge of human behaviour the manager has acquired. The theory is based on two other theories. Theory X, which states that managers make the assumption that all people are essentially lazy and dislike work. Threats and coercion are thus necessary for the realization of the firm’s goals. Theory Y states that the physical and mental effort expended on doing a particular task comes naturally, and achievement of goals can only be through the exertion of self-motivation and self-control.

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Trait theory: This theory lays focus on setting apart the traits that differentiate a leader and a follower. In addition, it recognizes that the traits may not be sufficient but could be advanced through training and experience. The key traits considered in the analysis are intelligence, personality, physical characteristics and supervisory ability. Leaders are intelligent, have an attractive personality, can supervise but are not limited to the physical attributes.

Behavioural theory: This theory sates that leaders’ actions determine their leadership effectiveness. According to the University of Michigan studies, leadership can be categorized as job-centred or employee-centred. Job-centred leadership concentrates on supervision to ensure the job is done. The employee-centred leadership is more concerned about the welfare of the employees. The limitation of this theory is that it does not identify any of the styles as better than the other.

Leadership Coaching

Since leadership skills can be developed, companies are spending funds on educating their top managers in leadership styles. According to a study from Fortune 100 companies, coaching has helped increase the productivity of companies by 53%, quality by 48% and customer service by 39%. The lessons have also improved the working relationships by 37%.

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Case Study

A case study in Babcock University illustrates how two contrasting leadership styles in an organization can ruin the entire organization. In the case, Dr.Afolabi is a paternalistic autocrat while his junior, Dr.Aluko is a democrat. While the first tries to do his way, the later prefers to hold the opinion of others. In addition, the case highlights the necessity to differentiate between a manager and a leader. Managers are proficient in managing funds while leaders manage people.


Leadership is a vital component of any organization. If an organization aims to succeed, it should ensure that there is the right thinking leader who understands when to use each of the leadership styles. Autocratic should be used when there is a limited time, democratic when quality is the key and laissez-faire when the group members are equal and self-motivated. Other situational theories should also be considered.



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