Stress in the workplace can obviously cause a raft of problems - for both the employer and employee. A stressful workplace is often unproductive, as energy is diverted into just keeping afloat rather than making progress.
There are many possible causes of workplace stress - they could be a high workload, inadequate communication from management, or a lack of job security. These will all impact on workplace harmony and job satisfaction.
The most obvious cause of workplace related stress is a high workload. With too many things to do or unrealistic deadlines, employees quickly become frustrated. A deadline-driven environment with high workloads creates a constant feeling of anxiety which, aside from causing stress, could have health impacts for an employee. Unfortunately, high workloads are becoming more prominent as more companies try to cut financial corners by reducing the number of people working on larger workloads - which puts more and more pressure on fewer employees.
Having few clear guidelines of what is expected at work is also a common cause of stress. Good communication and direction between employer and employees is a vital aspect of good management and can alleviate frustration. If instructions are unclear, or if they are left to figure out the job on their own, some employees may decide the company doesn't really care what they do, and decide what is required for themselves. Even though they may be meeting requirements, this constant second-guessing may mean they work in a way that is overly stressful; they may spend too much time on tasks that are not important to the employer, or set higher standards than is required on menial tasks.
Feedback needs to be regular enough that people feel like they are progressing in their work and that they are achieving goals. Having no feedback at all can cause obvious stress and anxiety, as workers are never sure whether they are achieving what is expected.
In general, poor communication in the workplace can cause a lot of stress. But it's not just under-communication that can be a cause of stress; a constant bombardment of communication in the form of instructions or requests (without time to keep up with them all) can also heighten job stress and frustration.
Modern workplaces often expect that people will be online and able to be reached at any point by email, phone, online message boards and so on. Then there are teleconferences and older modes like faxes, all vying for our attention. While these forms of communication make it easy to disseminate ideas, they are actually a form of distraction for many people. If constant communication is becoming a major aspect of someone's job, it's actually hard for them to achieve much else.
It may seem obvious, but someone working in a job they do not enjoy, or that is not suited for their skills set, will experience more stress than someone who enjoys their job. Just getting the basics of a job done is immediately harder if someone is not suited for the job. And job satisfaction is increased when someone is good at their work, and when they're getting adequate feedback to tell them this.
Another common cause of stress is conflict between an employee and their employer or another workmate. Constant conflict distracts people from their work, as they may need to address the conflict before working, and the obvious stress of being put down or harassed by someone will detriment their work as well.
A final cause of job stress is poor job security. Even if an employee does not particularly like their job, the financial threat of losing a job can cause stress. In workplaces where there are constant layoffs or where the threat of redundancy is high, people are likely to experience anxiety, stress and sometimes depression.
What can employees do if they are suffering a high amount of work stress? There is actually no obligation under New Zealand law for employers to offer stress leave; however, in saying that, it's under the obligation of each employer to provide a workplace that is safe and that does not put any employee in harm - and stress falls under this category. Employers may choose to provide stress leave for people who need it, and employees can occasionally use sick leave for this as well.