Underestimating workplace stress: an unjustifiably growing issue | Melotti Media

Underestimating workplace stress: an unjustifiably growing issue


Today’s working world can bring with it a lot of stress and anxiety to compete, achieve and keep up with change. It can affect people in a range of different ways and have a long list of negative symptoms.

So, how do we manage the stress in the workplace and rise above it?


What is this type of stress? 

Work related, or workplace stress is a psychological reaction an employee experiences when difficult situations or complicated circumstances begin to negatively impact their confidence, causing instability in their ability to cope. This can stem from several causes, such as from too many tasks and not enough time, a mismatch of abilities, workplace bullying or unforeseen eventualities.

Just like everyone possesses different tolerances and ways they manage stress, the physical symptoms can also range from person to person, and can include nervousness, agitation, sweating, swearing, frustration, and tension.

Just to clarify, the workplace stress being addressed here refers to detrimental stress caused by and leading to employee dissatisfaction, and not the mild kind that people experience as a positive motivator. While it can be hard to distinguish between the two, the detrimental stress can be identified by one simple trait: it costs businesses money in exchange for no gain whatsoever.

The tangible costs of impact

Stress from employment is continuing to rise, year after year. In Australia, it is estimated to costing the Australian economy approximately $60 billion a year!

This loss is made up of a combination of of factors that stem directly from workplace stress, such as lower productivity levels, increased absenteeism, compensation claims and high turn over rates. This is a problem for both employees and employers alike, as everyone is affected. If one employee is stressed, it can flow on very easily to others, like a virus, as they try to compensate, reason with or comfort the original employee, lowering overall productivity.

Where does it come from?

There are several factors that can be the original cause of stress, such as high demands, frustrating work conditions, safety risks, ergonomic concerns, unjust expectations, insecurities with future employment, office politics, workplace changes and mergers, and so on.

Every workplace is different, and each comes with its own factors which can be difficult to isolate, however it is important that managers never underestimate workplace stress within their organisation. It is clear from the figure above that it is a growing problem! Too frequently, employers and managers cannot identify the stress factors or symptoms within their departments, because they are either unsympathetic, their employees hide it due to embarrassment, or they are too far removed from the problem to acknowledge it.

While it may be an unfortunate reality that some managers don’t view workplace stress as an issue (which is the very reason of underestimation being addressed by this article), it is not to say that they aren’t concerned. It’s just that, most of the time, identifying the problem can be very time consuming and complex, creating an invisible barrier to the issue itself.


Let’s take some action

It’s all well and good to discuss the costs and physical manifestations of workplace stress, but what can employers do?

  1. The very first thing to do is to not deny that it exists in all workplaces

    It’s surprising how many employers remain oblivious, or worse, in denial about the potential problems in their very own teams; not from the lack of signals, but because they’re under the impression that it doesn’t exist. Remember, those billion dollar workplace stress related figures don’t just appear out of thin air.

    Ensuring all employers and managers are aware that stress occurs as a result of the very nature of business is the first step to solving the issue.

  2. Understand that workplace stress can exist in all different magnitudes.

    Don’t underestimate it, as it’s the white elephant in the room.

  3. It then comes down to drawing the line with what constitutes actual stress. 

    Every person has a different threshold and coping strategy, so it can be difficult to assess what task or situation is stressful to one and not another. The best solution for this is to open communication channels. This has a two-fold benefit: the employees feel comfortable about raising and discussing these issues, and are confidence that the problem will be addressed, and at the same time, employers can obtain first-hand feedback regarding the source and magnitude of stress in their workplace.

Putting things into practise

This will only be useful if systems are implemented to address this issue! Employees will only continue to have confidence in the system if actions are taken, and the benefits of showing that management really do care is worth the effort.

For example, a simple action plan to change frustrating procedures that have been in place and never reviewed for over ten years, to alleviate the bottlenecks that are causing your employees to worry about everyday, could end up saving significant amounts of time and energy, helping to solve stress related absenteeism and staff turn over. Understandably, this sounds very simple, but even more shocking is how realistic this kind of situation truly is. Underestimating how these little triggers of stress can be alleviated by a simple change is the core issue here.

A real example

Take a situation I was involved in with a previous employer. Long story short, the marketing and medical review teams were clashing over countless advertising materials. The marketing team were producing printed pieces and the medical team were slowing down the process considerably, due to the sheer amount of content going through the system, as well as other interdepartmental gripes.

Stress was running high. Management had a problem that wasn’t being solved, and it was directly affecting productivity by frustrating all employees and causing rifts within teams. There was also no way to solve it as it wasn’t being communicated in a healthy way (by this, I mean, it wasn’t being brought up in a constructive manner- it was more employees complaining via office politics).

Management decided to have both teams invited to a conference to vent out all issues, get everything on the table, and to come up with a solution together. I think that the entire problem (i.e.: the source of the frustration and stress within both teams) was rectified within a couple of hours, and ended up creating a much more fluid system. It really was that simple, once it was acknowledged and then addressed!

So the real issue is: underestimating the impact stress can have on businesses.

The detrimental impact is clear, however it may be occurring in your own business and you may not even be aware. It’s worth taking them time to do a temperature check within your teams and encouraging come honest feedback from people to help find a better solution. 

The reality of stress is that most of the time, it’s hard to identify, but once it is, the problem is easily solved.


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