Quickly to the meeting, while you're still hitting the keys so that the important project is finished by the deadline and then desk lunch for lunch while you work through the urgent mails. Not only does that sound stressful, but it is. Work-related stress is not uncommon these days. It not only has a strong negative impact on productivity, but also on memory, concentration and attention - precisely because our brain is overstrained.
Stress is the imbalance between external demands, such as tasks or projects, and the available resources. If these two things are out of balance for only a short time, our body can compensate for it and recover from it. However, the longer this state lasts, the more difficult it becomes to recover from it.
In Switzerland, people are aware of the stress, but do nothing
This makes it all the more important nowadays to take preventive action against work-related stress. In a study, we asked more than 900 companies across Europe about the opinions of managers on stress issues and practices related to wellbeing. Overall, the results show that 47% of respondents consider stress to be a key issue in their company, while 65% of managers said that health and wellbeing had become a strategic priority.
While stress levels in Germany are at 58% and in France at 40%, 72% of Swiss respondents said that work-related stress was a major problem in their company. However, while 65% of companies in Germany and as many as 84% in France stated that health and wellbeing had become a strategic issue, this figure was only as high as 57% in Switzerland. This discrepancy shows that in Switzerland, wellbeing has not yet arrived as a priority over stress.
Stress, stress factors and how the body reacts to stress
Nowadays stress is a frequently used collective term. But what is the basic, original meaning of stress - and what triggers it? Quick et al (2016) divided the causes of work-related stress into 4 main groups:
1. task requirement: workload/uncertainty of the job
2. role request: role conflict
3. physical stress: temperature, lighting, workplace design
4. interpersonal requirement: personal conflict, leadership style
By nature, the human body reacts involuntarily to deadlines, health problems, family conflicts, money worries, pressure on performance and goals - the so-called stress factors - with physiological and psychological effects.
The physiological stress response is regulated by the peripheral nervous system and the HPA axis, resulting in faster heartbeats, increased blood supply to the brain and skeletal muscles, as well as increased blood sugar levels and the release of adrenaline and cortisol.
This leads to a fight-or-flight response, which is an evolutionary adaptation that prepares the body for immediate danger - a response that is not normally appropriate in the modern workplace. Long-term overactivation of this response can directly trigger diabetes, coronary heart disease and mental illness.
How stress can be decreased with increased wellbeing
In order to prevent work-related stress from developing into an emergency situation, the issue must be addressed directly by organizations, managers and employees. Persistent chronic stress can manifest itself in a number of health problems, including anxiety, social withdrawal, weakened immune systems, heart disease and, in the worst cases, burnout. The personal effects of a stressful situation are unavoidable in most workplaces. They are determined by the way in which individuals react to them.
The mindset is also important for the prevention of stress in a company: by viewing such situations as challenges for growth opportunities rather than as disabilities or threats, the situations can be controlled and benefits can be derived from them.
In view of this, emotional intelligence and mental strength and, above all, resilience are the most important competencies in the workplace of this century. The mastery of deep relaxation and mindfulness exercises are also very valuable for personal resilience, in an increasingly stressful and hectic working environment. Our survey showed that there are certain points to be observed at all levels of the company to prevent stressful circumstances at work:
As employees, the little things shouldn't be underestimated:
- Taking proper breaks and not having lunch at your desk
- Never skip meals because you are too busy
- Drink enough liquids
- Stand up regularly and stretch at your desk
- Frequent and direct exchange with colleagues
- Share and discuss problems with superiors and colleagues
As a manager, it is important to take on a supportive leadership role and to meet people on a personal level:
- Talk about well-being in all individual conversations
- Professional consideration of problems when they arise
- To be friendly and compassionate and to thank for the open exchange
- Set an example through active health promotion in everyday life (e.g. walking meetings)
- Paying attention to the use of the team's resources and workload (signaling openness regarding stress indicators)
- Clearly define roles, responsibilities, expectations and priorities and create as much freedom as possible
Read more about stress and well-being at work in our white paper: The importance of measures for well-being, international comparisons and best practices to reduce stress at work.