guest column:Emmanuel Zvada

Occupational diseases have grown to be part of the daily routines. All the same, very few people have managed to escape the trappings of such diseases especially nowadays. While some workplace stress is normal, excessive stress can interfere with your productivity and performance, impact your physical and emotional health, and affect your relationships and home life. It can even determine success or failure on the job and the organisation at large, hence measures to manage it should be put in place.

Work-related stress is the response people may have when faced with work demands and pressures that are not matched to their knowledge and abilities and which challenge their ability to cope. Stress occurs in a wide range of work circumstances. Workplaces have tremendous chances to make employees happy, healthy and productive, but most fall short of delivering these benefits. Cultivating a pleasant work environment is a sure way to position a company for long-term success, hence, employers should not underestimate the importance of creating a delightful office environment which is stress free.

Employees are less likely to experience work-related stress when demands and pressures of work are matched to their knowledge and abilities, control can be exercised over their work and the way they do it — support is received from supervisors and colleaugues’ participation in decisions that concern their jobs is provided. Occupational diseases are becoming an evil to organisational productivity, stress being another silent occupational disease.

Pressure at the workplace is unavoidable due to the demands of the contemporary work environment. Pressure perceived as acceptable by an individual, may even keep workers alert, motivated, able to work and learn, depending on the available resources and personal characteristics. Stress can damage an employees’ health and the business’ performance. Work-related stress can be caused by poor work organisation, poor work design, poor management, unsatisfactory working conditions and lack of support from colleagues and supervisors.

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Stress affects all people, regardless of race, tribe, social class, age or occupation. Stress and stress-related disorders have become one of the largest categories of occupational diseases, which, however, is receiving little or no attention, yet affecting individuals and organisations negatively. A little pressure motivates people to reach goals and deadlines, but too much of it and for too long pushes people towards breaking point and that is bad stress that many employees are faced with.

So increasingly, employers all over have to pay greater attention to the effects and impact of stress on organisational performance than in the past. The effects of stress, whether triggered by work, or social constraints in the domestic arena are leading to a trim-down on the employee’s performance, increased sickness, more industrial accidents, etc. Stress can significantly affect many of the body’s immune systems, which increases the chances of one contracting any disease that come during the stressful moments.

Stress can root itself from mild irritation to the kind of severe problems that might result in a real breakdown of health and finally death. Stress is caused by stimulus that people attaches to the activities that surrounds them or everything that affects their minds negatively, such that if the stimulus is negative therefore it is likely to cause strain on the minds of the employees (individuals).

When one is under stressful conditions, he goes through three specific stages, whether the stress came from home or industry. Conversely this does not mean that one may pass through all these stages of stress as this depends on the events that triggered the occurrence. The first stage is alarm. This happens when an individual faces any danger, and the nervous system immediately sends emergency indications to the brain. All the different body parts and their functions co-ordinate to either fight or take a flight away from the danger.

Stress levels vary between professions and population groups. Some workers are at a higher risk of stress than others. Studies reveal that younger workers, women, and those in lower-skilled jobs are at most risk of experiencing work-related stress and its attendant complications.

Work-related stress doesn’t just disappear when you head home for the day. When stress persists, it can take a toll on your health and well-being. A stressful work environment can contribute to problems such as headache, stomach-ache, sleep disturbances, short temper and difficulty concentrating. Chronic stress can result in anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system. It can also contribute to health conditions such as depression, obesity and heart diseases.

Success in managing and preventing stress will depend on the culture in the organisation. Stress should be seen as helpful information to guide action, not as weakness in individuals. A culture of openness and understanding, rather than of blame and criticism, is essential. Building this type of culture requires active leadership and role models from the top of the organisation, the development and implementation of a stress policy throughout the organisation, and systems to identify problems early and to review and improve the strategies developed to address them.

The normal indications of this level are exhaustion, weariness, anxiousness, and being too forgetful and being prone to a horde of mistakes and unreasonable errors. This is a dangerous stage as one might start smoking and drinking more to come out of the stress. Being very weak, the body’s immune system is compromised and the victim is now a trouble-free target for colds, flu and other diseases that come their way. The last stage is exhaustion, a situation when stress persistently spiral beyond the second stage and the victim does not adhere to counteractive and curative measures, hence the exhaustion stage settles.

What is important in managing this disease is to begin by identifying the sources and this is not as easy as it sounds. Being able to identify your employees’ true sources of stress will act as a panacea in managing it because you will be attacking it from the root. Failure to identify it means failure to manage it because one cannot manage what one does not know. If employers can help their employees get to the heart of their stress rather than focusing only on the resultant health risks, employers will have happier and more productive employees, which is better for everyone.

In today’s economic upheavals, downsizing, layoffs, mergers and bankruptcies have cost hundreds of thousands of workers their jobs and their health, adding to the pressures that workers face. It is now the norm that workers at every level are experiencing increased stress levels and the only panacea is managing stress in organisations. Boosting employee well-being should be a common goal for all employers through investing in wellness programmes.