Here’s what I know about your work:
- Stress at work is common, normal, part of the game for you on the job.
- Stress at work seems to be increasing, and failing to manage it results in poor work performance, declining physical wellbeing, and depletion of your mental health.
Here’s what I know about stress:
- Stress is responding to perceived threats in our work environment with a fight, flight, or freeze, reflex.
- One of the secrets to getting out ahead of stress is tracing it back to its source.
So I surveyed a number of stress at work studies to find the sources of job stress. Summing up the research, we land on eight.
Nine Sources of Job Stress
See if you agree that these cause job stress. Ask yourself if they are true for you in your current work. And begin to ponder what types of strategist might be required for handling each.
- Ambiguity: As consultant and thought-leader Bobb Bhiel says, ambiguity leads to anxiety. Unclear guidelines, direction, or expectations, give us stress. Workers frequently report that a significant source of job stress is role ambiguity. Confusion is caused by unclear structure or poor communication.
How is role ambiguity feeding work-stress for you?
- Balance: I don’t like the term work-life balance as it implies that work and life are in separate containers. Work is part of our lives. We have one container. I call it proportionality—maintaining livable proportions between work and the rest of life. Sometimes work takes up too much of the space in our lives. When other sectors of life make demands — a new baby, a sick relative — we feel stress. Work is taking over, and we cannot honor commitments outside of work that matter to us.
How is the balance, or proportions challenge, feeding work-stress for you?
- Communication: Lack of information can cause job stress. Helpful, engaged, proactive managers keep their teams in the loop regarding everything relevant to indivdual and team performance. Wise team members have identified the kind of information they need and where to get it. Poor communication from management about performance, professional development, and the company future feed work-related anxiety.
How is poor communication feeding work-stress for you?
- Conflict: Conflict is by definition stressful. The unresolved conflict has a profound power to sabotage personal confidence and team cohesion. Conflict can rise to all-consuming levels of stress when there is bullying, discrimination, or harassment at work.
How is conflict feeding work-stress for you?
- Control: Some job stress is caused by a lack of engagement from management. An example would be the silent boss who never tells you how you’re doing or clarifies what’s expected. Other job’s stress is caused by too much management and bureaucracy. Capable people are energized by the responsibility to produce results, and capable people thrive when they have a healthy sense of control over how they will get to those results. Lack of control over how my work is organized and performed causes stress.
How is a lack of control feeding work-stress for you?
- Demands: Work is demanding by its nature. 24/7 technology, global markets, and the constant drive to do more with less mean there’s always, always, always, an appetite for more. When we are drowning in excessive demands, long hours, and multi-tasking, we are stressed.
How are over-whelming demands feeding work-stress for you?
- Resources: Lack of resources can be a source of stress in your work. Resources is our summary term for all the tools and assets you need to get your work done. Resources include training, equipment, skilled and motivated people, and of course, compensation.
How is a lack of resources feeding work-stress for you?
- Space: The physical environment we work in can also be a source of stress. Threat triggers can come from seemingly innocuous factors like an open office plan which leads to a high frequency of interruptions and high levels of distracting noise. Threat triggers can come from poor facilities that lack environmental controls and descent spaces for personal care. Threat triggers can come from physical spaces that are in disrepair or lack security, so they expose workers to actual danger.
How is a poor physical environment feeding work-stress for you?
9. Poor Fit: Lack of alignment between the requirements or culture of a given job and you as the worker causes signficant stress. This is a tricky factor since some of our best growth comes by pushing through difficulty. When we’ve done our best to adapt over a long period of time and still find ourselves misaligned, this creates chronic or destructive stress.
Is poor fit a factor in your job-related stress? How do you know? What is your plan for moving forward?
Immediate Hope and Long-Term Hope
Going through this list of stressors is stressful! How do we gain some ground on work-related stress?
- Immediate: Talk to God and others. Peter and Paul, pillars of the ancient Christian church, both urge their readers to get into the practice of sharing their stresses with God. Paul says “Don’t be anxious about anything, but pray about everything.” (Philippians 4:6). And Peter writes, “Cast your cares on him because he cares for you.” (1Peter 5:7). As a constant practice, we can learn to offload the immediate stress and ask for wisdom for longer-term solutions.
If you’re not a praying person, try it, or find a person to whom you can confide.
- Long-Term: Identify your top 3 sources of stress and gain wisdom on managing them. Identification is the first step to decreasing their power in your life. I’ll be tackling the top 3 sources of stress among our readers towards the end of this series. Help us help you by taking the VOCA Stress Poll.
Sources of stress are all around us, every day.
- Which ones are most relevant to you?
- What’s your first draft of an action plan for not letting these stressors get the best of you?
About the Author
Dr. Chip Roper writes Marketplace Faith from New York City, where he is the Founder and President of the VOCA Center. Chip is passionate about making work better by empowering clients with a keen sense of vocational identity. In service of this vision, Dr. Roper provides coaching, training, and consulting to individuals and organizations in NYC and beyond. Download information about his work as an executive coach and VOCA’s Calling Discernment Program, and visit our faith-based website at vocacenter.org and our market-facing menu of services at www.vocacenter.com.