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Stress Series: Know thy stressor – Part 2

Posted by Deb Muoio

Jan 18, 2016 1:15:19 PM


In a previous blog, we looked at five of the ten most common sources of stress at work. Let’s take a look at the remaining ones.

  1. Lack of control or autonomy

    Psychologists coined the term “learned helplessness” in a series of experiments in which animals were subjected to averse stimuli (electric shock) which they could not avoid or escape. The eventual result was a passive acceptance of their suffering. In humans, when people cannot control their environment, learned helplessness can result in depression. As you can imagine, being in a work environment in which you have no control or power is a major source of stress. This includes:

    • Not being able to control the type of tasks you work on
    • Being given major responsibilities to take care of, but not having enough authority to do your job properly (e.g. not being able to move forward with any decision without approval from a superior)
    • Having to work under constant surveillance
    • Working for a boss who micromanages
  2. Poor Job Fit

    Imagine a mild-mannered person with fragile self-esteem working as a cold-calling salesperson; or a competitive, self-absorbed, ambitious up-and-comer working in a non-profit organization. The employee feels out of place and becomes disengaged. The stress brought on by poor job fit is the result of more than a simple lack of skill. It can include:

    • Incompatible values – like the environmentally conscious employee who is stuck working for a company that dumps waste in rivers because there are no other opportunities in the area
    • A mismatched organizational culture – like the passive employee working in a highly competitive, cut-throat work environment, or an atheist in an organization with strong focus on religion.
    • A management style that clashes with employees’ preferences – like the autonomous worker who prefers a more hands-off approach, but is forced to work under a micromanager
    • Personality clashes with team members – like a more introverted employee dealing with strong personalities
    • Lack of competence – not having the necessary skills, knowledge, experience and training to handle one’s responsibilities
    • Interest mismatch – like the accountant who has the skills to do a job, but who went into the field for pragmatic reasons and longs for an outdoorsy kind of career
  3. Toxic Work Environment

    If you thought bullying and malicious gossip were only found in high school cafeterias, think again. In some companies, the work environment has become a battleground in which people pull themselves up the ladder by bringing others down. A work environment can be physically or psychologically toxic (or both), and can have a significant impact on an employee’s well-being.
    Physically toxic elements include:

    • Chronic, excessive noise
    • Fluorescent lighting or poor lighting in general
    • Working in a cluttered environment
    • Working with chemicals or other abrasive materials/pollutants
    • Working outside in harsh conditions
    • Working in close quarters and not having enough personal space
    • Being exposed to allergens (dust, cleaning products, perfumes, dog/cat hair on co-workers’ clothing)

    A psychologically toxic environment can include:

    • Perceived injustice or lack of fairness (e.g. unfair compensation, favoritism, nepotism, etc.)
    • Discrimination, be it against a person’s gender, age, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, marital status, disability, or political affiliation
    • Sexual or psychological harassment (bullying, gossiping, ostracism, shunning)
    • Negative media coverage about the company or its principles (e.g. campaigns against people who work in tobacco companies; a boss who has been exposed and ousted for skimming profits)
    • Emotionally charged events (e.g. employee suicide; Charlie Hebdo shootings)
  4. Incompetent leadership

    In an effort to promote or hire a leader who has the technical skills and knowledge to do a job, companies often don’t make it a point to make sure  they are selecting someone who has the right personality to be a manager. All the technical know-how in the world cannot fix a bad attitude. Here are a few examples of how a manager’s behavior can stress-out employees:

    • The manager has poor or underdeveloped social skills and emotional intelligence. His/Her interactions with employees are abrasive, unpleasant, and tactless
    • The manager doesn’t offer regular feedback to employees or offers only negative feedback (in a tactless manner)
    • The manager shows little if any appreciation and recognition for hard work
    • The manager is difficult to please, resulting in learned helplessness
    • The manager engages in favoritism or nepotism
    • The manager does not encourage initiative or feedback – or worse yet, punishes it
    • The manager uses a management style that is inappropriate for the situation and people involved (micromanagement or authoritarian approach with experienced and competent employees, or laid-back, laissez-faire attitude with rookies)
  5. Managerial Stressors

    Employees are not the only ones who deal with work stress on a daily basis. Managers themselves have to deal with a multitude of stressors, including:

    • The need to multitask
    • The need to make complex decisions or take risks in which the wrong choice could result in serious consequences – and the need to be accountable for those failures
    • Being a part of workplace conflicts, or having to be the mediator between two arguing employees
    • Having to interview, hire, and train new job candidates - and tiptoe through a minefield of HR rules and regulations
    • Giving negative feedback to poor performers, or reprimanding employees who break rules
    •  Laying off or firing people
    • Dealing with difficult people, either above or below in the hierarchy
    • Having to implement decisions coming from upper management that the manager himself/herself does not endorse
    • Having to deal with age cohort differences, like the battle between Baby Boomers and Millennials
    • Dealing with labor relations
    • Having to manage the progress of flextime or telecommuting employees, or international teams

Stayed tuned for the next installment of the stress series in which we cover ways to reduce stress at work.
If you’re interested in using BSS - NSF - R2 (Burnout Symptom Screener - For Non-Service Fields - 2nd Revision), BSS - SF - R2 (Burnout Symptom Screener - For Service Fields - 2nd Revision) or other assessments, request a free trial for ARCH Profile here.

Want to learn more about using psychological tests for hiring, leadership development, career development or talent retention? Download our free eBook loaded with down-to-earth information about psychological testing for HR purposes.

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Topics: HR Trends, Retention, Employee Wellbeing, stress, Employee Relations, Turnover

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