I recently took a poll on Instagram, asking where most people’s stress comes from. I learned 60% of my followers attribute their stress to their work and career. It beat out competing categories like interpersonal relationships and current events. Which got me to researching…
It turns out, my fellow Internet friends and I aren’t a special set of workaholics. According to the American Institute of Stress, “40% of workers reported their job was very or extremely stressful. 25% view their jobs as the number one stressor in their lives, and 75% of employees believe that workers have more on-the-job stress than a generation ago.” I may not be a stress expert, but those numbers seem entirely too high.
I recently left the corporate world in May 2020 to pursue my career coaching and freelance writing full-time. Though I was pretty petrified to take the leap, I was having incredibly harmful thoughts due to work and the stress it was bringing me. The pressure from management, combined with my personal need for more anatomy in my job, led me to feel broken beyond repair. And because I had experienced an intense bout of burnout early in the year, I knew the damage I was facing. Since leaving the corporate world for freelance life, my stress levels are ten times lower. I feel my anxiety is much more manageable, and my physical health has improved too.
The further I get away from my previous life as a corporate rat, the closer to get to the belief that for most, work is slowly killing us, and our employers and legislation are doing very little to change that. Perhaps things can’t change overnight, but we can begin to wake up to the irreparable damage work, which is causing us to implement better options at work for ourselves and our employees.
The Most Stressful Aspects of Work
We’re all triggered by various work-related stressors. Before freelancing, I was very much stressed out if I had a poor working relationship with my team or manager because I’m motivated by harmony, stability, and positive interpersonal relationships. On the other hand, my husband will become far more flustered by a lack of structure and poor process implementation.
We can’t please every employee, but we can find commonalities that make us all miserable. According to a UK study, the top three work-related stressors for employees were a.) having an excessive workload, b.) overemphasis on metrics and unrealistic expectations and c.) incompetent or lazy coworkers.
Having an Excessive Workload
Personally, I have felt as though former employers expected its team members to adopt an “all or nothing” mentality to their work. I saw that same notion go into full gear when most people started working from home due to COVID-19. One manager at a former employer expressed the need for her team to work longer hours since there was no longer a commute taking away time in their day now. (Yeah, what the actual f*ck.)
When internalized, the message being sent to employees is their life should come secondary to their career. This message can ultimately hurt their relationships with family, friends, and significant others. Additionally, an employee is more likely to prioritize their health after their workload, which is never good for one’s mental health and well being.
To help alleviate work-related stressors and the immense workload suffered by employees, employers should adequately staff their teams and implement employee benefits and policies that encourage their employees to slow down with PTO or strict working hours. Finally, leaders and managers should monitor their team’s behavior and address signs of burnout and depression.
Dealing with a Micromanager
Have you ever heard the phrase, “People don’t leave bad companies, they leave bad managers”? I’ve been largely lucky with the managers I’ve worked with throughout my career. Most offered incredible guidance, held me to a high but achievable standard, and supported me with resources and coaching. But I haven’t struck gold every time. I’ve learned I don’t work well with a micromanager or strict rule-follower.
Micromanagers make you feel like you’ve done something wrong or will inevitably do something wrong, and can be another work-related stressor. And when your confidence is knocked down, and your patience is tested, it is a perfect tee-up for Vroom’s expectancy theory. In essence, if a manager thinks you’re going to do a bad job, you’re going to do a bad job.
In the future, I would like to see more companies host manager trainings and provide leadership education for employees.
Toxic Work Culture
And if you’ve never left a company due to management, I can almost guarantee that you’ve left a company because of its culture. There is a spectrum that defines a company being “toxic.” For some employees, its gossiping and manipulative coworkers, and for others, a lack of community and socializing can be stiffing.
Regardless, a lack of connection and appreciation at a company can be stressful. In my experience, the workplaces where I felt most insecure were the places where I didn’t give my best work. At first, it was because I was scared to put my soul into something that wouldn’t be appreciated. In time, it was because I felt the team didn’t deserve my best work.
I love what the author of Leading the Workforce of the Future, Bridgette Hyacinth, said in her LinkedIn post, “Toxicity is lethal to growth, innovation, and creativity. It can also make employees sick. Disengaged employees, high turnover, poor customer relations, and lower profits are examples of how the wrong culture can negatively impact the bottom line. When people leave your organization, find out why [with exit interviews]. Consequently, when people stay with your organization, find out why [with employee surveys]. It’s important to act on feedback and make the necessary changes. Show employees you are interested in creating a healthy workplace environment.”
There will be hard days with any job and any career, but as a friend once told me, if a job costs you your peace, the price is too high.