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How Stress Affects Attitudes at Work

written by: Bruce Tyson•edited by: Ginny Edwards•updated: 5/19/2011

How does stress affect attitudes and behavior in work settings? The modern workplace demands more productivity for less wages, forcing many to work in unfavorable conditions to support their families. Here we look at how stress affects attitudes at work and how to make things better.

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    Causes of Stress at Work

    To understand how stress affects attitudes and behaviors in work settings, first consider what causes job related stress to begin with. Although Office building sources of stress in the workplace are virtually innumerable, here are just a few to consider.

    Role ambiguity. Employees who are consistently measured by inconsistent criteria or are indiscriminately moved from one role to another don't know what to expect at work and are thus subjected to a high degree of stress.

    Cultural change. Organizational changes, such as transitioning from organic to functional, decentralization, downsizing, etc. can result in a company treating their employees as disposable commodities, especially when layoffs are involved.

    Image perfection. Organizations that routinely work to conceal their flaws rather than address them often become high stress environments. Workers are often treated harshly for their mistakes because of the impact they have on their perceived image. This tends to lead to a situation where many segments of the business cannot be openly discussed for fear of repercussions, leading to job related stress.

    Psychological climate. Employees who do not (or cannot) trust their employers deal with a great amount of uncertainty that leads to an almost constant second-guessing of the motives and intentions of their boss.

    Financial issues. As rising health insurance costs eat away at stagnant salaries, more workers are becoming more stressed at work, especially when the people at the top are living lifestyles that are increasingly extravagant. The struggle to get by can be particularly stressful.

    Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Chuck Marean

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    The Effect of Stress on Attitude

    Although stress has observable physical manifestations, you need to be concerned about the effect stress has on attitude.

    Employees that report high levels of stress at work consistently reflect a high level of dissatisfaction with their job. This attitude fundamentally undermines any positive aspects of the work environment and generally results in hostility. A hostile attitude results in 3 components.

    First, those subjected to stress in the workplace will often develop hostile thought patterns about their employer as a whole, their boss, and their coworkers. This type of thinking manifests itself in (1) interpreting the undesirable behavior of others as hostile, (2) general cynicism, and (3) distrust. When you find yourself or an employee exhibiting such thought patterns, that person is likely experiencing too much work related stress.

    Another manifestation of stress in the workplace comes in the form of emotional expressions of anger, which can logically stem from the hostile thought processes already mentioned here. Anger can be expressed verbally or non-verbally, actively or passively.

    Finally, the attitudes promoted by stress can lead to behavior problems. These can range from relatively harmful absenteeism to workplace violence.

    With the number of violent outcomes of stress in the workplace reported almost daily in the news, finding ways to reduce job related stress should be important to everyone.

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    Stress Reduction Tips

    For you to successfully balance work and family responsibilities, you need to control your work-related stress. After all, neither you nor your family won't benefit at all if you "go postal." If you successfully learn to manage stress, your attitude will be conducive to a successful career and a healthy life at home.

    Take up Yoga. You can channel stress out of the body through exercises such as yoga for stress management, so take some time to learn more about it. There are effective movements you can do while sitting in your chair, so you don't have to worry about losing your effectiveness on the job as a result.

    Environment. Your work area affects the level of stress you experience while on the job. Your office is an ecosystem with environmental factors that weigh heavily on your attitude while working. If you can, change the color in your workspace to blue to inspire hope or purple to suggest wealth. If you are near a window, take time to enjoy the view (whatever it is) and bring in some plants, flowers, and artwork to create a more natural environment that will comfort you at work.

    Focus on what you can change. Rather than dwelling on the things at work over which you have no influence, focus on what you can do for yourself. After all, you can decide your thoughts and your attitudes, and you can even leave your job if it is negatively affecting you. When you realize that you - not the boss - are in charge of your life, you will find a much needed measure of peace.

    Define your role. If you feel uncertain about what your responsibilities are on the job or are unclear as to the requirements and expectations your employer has for you, schedule a meeting with your supervisor or manager to discuss your concerns. If necessary, get human resources involved. You will be able to do better work and have a better attitude on the job and at home when you have a good understanding of your purpose.

    Set goals. Workers who have a clear vision for their future normally report lower levels of stress. The inner stability goals give workers allow them to regard current workplace issues as mere temporary disturbances on their path toward a better life.

    Accept setbacks. Failure is part of life, so don't look at yourself as defective just because things didn't work out for a particular endeavor. Attribute "negative" experiences optimistically as part of your journey to fulfillment rather than as life shattering events.