Stress and burnout have become one of the reasons that the workplace of recent times has suffered demise, with a lot of unhealthy people and a loss of many of the employer’s work-days and hours of productivity. It is also acknowledged that quite often workers lament “work stress” although it is not clear whether they understand the real meaning of stress.
Since the emergence of the important concept of work stress in the 1970s and the resultant comprehensive studies undertaken to measure the stress impact on overall productivity, most researches and authors concur that “stress is the most discreet killer of all at the workplace.”
Theory suggests that the effects of chronic job stressors on the individual lead to burnout, and burnout as a state of physical, emotional and physical exhaustion as well as cynicism to one’s work is found to lead to lower levels of performance by employees. The low levels of performance by employees will translate to reduced profitability of the organization at large. Whilst there are varied reasons for any profitable organization to start making perpetual; losses, it is worth investigations whether ailing human capital does to contribute to the same in an organization.
But when we talk about stress and how it affects productivity in an organizational set up, it is appropriate that the meaning of stress itself be interrogated. Stress is the word given to the destructive nature of tension experienced by individuals facing extraordinary demands, constraints and opportunities. Most authors concur that there are two faces of stress, namely eustress and distress.
Eustress is said to be the constructive stress, which is necessary to motivate an individual to perform better. On the other hand, distress is the destructive stress which is not good for both the individual and the organization. Examples of eustress include the tension that causes individuals to work hard before examinations, pay attention in class, complete projects and assignments on time. Distress entails excessive stress that may lead to overload and break down of a person’s physical and mental systems.
It is acknowledged that in essence a certain amount of stress is unavoidable, but excessive stress may be fatal to the point of causing life-threatening illnesses such as heart diseases, stroke, high blood pressure, migranes, stomach ulcers and other undesirable discomforts.
Stress is caused by stressors. Stressors originate at the individual, group, organizational and extra-organizational levels. The relationships between stress, stressors and the behavioural outcome have been modelled by authors highlight the connection among them.
Botswana Power Corporation (BPC) took a giant leap in the early 200ss when it embarked on a steep journey aimed at improving its financial losses over the years as they have become an untenable perennial feature burdening its entire operations. After trying everything in the book to return to profitability in vain, the electricity corporation in view of considerations of other root causes of poor financial performance decided to embark on a stress and burnout research on the company.
In pursuit, the researchers, Pule Jankome, M. Mangori and Guillermina Ritacco produced a report titled “The Impact of Stress and Burnout on Employees’ Performance at Botswana Power Corporation” which concluded that in the majority, “the performance of employees started deteriorating since they started feeling stressed. Stressed employees with their physiological and mental ill-health, are susceptible to a high rate of absenteeism. These lost employer’s work hours therefore only translate to a decline in the levels of productivity for the employee and subsequently for the whole corporation”.
Respondents interviewed during the research were concerned that there had been too many changes at the work place. Along with the uncertainties concerning change come the possibilities of stress. This is especially true for the employees at BPC whose majority show that change decisions are not involving the employees. Respondents showed that there is little or no consultation by management when decisions which affect their work are made.
Respondents also brought to light that they did not perceive a positive support from BPC management, a situation that is likely to culminate into stress for the employees.
“The majority of respondents felt management was not concerned about their welfare. They further observed that as employees leave they do not get replaced. This shortage in manpower means that fewer people are doing the job that was initially planned for more, thereby making the survivors walk many times harder on the workload. Such excessive workloads leave the survivors vulnerable to stress and burnout”, states the report.
According to research on the subject of stress and burnout, the work environment has been labelled as one of the greatest causes of stress and burnout. Many of the authors opine that the most common sources of stress and eventually burnout include but are not limited to qualitative and quantitative demands, work pace control, participation, work shift and work roles. Working extended hours because of excessive work demands in limited time constitute what is referred to as quantitative demands.
Qualitative demands include insufficient authority to make decisions, lack of autonomy which leads to a feeling of lack of control, performance anxiety caused by a promotion. Casual observation has put Botswana Power Corporation on the list of victims in regard to the former two, that is, i9nsufficient authority and lack of autonomy. This has duly given rise to a lot of bureaucratic delays in the organization’s operations.
Role ambiguity, conflicting values, uncertainty, rapid change, threats and frustration are also mentioned as sources of stress in the work place. Whichever way these sources of stress are viewed, authors have concluded that the impacts of stress on employees and the organization at large cannot be positive or desirable. There is a general observation that “if stress is increased, employee productivity will go down”.
Too much stress can be harmful in both the short and long term. Short term signs of stress include tiredness, irritability, sleeplessness, anxiety and frustration. In the long term, there may be a greater likelihood of stomach ulcers, high blood pressure, migrane, asthma, skin conditions, heart diseases and strokes.
“Job stress is often an indirect cause of other ills such as occupational sickness and injury, clinical depression, suicide and fatal heart diseases. For employees, these effects are a cause for concern as they translate eventually into lost production hours for the employer and economic loss for the country”, it is argued.
Burnout on the other hand is defined as a syndrome or state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion as well as cynicism to one’s work in response to chronic stressors. When an individual is burnt out, they are likely to resort to excessive drinking, smoking and over-eating thus making themselves susceptible to coronary heart disease, an ill that is responsible for more than a quarter (27 percent) of men between the ages of 35 and 44.
Burnout also refers to a psychological syndrome consisting of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and lack of personal accomplishment. It is a persistent, negative work-related state of mind characterized by an array of physical, psychological and attitudinal symptoms, primarily exhaustion.
The BPC study concluded that “stress and burnout were found to have a negative correlation with performance based on the weakness to which these antecedents subject to the human body. Behavioural, cognitive and physiological impacts of stress and burnout on the individual present a state at which the employee cannot perform at optimum levels. This is to say that the impact of stress and burnout are negative and a threat to productivity”, concludes the study.