by Chad Ingram

Work stress invasion

Dont allow work related stress to affect your personal life

Dont allow work related stress to affect your personal life
Work stress invasion

A recent conference on work, stress and health, sponsored in part by the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, included research on family-supportive workplace and the influence of supervisors - good or bad - on employee health.

"Survey results vary, but you can find that large numbers of individuals report that work is the biggest source of stress in their lives," said Michael Ford, an assistant professor of psychology at the University at Albany-State University of New York.

"At the same time, everybody has a life outside of work," Ford said. "So we need to continue to understand how this affects the psychological and physical well-being of the population as well. I think it's something that a lot of people can relate to."

The effect of work on your life

When it comes to work-related stress, health consequences are wide-ranging. With high levels of job stress and work-life stress, we see mental health problems increasing. The levels of depressive symptoms increases. Cardiovascular disease has been a clear link with job strain as is obesity. 

When people are stressed at work, when their supervisors are really not supportive around work-life issues, you find more negative health behaviors in the sense of poor food choices, lower levels of exercise, poor sleep hygiene.

Work stress takes a toll on relationships as well.

Marriages affected

Research shows that relationship quality goes down. When one experiences negative stress/strain that ends up crossing over to their partner or spouse or children, it results in similar stress and strain among those family members.

In Ford's study comparing American and Chinese workplaces, he found that people in supportive work environments tend, in turn, to be more supportive of their spouses.

"In the research literature there's correlational evidence that when parents are more stressed, kids are more stressed. Kids experience that stress, and it comes out in terms of health compliance, it comes out in terms of behavioural difficulties."

Managers and supervisors are a primary source of work support - or work stress.

"Lack of support or abusiveness of the supervisor can spill over into home life, both in terms of the time and energy that it takes away from people, but also if it affects their mood," Ford said. "That can, of course, potentially affect the life of your family members."

What separates good and bad supervisors?

"Sometimes bad bosses post schedules at the last minute so that people who have family responsibilities or non-work responsibilities - anything, not just family - have to readjust their whole non-work lives around their work schedules. When supervisors basically don't allow for schedule control and control over work, that leads to high levels of stress."

Supervisors need to be trained on the topic of emotional support. The training starts with a workforce survey, which usually reveals a disconnect: When it comes to work-family conflict, managers tend to think they're more supportive than workers perceive them to be.

Supervisors can contribute to a healthier atmosphere by demonstrating their own work-life balance "in the sense that they are taking care of their own work, life and family integration and that, for example, they take time off to go to their kid's basketball or baseball game."

One challenge is convincing organizations that being family-supportive means the work still gets done. 

Employers are paying for health care and employers are taking a hit when workers are absent, and what we see are higher levels of stress related to higher levels of absenteeism and higher levels of health complaints and health problems.

"Employers can be paying attention and understanding what they can do to help alleviate that stress. It will help their bottom line as well as help employees' health and well-being outcomes."

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