estrés laboral definición, causas y consecuencias para la salud - Work-related stress

Work-related stress: definition, causes and consequences for health

Stress has been dubbed the “health epidemic of the 21st century” by the World Health Organization. Since early studies, stress was defined as General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) or the defense response of the body or the psyche to injury or prolonged stress (Selye, 1956).

Subsequently, numerous authors have attempted to define stress. There is no doubt that the most comprehensive conceptualization of stress was given byMcEwen (2000) who described it as, “a real or interpreted threat to the physiological or psychological integrity of an individual that results in physiological and/or behavioral responses” (p. 173).

There are different types of stress depending on several factors such as:

  1. Stress duration.
  2. The stimuli eliciting the initial
  3. The psychological or physiological consequences triggered by the stressful event.
  4. The environment determining the stress response.

As indicated bypoints two and four,the workplace is one of the most stressful environments. In this post, we consider the need to address work-related stress.

Work stress

Work stress is a type of stress associated with the workplace that can be occasional or chronic, although most cases fall under the second type mentioned (Cavanaugh, Boswell, Roehling and Boudreau, 2000).

It is also important to note that occupational stress can be positive or negative (Kung & Chan, 2014).

Positive stress in the workplace

Positive stress (eustress) refers to the response to stressors in an adaptive way. The consequences of El estrés laboral definición, causas y consecuencias para la salud 2 - Work-related stresssuch response do not affect the overall health of the individual and its duration coincides with the duration of the stimulus, e.g., the stress response triggered during your first day of work is adaptive (positive stress) because you must be alert to new stimuli (tasks, bosses, colleagues, company procedures, etc.).

Negative stress in the workplace

estrés laboral definición, causas y consecuencias para la salud - Work-related stressWhen does this response stop being adaptive and can thus turn into negative stress? Well, if this stress lasts more than a month, the response intensifies over time and begins to interfere with the worker’s health (problems such as insomnia, tachycardia, anxiety and depression, among others) then it would be a case of negative stress in the workplace and should be taken into account (we recommend reading the meta-analysis by Hargrove, Quick, Nelson and Quick, 2011).

Causes of work stress

There are numerous studies focused on finding the most immediate causes and consequences of occupational stress. The following are some of the most noteworthy conclusions:

  • It has been found that being a victim of workplace harassment immediately triggers an intense and prolonged stress response over time (Balducci, Fraccaroli and Schaufeli, 2011; Hoobler, Rospenda, Lemmon and Rosa, 2010; Neall and Tuckey, 2014). This is especially important given that 8 out of 10 Spanish workers are dissatisfiedwith their work (CepymeNews, 2018).
  • It has been shown that work stress is, in most cases, due to role overload and role ambiguity (Babatunde, 2013; Ganster and Rosen, 2013).
  • In addition, it has been proposed that low salaries arealso associated with the onset of job stress (Raver and Nishii, 2010).
  • Other authors have observed that the lack of intrinsic motivation, as well as ababsence of incentives, are direct causes of workplace stress (Conley and You, 2014; Karimi and Alipour, 2011).

Conditioning factors of work stress

In addition, research has shown that certain factors can contribute to workplace stress and its characteristics. These factorsare precipitating or conditioning factors of work-related stress. Although there is no agreed list of these factors, some previous research has considered what these could be: the age of the person experiencing work stress, the type of work, having already suffered from another psychological disorder, the time previously spent unemployed,some personality traits such as neuroticism and psychoticism, the gender of the victim and family responsibilities, among others (Colligan and Higgins, 2006; Ganster and Rosen, 2013).

Consequences of work stress

Finally, the consequences associated with work-related stress should also be highlighted.

Cognitive consequences

Some studies have focused more on the cognitive consequences involving memory problems (memory lapses and forgetfulness of work-related information), difficulty paying attention to work-related issues, concentration problems, and a decline in the ability to perform several tasks at once (errors in working memory) (Wiegel, Sattler, Göritzand Diewald, 2014; Rickenbach et al., 2014).

Physical consequences

El estrés laboral definición, causas y consecuencias para la salud 2 - Work-related stressOther studies have been more interested in the physical consequences of job stress and have found that individuals often complain of insomnia, abnormal cardiac markers, hypertension and diabetes, thyroid problemsanda large majority suffer from symptoms of skin disorders, as well as migraines and tension-typeheadaches (Ganster and Rosen, 2013); Heraclides, Chandola, Witte and Brunner, 2012; Kivimäki and Kawachi, 2015; McCraty, Atkinson and Tomasino, 2003).

Emotional consequences

In addition, different studies have examined the emotional consequences of workplace stress. These include emotional lability, panic attacks, anxiety and depressive symptoms (Tennant, 2001; Brosschot, Verkuil and Thayer, 2016).

Conclusion

In general, it can be concluded that work-related stress is not always negative but depends on the intensity, duration and adaptive function of the stress response itself. In addition, since there is a lot of research on this subject, we can proactively use the current knowledge regarding its causes, symptoms and consequences to intervene early and prevent work-related stress from interfering with our physical and psychological health.

By: AMUNE (Asociación Murciana de Neurociencia)

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Bibliography

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  • Balducci, C., Fraccaroli, F.,&Schaufeli, W. B. (2011). Workplace bullying and its relation with work characteristics, personality, and post-traumatic stress symptoms: An integrated model. Anxiety, Stress & Coping, 24(5), 499-513.
  • Brosschot, J. F., Verkuil, B., & Thayer, J. F. (2016). The default response to uncertainty and the importance of perceived safety in anxiety and stress: An evolution-theoretical perspective. Journal of anxiety disorders, 41, 22-34.
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  • CepymeNews. (2018). España es el país europeo con más estrés laboral. Retrieved on 25 September 2018 from: https://cepymenews.es/espana-es-el-pais-europeo-con-mas-estres-laboral/
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