Workplace Stress: Unstated Expectations

Joseph knows when he's had enough. Normally, he looks forward to the day's challenges as he dives into his work in an efficient and methodical manner.

Lately, however, he's noticed that he faces each day with dread. He's tired - so very tired. The ideas which once flowed so easily seem mired in mud. He knows they're there, but he just can't seem to pull them free. His patience has evaporated. What's more, he goes home and has nothing left for his family, who all too often hears the chorus of "Not now, I'm tired."

Joseph is suffering from burn-out, one of the many side-effects of stress.

You see, in Joseph's office, there is an unstated expectation: employees who don't stay long after the regular work day is officially over don't care - either about their career or the company. Joseph cares about his career, his company and his family, but is torn and is being pulled apart.

Andrea works in an equally frustrating environment. In her workplace, her role is not clearly defined. She has a job title, but that seems to vary, based on the whims of the boss. At times, she is given autonomy, which she enjoys. That is not always the case, though. At any given time, she may be chastised for taking on a role that she "had no business doing."  She has spoken to the boss many times, but it is like he has cotton-batten in his ears. He just doesn't hear what she is saying. This yo-yo type of management is forcing her to spend all her free time, of which she doesn't have much, looking for a new job. That's unfortunate because Andrea is a huge asset to the company, often pulling the boss' butt out of the fire.

When expectations are not clearly defined, work suffers, as do employees. Stressed out employees don't perform well. Production slows down - deadlines are missed, accidents increase, as does healthcare costs. Furthermore, the differences between this type of workplace and one that recognizes that their staff deserves to be treated well, are as discernible as a bottle filled with oil and vinegar. It's obvious which one will rise to the top.

Employees who are equipped with stress undressing tools and techniques are more innovative; when expectations are clear they know where they stand. They're not operating from a place of fear, thus they are able to be more innovative, which will help them to edge out the competition.

Last year in Canada, it is estimated that 33 billion dollars were lost to stress, which includes absenteeism, presenteeism, long and short-term disability claims, accidents and litigation.

In a survey that was completed in 2010 by 335 human resources and /or health benefits managers, 89% of employers admitted that excessive workload was a problem for their organization. Richard Hertz, a neuroscientist at Vanderbilt University concludes that under pressure, brain cells become hyper-sensitive to new input, therefore causing people to draw faulty conclusions. This leads to mistakes. Mistakes are costly.

Joseph and Andrea have always been ready, willing and able to work. In fact, they thrive on knowing that they can make positive contributions to their company. But as conscientious as they both are, they find the mix of poorly communicated expectations and misunderstood demands a lethal mix. At some point there is break-down. The pachyderm continues to be seen, but not spoken of, and another workplace loses out.

Have you ever worked in environments that are similar to Joseph and Andrea's? What did you notice about your stress levels? Did the situation improve?

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4 Replies to “Workplace Stress: Unstated Expectations”

  1. Yup, been there done that for both senarios and more.

    It doesn’t really help working long hours either. Some employers don’t appreciate that either.

    Some bosses should walk a mile in the employee’s shoes and see if they would be happy under such stress. Kind of like the Undercover Boss senario.

    1. I think that sometimes the employer gets so consumed by his/her own stresses that they don’t see/realize the impact their actions have on those within the company.

  2. No, I can honestly say that in my time of work we did not have such stressful lives. There were periods when I was on prolonged jet lags, but I would not call them as stressful. In India in the recent ten to fifteen years things have indeed changed drastically and for the worse and one sees stress all over the place at very young stages of life and burn outs are more common than one would imagine in a fairly laid back society. That is the price one pays for progress I guess. I counsel some young people and find that it is the uncertainty that is the biggest culprit as the kind of long time careers we had in our time are no longer in the employment lexicon. Another casualty to progress!

    1. Ramana,

      How did you manage the demands of your job – the deadlines, quotas, travels?

      Your comment reminds me of the idiom that nothing is certain except change itself.

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