Work stress is often associated with negative effects on physical and mental health, but it can also help boost performance in the workplace – as long as resources are available to help employees cope. “Feeling that push because you’re stressed out can generate higher performance or more learning,” says Prof. Gloria González-Morales, Department of Psychology, but organizations need to provide employees with the support they need to handle stress so it doesn’t take a toll on their health.
Employees who perceive their work environment as challenging, yet supportive, are more committed to their organization, she says. Working in a supportive environment where employees feel comfortable asking for help from supervisors and colleagues can help with stress management. “Feeling that the organization cares about your well-being and also values your contributions – that has to be in place.”
Bringing work stress home can be detrimental to an employee’s family life, she adds, especially if family members feel neglected due to work-related responsibilities. “You cannot be in two places at the same time,” says González-Morales, adding that everyone has a limited amount of time and energy. Spending late nights at work means that parents may not be able to attend their children’s after-school activities or have enough energy for them when they come home. But having a good day at work can have a “positive spillover” effect on employees, making them happier in other parts of their lives.
Coping mechanisms for work stress differ among men and women, says González-Morales. Women are more likely to seek social support from their colleagues, supervisors and friends, and they tend to benefit from this support, whereas problem-focused coping is more beneficial for men. That gender difference may be due to the way boys and girls are raised. From early childhood, boys are encouraged to solve problems on their own. “They are not expected to ask for help,” she says, but she advises both genders to seek help if they feel stressed at work to avoid burnout.