If you feel that you are working harder, and virtually all the time, you are not alone. According to Robert Half’s 2011 Workplace Survey, 69 per cent of Singaporean employees tune into work even when they are out of the office or on holiday.
‘Workaholism’ is on the rise as technology allows employees to access work emails and receive work calls anytime and anywhere. Constant work connectivity can result in greater job stress. Slowing economic growth and poor market performance can also add to job stress, with more employees feeling an increasing pressure to perform.
Gender can also influence stress at work. A 2011 World Health Organisation commentary on gender disparities in mental health revealed that just as gender influences a person’s social position, status and treatment in society, so it affects what gives men and women stress and how they react to it.
Work that does not allow for skill discretion and decision-making authority contributes most to depression, and is more prevalent the lower one’s rank. As women generally earn less than men and more often occupy the lower ranking positions in organisations, they are more prone than men to work-related stress.
“However, stress does differ depending on the industry sector. For instance, in the construction industry, according to a study published in the Journal of Management in Engineering in 2004, men appear to experience slightly higher levels of stress than women,” says Dr Fong Yuke Tien, Senior Consultant and Director of Occupational Medicine at Singapore General Hospital.
“Men in this industry appeared to suffer more stress in relation to risk-taking, disciplinary matters, implications of mistakes, redundancy, and career progression. Female engineers in the construction industry, on the other hand, stressed more over opportunities for personal development, keeping up with new ideas and business travel.”
“At work, women, more than men, are stressed by low income, income inequality, and low or subordinate social status and rank. These differences reflect the realities of women’s role in society and at work,” explains Dr Fong.
Warning signs of burnout
Watch out for warning signs that you are experiencing too much stress.
- Are you having trouble sleeping or eating?
- Have you lost interest in activities that you previously enjoyed?
- Do you have persistent headaches and body pain?
- Do you feel exhausted all the time, or fall sick often?
- Do you feel anxious, irritable or restless most of the time?
“When a person’s self-worth is tied to his or her work performance, he or she is more likely to suffer from job-related stress,” says Dr Fong. Indeed, certain personality types are more prone to job stress. That’s the case for type A personalities who tend to be impatient, inflexible, worrying, self-blaming, and excessively goal- or achievement-oriented. When job stress is compounded by loneliness, financial burdens, marital or relational problems, alcoholism and illness, burnout looms.
Tips to prevent burnout
- Start by identifying the stressors in your life. See if you can eliminate some of them.
- Ask yourself if you are being unrealistic in your commitments or expectations.
- Take a course on proper time management and/or relaxation techniques.
- Get sufficient sleep as well as regular and balanced meals.
- Engage in regular exercise, even if for just a few minutes every day.
- Don’t hesitate to talk it over with family, friends, colleagues or a health care provider.
Managers can be part of the solution
Managers should be alert to warning signs of staff burnout and depression, such as absenteeism, habitual lateness, low morale and lack of motivation.
Managers can also do their part by not overloading their employees, having realistic expectations of staff performance and keeping communication channels open through regular staff dialogue and feedback sessions.
Stress: Your health at stake
Over the long term, exposure to excess cortisol and other stress hormones can increase your risk of developing health problems such as:
- Digestive problems (stomach ulcers, diarrhoea)
- Eating disorders (loss of appetite, overeating)
- Heart disease
- Sleep disorders
Article contributed by the Occupational Medicine Unit at:
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