April 15, 2024

Why Old Adages Should Not Apply To Modern Work Stressors

by thebsbook in Uncategorized0 Comments

What Five Studies Tell Us About Long-Term Health Impacts Of Work Stressors

“If it ain't’ broke, don’t fix it…”

Adages like this may stop us from reflecting on what’s going on for us. Sometimes we think we should be tough and endure, and just “get over it”. After all, what we experience at work is “nothing compared to what others experience.” Right? So sometimes, we think we can ignore it, and it will go away.

But our bodies aren’t ignoring it, even if we are pretending it doesn’t affect us.

You see, that part of our brain that still fears becoming a snack to a predator does some interesting things. Because it gets used to the stressful situation and can even feel weirdly “safe” when we are in it (because it is known) - it can also act up and be defensive as we seek healthier situations. As weird as that is, remember the current state - even if not healthy - is the known state and therefore safe to this ancient brain programming. Anything else is considered dangerous – even healthier options.

As it turns out, lots of us are just putting up with it at work - or at least think we are.

A major study by Gallup, reported by the Harvard Business Review (1), found “that employees around the world are experiencing stress at an all-time-high level, and worry, anger, and sadness remain above pre-pandemic levels. These emotions are organizational risks: If leaders aren’t paying attention to employee wellbeing, they’re likely to be blindsided by top-performer burnout and high quit rates. Today’s leaders must think beyond physical wellness to capture the broader dimensions of overall well-being, capture data on how their employees are doing, and make employee care a permanent part of organizational culture.”

Our workplaces are more dynamic than ever, with a large mix of different age groups, belief systems and nationalities. Simultaneously, we are all also experiencing a new level of stressors at home, too, along with those at work.

Some workplaces will make mild attempts at employee wellbeing, mostly geared towards keeping their top performers from leaving. However, the data shows that there’s a lot of work to still do here. This same Gallup research found “that fewer than one in four U.S. employees felt strongly that their employer cared about their wellbeing — the lowest percentage in nearly a decade.”

This study goes on to explain that stress levels are high, with “44% of employees say they experienced a lot during the previous day.”

What does that translate to?

The amount of BS we are all carrying, just based on the workplace, is at an all-time high. While it may seem subtle, mild, and something you should just deal with, what it can do to our bodies and long-term health is significant.

Let’s look at what this workplace BS we are enduring is doing to our health.

In the construction industry, a study from the University of Cape Town (5) found that:

-   Most respondents experience “high levels of stress at work.”

-   Female architects experienced the most stress.

-   Physical effects included “usual sleep patterns, difficulty in relaxing after hours, and difficulty in concentrating. Sociological effects include a strain on family life, social activities, and social relationships.”

-   Negative coping included “consumption of alcohol is widespread, with more than one-third of respondents consuming 3–9 units/week. One in six respondents report smoking up to 40 cigarettes/day, whereas use of narcotics (such as marijuana, cocaine, mandrax, ecstasy, heroin, and methamphetamine) at least once in the previous 12 months is reported by 1 in 20.”

Okay, maybe you aren’t in construction, and maybe you don’t work in a developing country, but do these effects resonate at all? Again, remember that our brain wiring doesn’t care if something should be easier or harder - it just experiences the stress event. If your brain interprets an event as a fight/flight/freeze event, the threat response modules are activated - like if you were about to be that snack to a bear. Adrenaline and cortisol are flowing, and internal systems are all on high alert.

Yes, I know that sounds silly - as hopefully there’s no bear about to eat you in your everyday work.  Well, it is just as silly to judge your stress as “not big” while your body reacts to it and affects your life in larger ways than you could be acknowledging.

What does science show happen with these stressors we think we just have to put up with and get over?

A lot.

In a research brief by the Iowa Department of Public Health (3), Dr. Bruce McEwen shares that “prolonged exposure to physiological or psychological stress results in over-use or overactivation of the brain’s stress response and mediation systems.”

When we experience these events - whatever our brains believe is a fight/flight/freeze event - cortisol and adrenaline flow. At the same time, the gateway to higher functions in our cerebral cortex is effectively shut off. We don’t have reasoning, imagination, and calmness as options anymore. This is why when someone says something like “they are so mad that they cannot see straight” they could be right. Their brain has shut off other functions to deal with the stressor.

Let’s be clear, there can be positive stressors that don’t rise to the notion of work BS that are things we can find healthy coping mechanisms for. The goal here isn’t to remove all stressors. However, we should be honest about the impacts of not dealing with our workplace BS.

The University of Massachusetts Lowell (4) found that toxic stressors - yes, the BS stuff - greatly increase the risk for:

● High cholesterol

● High blood pressure

● High blood sugar

● Weakened immune response.

● High cortisol

● Changes in appetite and digestive pattern

The University shares this diagram (below) in their materials about the world that work stress creates. It spills into how we eat, what we may overindulge in, and things as severe as stroke.


Unattended to, this is what workplace BS can lead to. It cannot be ignored. 

Fortunately, there are some straightforward ways we can improve our everyday lives here that we cover in detail in Boost Your Bullsh*t Resilience At Work, available on Amazon. We will also cover many of these in our blog posts here. 

Be sure to subscribe to our email list too, so we can be sure to get the latest findings and solutions, and help eradicate the work BS you may be experiencing for good!

Sources:

1.            Stressed, sad, and anxious: A snapshot of the global workforce. Harvard Business Review. (2022, June 15). https://hbr.org/2022/06/stressed-sad-and-anxious-a-snapshot-of-the-global-workforce

2.            Perceptions of construction work: Views to consider to improve employee ... (n.d.). https://ascelibrary.org/doi/10.1061/%28ASCE%29CO.1943-7862.0002057

3.            The neurobiology - pcaiowa.org. (n.d.-b). https://pcaiowa.org/content/uploads/2019/02/neurobiology-of-stress-report.pdf

4.            Job stress health effects: Total worker health for employers: CPH-New: Research. Total Worker Health for Employers | CPH-NEW | Research | UMass Lowell. (n.d.). https://www.uml.edu/research/cph-new/worker/stress-at-work/health-effects.aspx

5.             Lloyd-Jones, D., Adams, R., Brown, T., Carnethon, M., Dai, S., & Simone, G. (2009, December 17). Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics—2010 Update. Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.109.192667


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