How Stress Affects the Individual
Stress can have very negative effects on individual people. Just how much stress impacts a person depends on several factors. This includes their levels of personal resilience, the coping mechanisms they can utilize, how severe the stress is, and how long the stress has been happening.
Whenever we feel challenged – taken out of our comfort zone – the body automatically initiates a survival mode called the stress response, commonly known as "fight or flight". This is an inherent and ancient human trait; a survival mechanism that allows individuals to quickly respond to danger and return to a position or feeling of safety. To this day, the stress response serves as a way to cope appropriately with negative situations. Short term stress results in heightened awareness and thinking, elevated heart rate, increased muscle tension, strength and aggression, and momentarily decreased digestive and immune activity. This is simply the body preparing for immediate and decisive action in order to mitigate the perceived threat.
However, if the stress continues for extended periods – if this heightened state continues to run without ceasing – these symptoms can become harmful. The effects of prolonged or excessive stress include, amongst others, insomnia, anger, decreased appetite, binge eating, withdrawal, obsessive thinking, anxiety, depression and even chronic health conditions such as type II diabetes and asthma.
How Stress Affects the Workplace Environment
Even a single person who is experiencing the effects of prolonged or excessive stress can contribute to the development of an underlying tension in the workplace environment. It can quickly start a chain reaction, which may affect the entire company. Employees may lose motivation for work, and they certainly won't want to stay late. They will half-heartedly do the work they once looked forward to.
What to Do About It
The workplace will always have a certain amount of change. There is nothing that can be done about that. Things like restructures, changing deadlines, employee turnover, and difficult customers are going to happen. What is within your power is to develop and implement the policies necessary to provide your staff with the skills they need to self-manage the physical and psychological effects of change.
For your staff, a great resource is stress management training . This simple training will give them the coping skills necessary to better handle any challenge comes their way.
In terms of policies, ensure you enact a "zero tolerance" policy for workplace bullying, which is one of the primary factors of a stressful environment. Take a look at your overall approach and implement the changes required to make your company an even better place to work.