Why Work Stress is Killing You

Understanding why being at work can cause so much stress.

Stress 21st Jul, 2020

Have you ever asked yourself why work stress is killing you? How many people say they can’t wait for the weekend or find themselves clock watching, counting down the seconds until lunch or finishing time? But why?

Well it depends where you work and how high up the corporate ladder you are, however if we remove the surface stresses like heavy machinery operating or customer service, it would seem that the underlying cause of stress comes from how “empowered” we feel or our sense of agency.

This is not to say that dealing with customers on a daily basis is any less impactful, especially when we are the ones who are not supposed to put a foot wrong. After all, in customer-facing roles where we are expected to take “being chewed” out” by a disgruntled customer or prospect as the norm, it can begin to grate on our self esteem, especially in low paid positions.

The difference is that if you are working a job like this, that is the job. So stimulus of stress will not change, only our ability to handle or deal with it. 

How does this affect aspiration toward a higher position, when often those in managerial roles complain about the stress they’re under? It’s not uncommon for many of us to aspire to positions of power, dreaming “if only it was me” or “how much more control would I have over my life in that position”, being oblivious to the perils and the regret often felt by colleagues in those positions.Many would argue that a good manager is chosen because of their ability to either deal with stress or use it for empowerment.

The extra responsibility and having people who depend on you is not easy, but often a key criteria for promotion is being able to. Some middle managers however may feel as impotent as when they started, but the difference is the buck now stops with them.

When we finally look at the entrepreneurs or business owners, we see the stresses of responsibility in full. Even with proper delegation the stress can be immense. When someone is just one or two terrible moves away from failure the psychological strain can be too much.

Though these positions certainly come with their perks, such as increased freedom, usually a higher quality of life and a feeling of more control over one’s life, it is not uncommon to hear of high powered people who either self destruct or who take substances to escape the pressure. 

Regardless of our vocational choices, we all feel stress, however  the underlying difference is that usually the higher we climb the ladder, the more the cause of stress changes from our feelings of our own impotence to that of responsibility.

This is why most would prefer to find a sweet spot in a company where they have enough agency but not too much that they feel overwhelmed. 

But how much is truly out of our control?

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