Stress, bullying, violence and burnout -- these are the psychological hazards all too common in the workplace. When danger present in your workplace causes you to hate a job you once loved, become depressed, feel anxious, or withdraw from others, or it starts to affect your personal life, many employees simply avoid work or quit altogether. If uncorrected, these hazards are costly to employers in terms of absenteeism, presenteeism, or "spacing out" at work and poor job performance.
According to a June 2009 article by the International Labour Organization, stress in the workplace is a very common hazard, which, over time, manifests itself in terms of physical illnesses, including peptic ulcers, inflammatory bowel disease, lowered immune functioning, and hypertension and is a contributory factor to heart diseases. Factors that commonly contribute to stress in the workplace include excessive hours, unreasonable management practices, inflexible working schedules, a noisy or crowded work environment, lack of organizational communication and rapid workplace change.
While some people like to think bullying is confined to the schoolyard, the harsh reality is that many people carry this behavior into their adulthood, and bullying in the workplace is rampant. The bully may be a co-worker, a supervisor or even a vice president, but the consequences are the same -- you don't want to remain in an abusive environment any longer than you have to. Women are sometimes afraid to report their male bosses bullying them because they are met with a casual "boys will be boys" reception, while men under-report bullying because they think their supervisors will view them as unmanly, especially if their bully is a female.
According to a February 2001 University of Iowa report, approximately 2 million people are subject to violence in the workplace every year. While those working in social services are the most likely victims, violence is perpetrated across the U.S. in every kind of organization. The perpetrators can be co-workers, patients or customers, but the effect is the same -- employees tend to become traumatized and avoid coming into work for fear of recurrence. In the extreme, being the victim of violence can contribute to an employee's developing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, causing frightening thoughts, flashbacks of the violent incidents or nightmares.
Burnout occurs as a longtime consequence of workplace trauma, such as exposure to violence, bullying or stress. The symptoms of burnout include fatigue, apathy, poor job satisfaction and decreased productivity. If a person doesn't deal with what's making her burned out at work, she is likely to disengage from work, harbor negative feelings toward her boss or quit. Workplaces sometimes try to combat burnout by administering employee satisfaction surveys, but these are only effective if employees are honest about what's going on and the company is invested in making things better.
- International Labour Organization: Psychosocial Hazards and Mental Stress
- Australian Government Productivity Commission: Chapter 11 Psychosocial Hazards - Productivity Commission
- Department of Human Services, Victoria: Analysis of Workplace Violence Research Frameworks
- University of Iowa: Workplace Violence: A Report to the Nation
- Access Medicine: What Is Burnout?
Brenda Scottsdale is a licensed psychologist, a six sigma master black belt and a certified aerobics instructor. She has been writing professionally for more than 15 years in scientific journals, including the "Journal of Criminal Justice and Behavior" and various websites.