demands of contemporary society and the accelerated pace that contribute to stress in the home, office, or workplace. By sheer economic necessity, organizations and individuals must be ready at all times to glean as much productivity per worker per day as possible. The complexity of the modern workplace combined with the realities of life have consequences -- stress (U.S. Department of Labor, 2010). But thinking of stress as only an inhibiting or negative factor may not always be correct -- in fact, there are numerous positive results of stress that can increase attention to detail, ideation and creativity, and increased output (Linden, 2006).
Stress is clearly an adaptive response to stimuli -- external or internal. It is the body's reaction to events that can be distributing, discomfiting, or threatening. When humans perceive such an event, chemicals are released from the brain that can cause elevated heart rate, greater sensitivity to stimuli, and the "fight or flight" syndrome that allows the muscles and organs to work at top speed. "Good stress" is a balance of arousal and relaxation that helps individuals concentrate, focus, and achieve goals. "Bad stress" is a more constant pace and physical demand that may lead to high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, headaches, and even stroke. The body, unlike the mind, cannot necessarily differentiate between good stress and bad stress -- or the appropriateness of either. Interestingly enough, new studies continue to show the increasing importance of the brain/mind and brain/body connection, with a number of events directly contributing to stress reduction. In fact, the individual type and number of emotion-linked neuropeptides available at receptor sites influence the individual's feelings, as well as ability to learn (Mujtaba, Lara, et.al, 2010).. Humor, in fact, helps send the types of chemical messages that enhance cognition, learning, and as noted, the body's ability to combat stress and increase good feelings (Carter, et.al. 2009).
Chronic Stress is actually both a psychological and biological term that refers to a consequence within an organism -- human or animal -- to respond adequately to mental, emotional or physical demands, whether actual or imagined. Stress must happen -- the evolutionary goal of finding prey and the brain releasing chemicals that cause humans to run faster, hear and see clearer, etc. -- but there is a difference between individuated stress and chronic stress; chronic stress is endemic and continual. Signs of this type of stress vary and are quite pervasive: aches and pains, diarrhea or constipation, nausea, dizziness, chest pain, rapid heartbeat, sleeping too much or insomnia, procrastication, neglecting responsibilities, increased substance abuse, or nervous habits (pacing, nail biting, etc.) (Robenshaw, 2009).
As we age, there comes a point in our development in which stressors (particularly unfamiliar external) seem to manifest more and more into physical and psychological problems. Whether this is a result of too many multiple- horizontal priorities in the modern world, or the transference of stress from finding food and shelter to the myriad of small stressors in society is immaterial. What is a fact is that stress contributes to heart disease, pulmonary issues, diabetes, depression, and even exacerbates conditions like arthritis. In the elderly this can become even more serious when the immune system is not functioning at 100% effeciency. Of course, there are ways around this -- activitiy maximizes brain power, increases creativity, humor and activity accentuate communication and tense situations are avoided and neuro-chemicals produced that mitigate some of the disasterous effects of stress (McAuley, et al., 2007).
In the workplace, stress may lead to poor work performance, a lack of concern for safety issues, and a general lack of performance that translates into a monetary loss for the company. This is particularly true for manufacturing segments, since the emphasis is on production and the needs of the company remain fairly constant. In this environment, if stress is not managed appropriately, there may be more employee illness, mental distress, mistakes, and even compensation claims (U.S. Department of Labor). Therefore, it is imperative that the organization design and implement a stress management programs that take into consideration both the external stress of the job (production goals, quotas, standards, etc.) and the internal stress an employee may feel and translate into the job (potential layoffs, downsizing, off shore work, increased mechanization) (Gjesfjeld, et al., 2010).
Weick and colleagues (2007) show that, for management, several steps are necessary to gain a greater understanding, and resultant control, over stress in the workplace. Stress points must be defined and analyzed -- are they endemic in the position, or can they be mitigated? Are all employees susceptible to them, or are they focused in one particular area? What strategies can be used to reduce or alleviate the stress points? How can management intervene to help a stressed work prior to work errors, safety issues, or loss of productivity?
Two key factors emerge that, on the surface, seem relatively simple, but are actually quite difficult to integrate regularly into both management and employee paradigms: 1) Optimal perception -- perceiving the situation in an optimal manner in order to find the best possible navigational methodology, and 2) Optimal energy management -- embrace the stressful moment and use the physiological boost associated with stress to the advantage of the individual and/or the task at hand (Cordon, Brown and Gibson, 2009).
Naturally, the key here is in the verbiage -- "to manage." No one can be effective when they are expected to be continually at 110% - a balance must occur. Parton (2009) and Upson, (2007) find that any job that has constant stress is a likely candidate for a restructure or revamping of that task. Instead, remove the motivators for chronic stress by reducing work relationships that are unnecessarily hierarchical, competitive, or perceived as dogmatic or compulsory; establish dialog to understand and vent pent-up emotion; understand the uncertainty for most manufacturing employees regarding globalization, the recession (state of the economy), and risks faced when pursuing new goals, facing a work crisis, or taking a leap and seizing a new opportunity. Note, too, that unchecked stress in the workplace acts like a virus -- it rapidly spreads from individual to individual, creating havoc and sickness in a very short time.
The key, then, is to manage systemic stress prior to it becoming endemic. Learn to tap the benefits of stress while minimizing the negative costs of stress. Using the tools above, and providing three additional internal motivators can change the workplace from a sea of insecurity to a bastion of creativity. Cotton, (1996), defines these steps broadly as: 1) Critically examine the structure of the workplace and identify and reduce stressors; 2) Establish and maintain support services for those who are particularly vulnerable to the significant stressors identified, and 3) Create a team in which the manager continually coaches individuals to better manage their stress (See also: "Stress At Work, 2011.).
Numerous case studies prove that stress management programs are not only feasible in the workplace but also necessary under the concurrent demands of contemporary manufacturing. Reducing physiological stress related negative behaviors are more than simply a tool for increasing productivity -- they are a management philosophy that can permeate and reenergize the workforce. Two decades of history have shown that left unchecked, workplace stress will increase compensation claims, increase absenteeism, tardiness, and general dissatisfaction with the job. The establishment of a stress management program, however, severely mitigates these unproductive behaviors before they occur (Dekker, 2007). However, a dangerous precedent could be set regarding stress management programs -- there is a documented temptation for organizations to "Band-Aid" the situation with brief stress-management seminars, or other quick fix scenarios. Instead, a well-organized and implemented on-going program has more chance of reducing occupational stress and improving the work environment as a whole. It is impossible to remove all stressors from an…