Environmental stressors in the workplace can create an unpleasant atmosphere, poor work performance, absenteeism and possibly even physical injuries.
About Workplace Environmental Stressors
Any external event in a natural physical environment that causes an individual stress or anxiety is known as an environmental stressor. It can be a force caused by nature or humans and can be done without intent. Those affected by these stressors don't necessarily change their routines, but their behavior can be severely altered. In the workplace, environmental stressors include a variety of hazards, strains, and inconveniences.
Repeated, unnatural movements or postures while performing job duties can be considered ergonomic environmental stressors. For instance, repeated exposure to sitting in an uncomfortable or badly designed desk chair or using a computer without proper supports can cause physical injuries. Truck drivers who spend hours on the road without the proper back support can also receive an ergonomic injury. Other stressors of this kind include:
- Heavy Lifting: Without the proper back support lifting belt, you can really strain your back.
- Walking or Standing: If you are doing either of these for extended periods of time without wearing the correct shoes, your feet and legs can be affected.
- Talking on the Phone: Placing the phone receiver between your head and shoulder to talk can strain your neck muscles. Use a speakerphone or headset to eliminate this ergonomic stress.
Environmental stressors in the workplace that force your body to compensate for conditions that are outside of the norm are known as physical stressors. These include:
- Temperature: Prolonged exposure to excessive heat or cold
- Lighting: Lighting that is too bright or too dim
- Vibration: Excessive vibrations placed upon the body such as in jack-hammering
- Indoor Air Quality: In states where there are no stateside smoking bans, indoor smoking can be a hazard for some individuals. Also, germs from ill employees who come to work can permeate the environment.
- Noise: Excessively loud laughter, yelling, talking and other workplace sounds
- Crowding: Large numbers of individuals in one place at the same time
In some workplaces, various chemicals can cause employees stress, whether it's because they work directly with the compounds or because of the fear of having them nearby is the cause of the anxiety. Chemical stressors include:
- Flammables: Gases or liquids that can be ignited and start a flame; if stored or disposed of on the premises, a good ventilation system must be installed
- Explosives: Materials that can explode through detonation or decomposition; must be securely stored in an area that is safe distance away from workers
- Corrosives: Substances that can destroy or severely damage any material or substance with which it comes in contact; should be safely stored
Biological environmental stressors can affect your body and make it tough to perform on a day-to-day basis. These types of stressors can make you ill, tired or other feeling that is out of your normal range. They include:
- Viruses: In the workplace, colds, flus and other infections can be spread through the air (sneezing or coughing) or by physical contact.
- Bacteria: These single-cell organisms can rapidly multiply, spreading diseases and germs very quickly, pretty much the same way viruses spread.
- Allergens: Substances that cause the immune system to fight against itself are called allergens. In a workplace, they can come from a substance in the air to a natural or unnatural agent in the environment.
- Parasites: Although very difficult to detect, parasites live inside or outside of other organisms while feeding off of them at the same time. They can cause and spread many diseases through physical contact.
Controlling Environmental Stressors in the Workplace
Whether you are an employer or employee, there are many ways to control stress at work, including environmental stressors. As a business owner or manager, you can make sure that each worker has all of the proper equipment needed to perform their jobs comfortably and properly. You can also:
- Offer benefits that allow workers to take time off when they are ill or want to take a vacation
- Have open lines of communication so employees can share ideas or information about what stresses them out at work
- Provide a place where employees can take a break or relieve some of the stress built up throughout the workday
- Have the workplace properly cleaned on a regular basis
- Offer working and sanitary equipment where and when needed
- Ensure employees are properly trained for their jobs
- Have proper heating and cooling ventilation and temperature control
- Encourage that personal time be spent away from the workplace, but provide an area where workers can perform these duties, such as making phone calls, eating lunch, socializing with fellow employees, etc.
As an employee, there are many things you can do reduce the environmental stressors and burnout in the workplace.
- Arrive to work about 10 to 15 minutes earlier each day to avoid rushing
- Make sure you have the right equipment needed to do your job and it is working properly
- Take your allotted breaks throughout the day, as well as vacation time throughout the year
- If lifting heavy equipment or tools, ask for help if needed
- If you are ill, stay home and don't spread your germs to everyone else
- Help keep restrooms and break rooms tidy by cleaning up after yourself
- Keep you work station clean
- Maintain a low level of noise; use headphones if listening to music throughout the day
- Wash your hands regularly and keep a bottle of hand sanitizer at your desk
Every work environment is going to have some type of stressors. As an employee, the key is learning how to control your personal space and your actions, which in turn can create a less stressful atmosphere. Employers should do all they can to reduce these types of environmental stressors in the workplace to create a more productive and positive atmosphere.