It’s Monday morning and your alarm goes off. You hit snooze a couple times before dragging yourself out of bed. As you go through your morning routine, you feel a pit in your stomach as you think about the busy week ahead. You dread walking into the office and facing the endless emails, meetings, and deadlines. By the time you get to work, you already feel exhausted.
This feeling of constant stress and overwhelm at work is all too common. Workplace stress has become an epidemic, with 77% of people regularly experiencing physical symptoms caused by work-related stress. Chronic stress can wreak havoc on your physical and mental health. So why do so many people feel excessively stressed at their jobs? There are several common culprits.
Too Heavy a Workload
One of the top causes of workplace stress is simply having too much to do without enough time or resources to do it well. Many companies have trimmed the fat on their staffing, leaving remaining employees with unsustainable workloads. Even good employees will start to crack when they have to constantly work evenings and weekends just to keep up. The never-ending to-do list and lack of work-life balance leads to burnout.
Lack of Autonomy
Another common source of workplace stress is lack of autonomy or control over your work. When you have little say in setting your schedule, priorities, and method of working, you’re more likely to feel frustrated and powerless. Micromanaging bosses who constantly look over your shoulder make it hard to get into a productive flow. On the other hand, when you have the freedom to do your job the way you think is most effective, you’re less likely to feel overwhelmed and anxious.
Office Politics and Conflict
Navigating difficult workplace relationships can also be a huge contributor to feeling stressed at work. Dealing with a toxic boss or co-workers who create drama is emotionally exhausting. Conflicts with colleagues due to personality differences, power struggles, differing work styles, or competition can also cause anxiety for employees just trying to do their jobs. Managing heated emotions, gossip, and office politics every day takes a toll.
Lack of Social Supports are inherently social creatures. When you lack camaraderie and social bonds in the workplace, you’re more susceptible to stress. Feeling isolated or ostracized can make the days seem unbearable. On the other hand, having friends at work who you can talk to and blow off steam with makes the stresses of the job feel much more tolerable. Strong workplace relationships are key for both enjoying your job and managing stress.
When you’re never quite sure what’s expected of you or how your performance will be evaluated, it’s impossible not to feel stressed. Ambiguity and uncertainty about your exact job responsibilities, priorities, and goals will lead to constant worry that you’re not doing enough or doing the right things. Managers who provide unclear directions and feedback often have anxious, stretched-thin employees.
Lack of Work-Life Balance
While work demands continue to creep further into evenings and weekends, making time for non-work activities continues to fall by the wayside. This lack of work-life balance results in employees feeling burned out, restless, and resentful. Long commutes eat into time for the gym, family, and friends. Vacation time frequently goes unused. Even simple things like getting enough sleep start to suffer, which exacerbates stress levels. Failing to set boundaries and make time for yourself outside of work will leave you emotionally and physically drained.
Fear and Job Insecurity
For many employees today, there is a constant underlying fear of losing their jobs. Organizations going through downsizing, restructuring, or financial difficulty breed concerns about job security. Even when layoffs aren’t actively taking place, just knowing that future cuts could come at any time produces anxiety and distracts from productivity. Job insecurity makes it hard to feel stable and happy at work.
Lack of Alignment With Values
When your work and your organization’s priorities don’t align with your values, this dissonance creates unease. For example, you may feel deeply troubled about the environmental impact of your company’s practices. Or you may find the way your company treats employees to be highly unethical. Whatever the case, when your job requires you to behave in ways contrary to your principles, the result is often substantial stress.
The Root of the Problem
As you can see, these common workplace stressors stem from problems baked into modern corporate structures and cultures. With rising workloads and decreasing staffing, most employees need to accomplish more with less resources. Strict hierarchies with low autonomy and overbearing management exacerbate the strain.
The constant drive to maximize shareholder returns results in squeezing employees to get more productivity with lower labor costs. Meanwhile, opportunities to build workplace social connections get deprioritized. In this environment, feeling overwhelmed and anxious at work is unfortunately not surprising.
So if you’re wondering “Why am I always stressed at work?”, you’re not alone. The good news is, once you pinpoint the root causes of your workplace stress, you can start to make changes, set boundaries, and advocate for your needs. Small steps to improve your daily stress levels could include blocking time for strategic work, disabling email notifications, taking regular breaks, saying no to non-essential projects, leaving work at reasonable hours, and making time for exercise and relaxation.
Larger-scale solutions require raising awareness and collectively pushing back against unhealthy workplace practices. But by understanding and addressing the sources of your work stress, you can start to improve your well-being, fulfillment, and productivity.