Dirty Dozen: Under Pressure

Managing work stress to keep your blood from boiling


We’ve all felt the pressure at work – pressure to do better, to do things faster, be three places at once, and let nothing fall through the cracks.

Unfortunately, job pressure can make more things fall through the cracks. Job pressure results when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources, or needs of the worker.

Aircraft mechanics have stressful jobs. Mechanics are under pressure to identify and repair mechanical problems quickly so airlines can maintain strict flight schedules. Above all, aircraft mechanics are responsible for the overall safety of anyone who sets foot on an aircraft.

What’s stressing you?
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) published a text called Stress at Work. According to this text, 25 percent of employees view their jobs as the No. 1 stressor in their lives. Problems at work are more strongly associated with health complaints than are any other cause of stress. Seventy-five percent of employees studied believe the worker has more on-the-job stress than a generation ago.

Health risks
Constant pressure can cause on-the-job errors as well as health risks. According to a blood pressure study published in Psychosomatic Medicine, P.L. Schnall says that change in job strain status causes a change in blood pressure. Schnall’s study suggests that job strain is an occupational risk factor due to its relation to hypertension (high blood pressure).

In a study in Psychological Medicine, Maria Melchior says that work-related stress can be a direct cause of clinical depression and anxiety among previously healthy young adults. The study also found that high psychological job demands such as long hours, tight deadlines, or pressure from supervisors, were associated with clinical depression, anxiety, or both.

Overall, women with high psychological job demands were 75 percent more likely to suffer from depression or anxiety than women with lower demands, says Melchior. Men with high psychological job demands were 80 percent more likely to suffer from depression than men with lower demands.

Forty-five percent of new cases of depression in 32-year-olds studied by Malchior were directly attributable to high psychological job demands.

Dealing with stress
Soon online magazine suggests list-making as an important first step when beginning to manage stress. It says to make yourself a “to do” list at the beginning of your day or your work shift. Categorize tasks according to what must be done today (A), what can be left for tomorrow (B), what can be left for someday (C), and what might not be necessary at all (D).

Starting with the “A” tasks will help you focus on what is most important. At the end of the day, don't worry about things that have not been done. Write them down on the list for the next day, perhaps giving them a different priority. Then forget them until the next day.

Other suggestions for curbing work stress include learning to say no politely to extra work, always taking time for a proper meal break, and not procrastinating.

Even laughter can relieve stress. Approaching situations with humor can also increase pain tolerance and support the immune system. It can relieve tension, manage stress, and improve overall health and well-being.

Be aware of your own physical well-being so that you will know the signs of stress as they arise. See a physician regularly for checkups and to have your blood pressure monitored.

Most importantly, allow yourself downtime to recharge. Constantly functioning at your breaking point is not healthy for you and not conducive to a positive, productive work environment.

This is the second in a series of articles on the Dirty Dozen. The Dirty Dozen was developed by Gordon Dupont at Transport Canada. They are critical factors in the area of human factors and safety; they are complacency, lack of knowledge, lack of teamwork, distraction, fatigue, lack of resources, pressure, lack of assertiveness, lack of communication, norms, stress, and lack of awareness.

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