Talk It Out

Is stress at work common in South Africa?

In recent years, South Africa has emerged as one of the most stressed out countries the world. Stress at work is high on the list. One study ranked South Africa as the second most stressed-out country on the globe. It has been found less than fifty percent of South African employees make use of their yearly leave. Stress at work is bad for both employees and employers. Workplace stress results in decreased productivity for companies and has adverse effects on mental and physical health of workers.

Stress at work leads to high turnover rates – which means that employees leave their jobs often. It also results in poor teamwork between co-workers and in low levels of participation and engagement in the workplace. In South Africa, stress at work currently costs the country about three billion rand per year.

What causes stress at work?

In South Africa there are various contributors to high levels of stress at work. Firstly, there is constant anxiety surrounding the possibility of being retrenched and about the potential for incomes to be decreased. This worry relates directly to money and survival.  It has an adverse impact on the self-worth and self-assurance of employees. Employees are often anxious about losing what they have (such as their cars and houses). In an attempt to protect themselves from retrenchment, employees take on more work than they can handle and become stressed.

Indeed, this then turns into another stressor: the fear that the employee’s workload will not be met. As a result of this stress, some workers spend up to ninety hours at work every week. It has indeed been well-documented that South Africans often work much more than employees in many other countries. The average South African works for about forty-nine hours a week. These hours are significantly more than average hours in Japan, America, Germany and Australia.

Another factor that causes stress at work in South Africa are the high levels of competition between co-workers. The desire to do better, to earn more, and to stand out in an attempt to avoid retrenchment can result in hostile attitudes in the workplace. It can lead to conflict, insufficient interaction and communication skills and a low drive to perform at work.

Which jobs are the most stressful?

In South Africa, stress at work is highest for those who are teachers, miners, police officers, air-traffic controllers and doctors. The reasons for this stress are different for each job. The shortage of teachers and resources at many schools in South Africa mean that teachers are often overworked. The potential dangers of mining result in constant stress for those who are made to go underground every day – for example the risk of getting stuck or having inadequate oxygen. As for police officers, the high instance of violent crime in South Africa can result in being constantly exposed to life-threatening situations.

Air traffic controllers are responsible for preventing collisions between aeroplanes – this is stressful because there is a large amount of responsibility, but a low amount of control (since, ultimately, they cannot control the actions of pilots). Lastly doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals experience high levels of stress at work, because they are constantly dealing with emergencies, and literally have people’s lives in their hands.

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