Law \ Legal

How To Manage Workplace Stress in Canada


  • Thursday, 05 May 2022

The last two years have been a period of adjustment for employers and employees alike. Trends in the Great Resignation in the US indicate that many people who quit their jobs were mid-career (30 to 45-year-olds) employees and in high-stress industries, such as IT and healthcare.

While this surge in resignations has not yet happened in Canada, some believe it is just around the corner. About 19.3% of Canadians plan to quit their jobs in 2022, likely because they want to pursue a new way of working post-pandemic. Employee engagement declined significantly in Canada and globally in 2020, primarily due to a high rate of burnout and other related stress. One report found that Canadian workers, in 2020, were among those with the highest rate of daily stress.

Another survey indicates that workplace stress is a global issue, with participants stating their stress levels were much higher now than it was half a decade ago. Among the most common sources of stress were heavy workload and problems with “the boss.” The World Health Organization identifies the lack of support from supervisors and colleagues as an exacerbating factor. 

What Is Workplace Stress?

The Canadian Mental Health Association classifies stress as a reaction to a situation when the demands require more than the resources available, and there is a lack of control. One example is when a supervisor requires an employee to complete a report in an hour when it will typically take three hours to do the task. Most employees will not feel empowered to protest, thinking of it as an “aspect of our work.”

Workplace stress affects people in different ways. Some people respond well to a high crisis, such as looming deadlines. They find the challenge stimulating. Others, however, find a lot of stress overpowering, leading to adverse effects on their physical, mental and emotional well-being.

Stress can result from a single event, such as changing jobs, long-term situations, such as parenting, or daily hassles, such as traffic. When people feel that the stress is more than they can handle, it leads to mental stress injury if it’s not addressed. Interestingly, many believe that employers can significantly reduce the costs associated with employee stress by providing a supportive work environment.

What Are Common Sources of Stress?

The sources of workplace stress are not the same for everyone. According to HRD, 41% of people identify heavy workloads as their most significant stressor, but 31% say that not enough work is their source of stress. A further 28% and 13% identified a demanding boss and unclear expectations as their pet peeves, followed by fellow employees (12%). Surprisingly, only 2% of the participants said low wages stressed them out.

It seems clear that the workload, or lack thereof, which is often a result of poor management, is a major reason for raising workers’ stress levels. This, in turn, may affect employee relationships, leading to even more stress.

Some may find office drama and high demands on the job as good stress, but it may still affect their work-life balance and relationships in the long term. A reasonable workload with good management practices can go a long way toward creating safe workplaces and a productive environment with just the right amount of good stress.

Does Stress Affect Worker’s Health and Safety?

Chronic stress can significantly affect a worker’s overall health. According to the Canadian Centre for Occupation Health and Safety (CCOHS), the human body responds automatically to stressful events. However, when this response isn’t turned off for long periods at a time, it can cause a weakened immune system, headaches, increased blood pressure and heart rate.

This fight or flight response is critical for survival, but it is not meant to be a way of life. If you have constant exposure to triggering factors, i.e., daily deadlines, your body is always on high alert. You have no chance to turn off the rush of hormones that keeps you on your toes. Over time, it can lead to adverse physical and mental effects.

What Are the Common Effects of Stress?

The effects of stress depend on its source and level. For sudden or unexpected events, such as an accident, you could have a spike in those fight or flight hormones that can lead to the following short-term effects:

  • Headaches
  • Muscle pain
  • Chest pain
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • High blood sugar

Chronic stress, on the other hand, has long-term effects, which include:

  • Weakened immune system
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Digestive problems
  • High levels of blood cholesterol and fatty acids

Stress injury can also have psychological and cognitive effects. You could suffer from the following mental health problems:

  • Increased forgetfulness
  • Inability to focus
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Defensiveness
  • Hypersensitivity
  • Mood swings
  • Anger issues

Short-term and long-term stress can affect an employee’s ability to work and function as a healthy individual. Employers need to understand and address the sources of stress to reduce absenteeism and turnover.

In some cases, managing workplace stress constructively can help them avoid liability for mental stress injury, such as a constructive dismissal claim. For example, increasing an employee’s workload that leads to workplace stress and the employee’s resignation may be construed as constructive dismissal. If you believe your employer has constructively dismissed you, consult with a lawyer immediately.

Can Stress Contribute to Injuries or Accidents?

People with chronic stress are more likely to get into accidents or injure themselves. They often do not get enough sleep and may turn to overmedication as a coping mechanism. They may be jittery and nervous or act recklessly or aggressively. As a result, they may exhibit the following behaviour:

  • Drive distractedly or while impaired by drugs or alcohol
  • Become uncoordinated or accident-prone
  • React slowly

What Happens When Chronic Stress Goes Untreated?

Without treatment, long-term workplace stress can lead to chronic disease. Among the top health risks include:

  • Anxiety
  • Heart disease
  • Depression
  • Obesity

What Are Strategies for Managing Stress in the Workplace?

While your employer’s responsibility is to provide you with a safe working environment, it might not eliminate workplace stress. As an employee, you can take the necessary steps to manage stress. Your professional and personal life will considerably improve if you proactively address your issues.

Find out What Triggers Your Stress Reactions

No one can tell you what triggers your stress, as this varies from person to person. You can pinpoint your stressors by taking note of each situation that kicks your stress hormones, even if it is for a moment. It might be working with a certain client, doing a specific task or collaborating with a particular co-worker.

Try to capture your reactions and determine if you react to the situation, environment, person or task. You might find that you experience stress when working on a task because your back hurts from an uncomfortable chair!

Eliminate Your Triggers

Take control of the situation and eliminate the source of your stress. If you find that your uncomfortable chair makes you irritable, inform your supervisor that you need a more comfortable one. If you keep rushing to meet deadlines because another worker is creating a bottleneck, talk to that person for a workaround. If that doesn’t work, bring it up with your employer or supervisor. You might be able to get alternative work arrangements.

Manage Your Time Better

Time is one of the most common sources of stress. Traffic could make you late to work, and failing to prioritize work properly can cause you to miss critical deadlines. Look at the time-related factors that cause your stress and manage it better. Leave 30 minutes earlier to avoid traffic. Categorize your work daily based on the time management matrix so you won’t always be in a rush.

Take a Break

Sometimes, the only way to handle stress is to take a break. The Pomodoro technique reminds you to get up every 25 minutes to take a two-minute break and a more extended break after two hours. It reduces stress considerably and has a positive impact on your productivity.

Talk About It

Discuss your issues with a friend or family member and get their opinion. They might be able to give you a different perspective or interpretation of your situation and offer valuable insights.

Try Relaxation Techniques

Get away from it all and employ relaxation techniques to help you recharge. It could be a massage, going for a walk, binge-watching a TV show or spending time with your family. Meditation, calm breathing and yoga might also help.

Ask for Help

When nothing you do seems to work, you should talk to a professional to address workplace stress. Perhaps your company has a Workplace Mental Health Promotion program you can tap into. Provide a mental health professional with your medical information that might be contributing to your issues. Counselling can help you handle workplace stress.

Can I Get Benefits for Workplace Stress?

Ontario takes workplace stress injuries quite seriously. The WSIA or Workplace Safety and Insurance Act of 1997 provides work-related mental stress benefits by forming the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB). If you qualify, you may be entitled to various benefits until the WSIB deems you are no longer incapacitated.

Eligible Mental Stress Injuries

To qualify for WSIB benefits, you must have acquired a mental stress injury at work. A qualified healthcare professional must diagnose you as having an injury classified under the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5). The following qualifies as the cause for eligible mental stress injury:

  • Sexual harassment
  • Bullying
  • Inherently stressful or dangerous occupations
  • Involvement in or witness to a traumatic event in the workplace, such as a fatality, accident, robbery or hostage-taking
  • Workplace violence
  • Threats of physical violence
  • Verbal or physical abuse
  • Unsafe working conditions
  • Chronic exposure to multiple traumatic events

Workplace Stress Injuries Not Covered by WSIB

WSIB benefits do not apply when an employer’s management decisions cause mental stress. This includes the following:

  • Termination
  • Transfer detrimental to an employee’s career growth
  • Demotion
  • Alterations in work hours or scope
  • Interpersonal conflict in work matters short of harassment, malicious or abusive behaviour
  • Suspension without pay
  • Failure to offer permanent employment

If you believe these management decisions are unwarranted or discriminatory, consult a personal injury lawyer familiar with WSIA, WSIB and other workplace-related injury laws. You may need to provide additional medical information to prove that the stress from these management decisions caused your mental stress injury.

Did you know?

If you satisfy the eligibility requirements for benefits under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, you do not have the right to sue your employer for damages. This limitation extends to filing a lawsuit against a co-worker.

How Can a Personal Injury Lawyer Help?

In Ontario, people who suffer workplace injuries have recourse to the no-fault benefits provided under the WSIB. However, you might not be eligible for mental stress injuries due to the negligence of another person in the workplace. An experienced personal injury lawyer with a deep understanding of workplace injury cases can advise you on the best legal recourse for your situation.

Don’t give in to the stress. Take positive action and consult with Diamond & Diamond Lawyers today! We can offer you a free case evaluation, so there is no need to worry about costs. Please schedule an appointment with our lawyers by filling in the form or calling 1-800-567-HURT. 

Workplace stress can lead to personal injury. Consult with the experienced workplace injury lawyers of Diamond & Diamond to understand your rights!

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