Stress is always present in our lives. While small amounts of stress can fuel our motivation and determination, large amounts of it is detrimental to our physical and mental health. And a very notable source of stress is none other than work. A Statistics Canada report released in June 2023 revealed that over 4.1 million people, or about 21 per cent of Canada’s employed population, reported high work-related stress.
The Medium spoke to Dr. Rafael Chiuzi, an organizational psychologist and Assistant Professor of Organizational Behaviour at the University of Toronto Mississauga, to dissect what work stress is all about. “Work is rarely a place of comfort. Work is where you are presented with challenges,” stated Dr. Chiuzi. Work stress can result from peers’ and bosses’ behaviour, the nature of the job, and various other factors. Many of these stressors were present both before and after Covid-19, and cannot be removed.
However, the pandemic drove changes to the workplace in the form of mental health awareness. “People are now more aware of what mental health means, and some of the things that we used to take it for granted or we never addressed them as a mental health issue—now we know that they are in fact affecting our mental health,” explained Dr. Chiuzi.
As more research has been done over the years, researchers are now moving away from the concept of work-life balance—a concept that separates work and life, focusing on balancing aspects of personal life and work. They are now moving towards work-life integration—a concept that recognizes that personal life and work are connected and can be combined to improve flexibility and employee satisfaction.
Newer policies and attitudes are allowing employees to create coping mechanisms to deal with innate work stressors. For example, flexible work hours allow employees to address their personal needs without compromising their work, options for remote work reduce stress related to commuting, and the 4-day work week piloted in some countries and companies improve productivity and employee satisfaction.
The return to office policies of organizations—some as encouragement, some as enforcement—exemplify the backtracking of some workplace changes driven by Covid-19. This occurs partly as the result of recognizing the importance of social connections. However, Dr. Chiuzi explains that “Most companies now have some flexibility embedded into the job design,” and a complete return to in-person work is unlikely.
The changes to the workplace also relate to the younger workforce’s different job expectations arising from new work conditions they face. “I think that some notions like self-care [and] advocacy […] are far more peculiar to a younger workforce,” stated Dr. Chiuzi. He explained that the younger workforce is also more intent on finding work that connects with them and is meaningful.
We are living in a world that has changed economically, socially, and in many other ways. Notably, the younger workforce is living in an era full of layoffs and unaffordable costs of living. According to Statistics Canada, the percentage of employed people holding multiple jobs increased steadily from about 2 per cent in 1976 to around 5 per cent in 2021, barring a drop during 2020 due to the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Dr. Chiuzi explained that a “not-so-great work scenario” has led to fewer available full-time opportunities and more part-time jobs, fuelling what could be known as job insecurity—or could be known as the creation of a new norm. With this, company loyalty and commitment are inapplicable to employees due to a lack of reciprocity in current times.
At the end of the day, there are companies who care for their employee’s mental wellbeing, but there are many that masquerade as caring. “I think it would be unrealistic to expect a lot of accommodations from the majority of employers,” concluded Dr. Chiuzi. He noted that there are employers that have good accommodations and mental health practices, and some are catching up. Receiving mental health accommodations and support from an employer in contemporary times is still an exception—one that hopefully transitions into a new norm for the workplace.