A SIGNIFICANT issue occupational counsellors frequently encounter is job stress arising from an employee’s inability to cope with certain workplace situations.

How well you assess your role in your workplace and its culture has a great impact on your career sustainability. An inadequate understanding of how best to cope with challenging issues can lead you to feel that you have made the wrong career choice.

There are basically four major types of workplace situations, each having specific demands and level of stressors that impact career success:

1. Minimally challenging work

Your job scope, responsibilities, expectations and outcomes are usually clearly defined from the outset in this type of scenario. There is strong supervisory support and sufficient resources to enable you to complete assigned tasks and manage your workload without much difficulty.

Superficially, it may appear that you have an ideal job, as it places little workplace stress on you. However, such a job can quickly descend into a routine with limited opportunities for you to enhance your competencies.

Organisations that are rigidly hierarchical usually have a high level of micromanagement and little delegation. Promotional avenues are generally based on seniority.

Highly motivated employees who seek greater challenges or faster job advancement may become quickly frustrated in such an environment.

This workplace situation may be a good start for new entrants seeking a foothold in the industry. They can gain sufficient experience to build up their resumé before moving on.

2. Moderately challenging work

In this scenario, the job is fairly challenging, often placing considerable demands on your productivity. However, this is balanced by close supervision, and you are able to manage your job well.

This situation is great if you are motivated, enthusiastic and seek challenges but, at the same time, desire adequate guidance and support.

The downside may be rigid reporting lines and a lack of encouragement to innovate or exercise greater authority. If you are progressively seeking greater personal autonomy and recognition for your work achievements, you may eventually find such a work environment stifling and frustrating.

The slow promotion rate can also hasten your decision — and that of other ambitious individuals — to leave the organisation.

3. Highly challenging work

Typically, this is regarded as the most stressful workplace situation. The work is highly demanding, with frequently tight deadlines. Employees are expected to work with minimal supervisory support.

Highly independent, motivated and resourceful individuals thrive in such situations. If you are such a person, there are considerable opportunities for you to learn and innovate on the job. In addition, if you perform well, your job responsibilities and personal authority will expand over time.

Organisations that operate this way often provide very good remuneration packages, sufficient recognition and accelerated promotions to retain talented employees. However, you are in danger of suffering “burn-out” and losing your work-life balance in such a stressful job.

In addition, new entrants who expect close guidance and support while they gain experience on the job may find it difficult to adapt in a workplace that favours the survival of the fittest.

4. Unchallenging work

This is a situation in which you are doing a job that places little or no demand on your skills and experience. The contributions you make have little impact on operations or the bottom line of the organisation.

This is a dead-end job with no potential for advancement. Be aware that you are likely to be among the first employees to lose your job when there are reviews, restructuring, downsizing or retrenchment exercises.

If you are in this situation, it is likely you are being sidelined because of poor performance or because you have not upgraded your skills over the years.

Your work is stressful because you are frustrated over the stagnation and lack of career direction.

You need to act immediately by enhancing your transferable skills through training. If your organisation will not pay for your training, consider funding it yourself. Attend part-time courses while you still have the stability of a regular income.

Once you have upgraded your qualifications and skills, you can look for better career opportunities.

Moving forward

Which of the four situations describes your current worklife? It is a good time to assess your role in the organisation, weigh the pros and cons and find out what works for you and what doesn’t.