How To Manage Stress at Work - An Epic Guide
By Rob Wormley, People Mgmt, When I Work
It’s not the job, but the worker.
You might appreciate lists of which jobs are most stressful so you know what to avoid, but it isn’t really about the job. It’s about the person.
Stress is a personal thing. What is stressful for one person is not for another. For example, one surveyfound that some police officers found filling out paperwork as more stressful than being out on patrol and confronting people. The same probably wouldn’t be true for someone working in an office.
You can’t know if an employee is feeling stress by using some equation. You can’t know if you’ll find your new job stressful by its title. Each person is different, which makes stress tricky to address, both for employers and employees.
The Reality Of Job Stress
In 2002, Gallup completed a poll and discovered that 31% of U.S. workers were completely disatisfied with the amount of stress they had on the job. Maybe that doesn’t seem like so many, but consider this: 80% of workers feel stress on the job, period. It’s not a question of whether they are dissatisfied with the stress — most workers are feeling it.
Where does job stress come from?
According to Stress.org, how severe stress is for workers depends on what demands are placed on them in relation to the amount of control they have in making decisions and dealing with those demands. Employees who feel like they have a lot demanded of them but little control over their work life have high stress levels.
Both salaried and hourly workers face a lot of stress on the job. A Gallup survey showed that 38% of salaried workers feel job stress, compared to 28% of hourly workers. Despite the differences between the two, both of those numbers are fairly high! At minimum, employers could assume that almost one third of their workforce is stressed on the job.
There are differences in where that stress comes from for both types of workers, but there are also stress points that are the same. Job stress tends to come from:
Downsizing. A bad economy or a company experiencing a budget crunch leads to downsizing. Every worker, whether hourly or salaried, experience stress from the fear of losing their job, particularly if they see others around them getting the pink slip.
Increased work loads. When there are layoffs, other workers are required to pick up the extra load. This is both physically and mentally exhausting. Salaried workers may find themselves putting in longer hours to get their work done without the benefit of overtime, and hourly workers may be forced to work harder to get the job done in the same amount of time. Either way, it’s stressful.
Pressure to perform. A workplace that fixates heavily on measuring performance and productivity might not realize that those things are putting stress on workers.
Longer work hours. Salaried and hourly workers who pull in longer hours suffer various health problems based on the type of work they do. They have a higher propensity for heart disease, diabetes, and weight gain. Unhealthy workers don’t combat stress well; the two compound each other, with stress causing health issues and health issues feeding into stress.
What does job stress lead to?
Job stress accumulates, and its impact on workers is inevitable. It leads to:
Sickness. As mentioned, stress makes you unhealthy. Stress has physical repercussions, and lots of job stress leads to sick employees. This means absenteeism, or higher health insurance costs for employers.
Depression. Without good coping strategies, stress leads to depression.
Violence. 25% of workers have felt like screaming at a coworker because of stress, while 14% have felt like hitting one. Stress puts employees on edge with each other in a dangerous way.
Reduced productivity. If you’re stressed out, you’re not going to be operating at peak productivity. You’re going to miss deadlines.
Problems at home. When work is stressful, it tends to bleed into an employee’s home life. That compounds, and they bring that home stress back to work. It’s a brutal cycle that can bring employees to a grinding halt.
Retention problems. 19% of workers have quit a job because of stress they felt at work. If the job is too stressful, you’ll lose employees. Ironically, your best employees may inadvertently be the ones to go because they have been saddled with more responsibility and a higher workload. Sure, they get the work done, but the stress is burning them out.
How Employers Can Reduce Job Stress
Employers have a role to play in creating job stress. It makes sense they can have a role to play in reducing it. Here are some tips for employers to help employees handle stress at work:
Conflicts are going to happen at any job. Between co-workers, between workers and management– it’s inevitable. What you do with that conflict, though, determines if it’ll be a stress point or not.
Don’t let conflict continue. If there’s a fight between employees, or you are an employee and are butting heads with someone else, it needs to be addressed. Use conflict management solutions outlined in the employee handbook. Ignoring conflict doesn’t make it go away. It makes it get bigger.
Avoid punitive responses. Punishment, instead of reward, creates fear, which creates stress. Resolve conflicts and problems positively, and not through negative reinforcement.
Create a sense of loyalty to your workers
By showing that you trust and value your workers, you create a sense of loyalty and safety. That reduces stress.
48% of workers who say their employers aren’t loyal to them are dissatisfied with their job stress levels. Only 26% of workers who say their employers are loyal to them feel like they have too much job stress. Being in a culture of loyalty and trust reduces unnecessary stress significantly.
Avoid irregular work schedules as much as possible
Salaried workers don’t have to deal with varying work schedules, but hourly employees do. And it’s a huge stressor. Almost 30% of workers with irregular schedules report having serious work and family conflicts over the issue.
Random shift changes, on-call work schedules — these all lead to stress because workers are constantly in limbo when it comes to balance between work and life. They never know when they’ll need to work with much advance, and it’s difficult for them to make personal plans or even decompress in a regular way since, at any moment, they could be called to work.
Try to create schedules that your employees can “bank” on. Make sudden changes as rare as possible. Make it possible for your employees to rely on a steady schedule enough that they can arrange a solid personal life around their work schedule. It’s that personal, off-work time that gives them a break and makes it possible for them to return to work refreshed.
Make wellness a part of the workplace
Since stress can create physical illness, doing what you can to keep your employees healthy can combat stress. There are several ways employers can encourage wellness:
Gym memberships. You can give gym memberships (or discounts) to employees.
Wearable technology. Give devices like the FitBit or JawBone Up, which measure steps, heart rate, and activity. Have competitions in which employees compete to be the most active to win prizes.
Provide healthy snacks. Make healthy snacks available in the breakroom instead of junk food and sugary soda.
Free checkups. Partner with a local clinic to offer free tests for employees, such as blood sugar, cholesterol, or blood pressure.
Encourage breaks. Make sure your employees take their breaks and take the time off coming to them.
Healthy and rested employees are less stressed and do better work. It’s that simple.
How Employees Can Manage Stress At Work
Remember what I said earlier? It’s not the job, but the worker.
Oh, sure, employers have a role to play in how good or bad your job is, and they definitely contribute to stress due to their managerial style. But employees have to take some responsibility for their own stress, too.
Consider the facts from earlier, that 80% of workers feel stress on the job. Half of those say that they need help in knowing how to deal with that stress. 42% of workers say their co-workers need help in the same way.
That means some know they need some help, but others who don’t are still doing things that their coworkers can identify as stress-related. They are probably affecting their co-workers along the way. Check out these ways employees can handle stress at work:
Know the difference between good stress and bad stress
Not all stress is bad, and not all stress can (or should) be avoided.
Good stress motivates you. Deadlines, tests, or being asked to speak in front of other people — these are all situations that create stress, but they are also what motivates us. Good stress tends to be short-term, and can even enhance or improve brain function. When the pressure is on, the brain sharpens up.
Bad stress, however, is chronic. It is constant and ongoing, a situation that never lets up. A singular deadline may be motivating, but if you’re under a deluge of deadlines that you aren’t able to meet, you’re in the realm of bad stress. Bad stress harms your health, slows you down, and can even start to inhibit thinking.
Essentially, stress uses your fight-or-flight response. Good stress gives you time to recover from that response, but bad stress locks you into it and wears you down. It’s important to know the difference between good and bad stress so you know which is the problem and which is actually helping you.
Learn to identify signs of stress
You might not even know you’re feeling stressed. Sounds strange, but it’s possible. Even if you don’t know the true level of stress you’re feeling, your body does. The damage that stress does happens whether you are aware it’s bad or not.
There are several signs that stress might be affecting you:
Feeling anxious, grumpy, or depressed.
Feeling apathy or disinterest in your job.
Feeling overwhelming dread about your job.
Difficulty getting a good night’s sleep.
General fatigue and tiredness.
Difficulty in concentrating on tasks.
Tight or sore muscles.
Socially withdrawing from others (if this is unusual for you).
Using alcohol, drugs, or other destructive coping mechanisms.
If you see a pattern like this list in your life, you need to take action.
Tell someone you are struggling with stress
It helps to tell someone that you’re struggling with stress, whether that’s a manager or a coworker. They may be able to help you, or point you to someone who can.
Consider outcomes you’d like to see. Before you go speak with a manager, have a few ideas of what a resolution would look like. You may get a chance to offer them as a solution.
Know the specific source of stress. If it’s a specific person, a shift, or tasks that are more than you can handle, be ready to coherently state your case. It’s hard for a manager to hear “I’m stressed!” and know what to do to relieve it if they don’t know the specific things causing it.
Be ready to discuss collateral effects. If you know others are similarly stressed, let your manager know. Not everyone has the courage to speak up, but if others remain stressed, it will seep into all workers.
Use blame free language. Be selective with the words you use, and avoid blaming others. Phrase things as they relate to you. For example “I’m struggling with meeting my sales goals” instead of “James makes it impossible for me to meet my sales goals.”
Ask for specific solutions. If you just need to unload and have a counseling session, your manager may not be the best person to go to. But if you’re really looking for solutions, don’t leave the meeting without having some specific things you can do or expect to help change the stressful situation you’re facing.
It’s not a shameful thing, that you’re stressed. It’s worse if you don’t get help and let it build. Most managers would rather employees came and told them they were having stress issues on the job rather than find out through missed deadlines or low productivity.
Try to find humor in the situation
Stress isn’t funny, but some situations that cause stress can be seen as humorous if you make the effort.
A good laugh is a good thing. Research has shown that laughter reduces stress and has other positive benefits. Not only does it relieve the stress response, but it brings more oxygen into your body, activates your body, and soothes tension.
Being angry or worrying, on the other hand, is extremely unhealthy, harming your heart, your immune system, and even increasing your risk for stroke.
Finding humor in a situation means:
You never laugh AT a person. No one person is the target of the humor.
You laugh about the ridiculousness of the situation.
You compare a situation to a funny metaphor.
You laugh about a similar situation in the past and try to show the current situation as a temporary problem.
You’ve probably been in that moment where it feels as if a situation could get very ugly very easily, and then someone cracks a joke and the tension seems to immediately leave. That’s what you’re aiming for.
Form positive relationships as much as you can
Some people start a job with a chip on their shoulder, and seem to set out to make everyone there miserable. Whether you’re starting a new job, or make it a goal for new employees who start where you work, build a better foundation than that.
Not everyone is outgoing or makes friendships easily. And no one is asking you to make your co-workers your best friends. But you can set out to be positive towards others, avoiding negativity as much as is in your control.
Be a good listener.
Be sincere but generous in complimenting someone else’s work.
Help someone who needs it.
Be willing to teach or mentor someone with less experience than you.
Avoid gossiping or speaking negatively about anyone else on the job.
If conflict or problems have to be addressed, use positive language and avoid accusations or painting someone in a negative light.
Deciding to be positive can go a long way towards relieving job stress. It can make some situations go away, and for those that persist, it can give you a better attitude about them so you don’t feel the stress nearly as much as you might have otherwise.
Address physical issues that are adding to stress
As noted earlier, stress has an impact on your physical health, and vice versa.
Basically, all of the things you hear about staying healthy? They help reduce your stress, too.
Stand or sit. Stand more if you sit a lot. Sit if you stand a lot. If you sit, you’re wearing out your back. If you stand, your feet get tired. Break things up, give your body a break.
Move around. Walk on your break. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Walk in place behind the counter if there are no customers. A good rule of thumb is to avoid sitting or being in one position for more than an hour.
Stretch your muscles. Do basic head, neck, arm, and leg stretches to get the blood flowing. It’s amazing how stress and tension end up locked in the muscles of the body. Work that out through stretches.
Consume less caffeine and sugar. Excessive use of caffeine and sugar make you edgy and jumpy. Consuming more than 350 mg of caffeine a day can cause energy-sapping dehydration issues. Eat fruits and vegetables instead of candy or carbs. Drink water or herbal tea instead of soda and coffee.
Avoid nicotine. It seems like nicotine relaxes you, but it’s actually a stimulant. It’s going to exacerbate the physical effects of stress.
Take it easy on alcohol. While alcohol can temporarily reduce worry and some of the other symptoms of stress, it increases them even more when the alcohol wears off.
Get enough sleep. Being tired makes even the smallest thing a huge crisis. Get plenty of sleep. Show up to work rested and ready.
Change your surroundings. Use aromatherapy, humidifiers, air purifiers, white noise, cushion mat, or anything that helps create the physical surroundings that will help you calm down and make you less tired.
If you’re sick, stay home. Your body is already struggling. No need to add even minor, regular work stress to the load.
The first thing to do when you feel stressed is to address the physical first. It might be enough to do the trick in that moment.
Take the breaks you are given
Take your allotted breaks.
If there’s a park or bit of nature nearby, go there. If your work environment is stressing you out, try to change your environment, either by going someplace else (even just sitting in your car) or by reading to get your mind in a different place.
You need a break, especially if you’re stressed. If management makes it difficult to take a break, press the issue. You have a legal right to breaks.
Find a way to help others
Oddly enough, when you help other people, you feel great.
An American Journal of Public Health study found that when someone was dealing with stress, but helped others, they reduced the physical dangers associated with stress.
It sounds crazy — when you’re super stressed, who has time to help someone else? — but turning your attention from yourself to someone else can relieve the self-feeding negativity that serious stress creates.
If you’re feeling stressed, help someone else.
Stay off of social media as much as possible during work
Constant connection and the interruption of technology can increase your stress levels.
Social media, for example, can make you aware of stressful events happening to other people or in other places. They might not have any bearing on your life, but you allow yourself to feel stressed about them anyway. It’s called the cost of caring.
As an interruption, social media and text messages can also add to stress. University of California Irvine found that employees who received a lot of emails were more stressed. They stayed in a “high alert” mode all the time. Being constantly connected and going back and forth in response on social media or via text messages does the same thing. Additionally, it distracts you and slows you down (a common problem with multitasking) and you end up feeling stress as you rush to catch up with the work you didn’t do because you were busy on your phone.
Stay off social media and mobile devices as much as possible when on the job. The last thing you need is drama via social media or text messaging while you’re trying to get your work done.
Learn to accept what is in your control, and what isn’t
Some things are out of your control.
Find ways to make the things that are out of your control more bearable. If where you work is too noisy, maybe noise cancelling headphones would help.
For example, getting stressed about the traffic on the way to work is completely unhelpful. You can’t control the traffic. The best you can do is leave early enough so you have plenty of time to get to work. If leaving late is adding stress because the traffic makes you late for work leaving you apologizing or making excuses for why you’re late, you’re needlessly adding to your stress. You can’t control the traffic, but you can control when you leave home.
Make changes to what you can control. The rest is not worth getting upset about.
Prepare ahead of time as much as possible
The most stressful time of the day for workers is the morning, or when they start their shift.
You can’t always prepare everything ahead of time. If someone leaves a mess when you arrive for your shift, there’s not much you can do about it other than try to work with them and get them to do better.
But, wherever possible, prep ahead of time. Think of it like this: how you start your work day sets the tone for the rest of it. If you start it in a panic, a rush, the whole day is going to be stressful. It’ll feel as if you never get caught up or on good footing.
Preparing ahead of time might be:
Setting up tools or products that you’ll need to use.
Mentally considering challenges you’ll face and how you’ll diffuse them.
Exercising, or physically preparing yourself for the work you need to do to avoid physical injury or tiredness.
Remember to breathe
In a stressful moment, don’t forget to breathe.
It sounds a little silly, but people generally take shallow breaths. Closing your eyes and breathing in deep and the letting that breath out slowly can help slow down and reduce your negative physical reactions to stress. It can also help you control your reaction to a tense situation that might otherwise escalate into something more stressful.
It’s not a long-term fix, but it can help negate some of the effects on your physical body in that moment of conflict.
How to Manage Stress At Work: An Epic Guide