stressed business man

Managing stress in the workplace

Three-fourths of employees believe the worker has more on-the-job stress than a generation ago.
- Princeton Survey Research Associates

That statement may not be too surprising until you realize that it comes from a study cited in 1999 -- back when the US was in the midst of a robust economy. In today's tough economic times, where "leaner" crews are expected to produce more and our unemployment rate is double the 1999 levels, today's work environment is probably even more stressful.

High levels of job stress hurt everyone

Costs of workplace stress to businesses:

  • health care costs for those businesses where workers report high stress levels are 50% higher.
  • when workers need time off because of stress or anxiety, they're absent an average of 20 days.

Costs of workplace stress to individuals:

  • physical health cost: over time, the typical early signs of job stress such as headaches, nausea and sleep issues can lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, workplace injury, musculoskeletal disorders including shoulder, elbow, wrist, hand and neck problems and, perhaps, higher rates of cancers, ulcers and suppressed immunity.
  • mental health cost: heightened anxiety may increase our risk for depression and even suicide.

"But some people have to be pushed in order to bring out their best, correct?"

There is a difference between job stress and job challenge

Challenges, where we are motivated to learn new skills or work harder, can help to make our lives or jobs more interesting. With challenges, there is the potential for us to experience relaxation and a sense of satisfaction with our accomplishments.

Stress, on the other hand, typically occurs when we are pushed beyond our abilities in terms of skills, capabilities or needs. It creates the fight or flight response in our body where hormones are released, our pulse races, and muscles tighten. Over time, this wears down our mind and body and makes us more susceptible to injury or disease.

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Something that complicates our understanding of workplace stress is the fact that almost everyone responds differently to stressors. People who handle stress better, tend to have the benefit of:

  • a balanced work/family/social life.
  • high level of self-acceptance and confidence.
  • supportive family and friends.
  • positive mental outlook.
  • acceptable health and financial situation.

Regardless of the individual, certain job conditions will increase the stress level of almost anyone. These can include jobs where the employee experiences:

  • long hours with few breaks.
  • overwhelming expectations or unrealistic deadlines.
  • rapid, monotonous tasks.
  • ever-changing, confusing or conflicting job assignments.
  • little opportunity for growth or advancement.
  • no involvement in decision-making.
  • lack of performance feedback.
  • little or no support from management or coworkers.
  • job insecurity.
  • no sense of pride or ownership in what is being accomplished or produced.
  • loud, crowded, unhealthy or uncomfortable working conditions.

If you're feeling overwhelmed, here are a few tips for bring the stress in your life back to a manageable level:

  • try to identify and address major stressors in your life whether they are related to work, family, friends, finances, etc. Do not simply avoid facing stressors.
  • learn good negotiating skills:
    • avoid verbal attacks.
    • allow for a cooling off period but address the issue in a timely manner.
    • remain calm and focus on the tasks or issues, not personalities.
    • strive for win-win solutions.
  • work on developing self-confidence and your ability to solve problems.
  • breathe deeply.
  • make time for hobbies or activities that help you to relax and bring you pleasure.
  • exercise at least 30 minutes per day. If a 30-minute block of time is not possible,
    try three 10 minute sessions of moderate to vigorous activity, such as brisk walks.
  • put a premium on getting adequate, restful sleep:
    • follow a regular sleep routine.
    • try relaxation, sleep-inducing techniques like stretching, taking a warm
      bath or practicing muscle relaxation or controlled, deep breathing.
    • avoid taking long naps late in the day.
    • avoid caffeine late in the day.
    • write down any problems, ideas and anxious thoughts so as to release
      them from your mind at bedtime.
  • laugh often.
  • develop and nurture a supportive network of family members or friends.
  • seek help (which may include counseling) when you need it.

Sources:
http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/99-101/
http://www.lni.wa.gov/Safety/Research/Files/WmsdFinal.pdf
http://alexandriava.gov/uploadedFiles/dchs/info/WorkplaceStress.pdf
http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/guidelines/adults.html

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