What is stress?
Stress is the reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed upon them. It arises when they worry that they can’t cope. Stress is the “wear and tear” our minds and bodies experience as we attempt to cope with our continually changing environment.
While some workplace stress is normal, excessive stress can interfere with your productivity and impact your physical and emotional health. And your ability to deal with it can mean the difference between success or failure. You can’t control everything in your work environment, even when you’re stuck in a difficult situation. Finding ways to manage workplace stress isn’t about making huge changes or rethinking career ambitions, but rather about focusing on the one thing that’s always within your control you.
A stress reaction can be positive or negative. — Positive stress reaction leads to increased performance, feelings of success and confidence and allows the body to return to the normal, non-stress state. Negative stress or mismanaged stress, keep the physical reaction of the body turned on and does not let the body completely recover to the non-stress state.
Signs and Symptoms of Workplace Stress
- Feeling anxious, irritable, or depressed
- Apathy, loss of interest in work
- Emotional outbursts
- Trouble concentrating
- Social withdrawal
- Performances dip
- Uncharacteristic errors or missed deadlines
Key Stress Factors
- Fear of being laid off or budget cuts
- More overtime due to staff cutbacks
- Pressure to perform to meet rising expectations but with no increase in job satisfaction
- Pressure to work at optimum levels – all the time!
- Not knowing what you want or if you’re getting it – poor planning
- The feeling that there’s too much to do. One can have this feeling even if there’s hardly anything to do at all.
- Not enjoying your job. This can be caused by lots of things, for example, not knowing what you want, not eating well, etc. However, most people always blame their jobs.
- Conflicting demands on the job.
- Insufficient resources to do the job.
- Not feeling appreciated.
- Monotonous nature of the job
- Unsafe and unhealthy working conditions
- Lack of confidentiality
- Task demands- having to repeatedly learn new processes, meeting unrealistic deadlines.
- Time demands– frequent deadlines, schedule conflicts, “too much to do,” interruptions and unpredictable schedules (particularly for employees who have daily rhythms in shift work).
- Physical demands – the environment (weather, noise, vibration) and activity (standing, walking, bending, lifting).
- Role demands—added responsibility in supervision and leadership.
- Interpersonal demands—interacting with the public, customers, co-workers.
ABC STRATEGY OF STRESS
A = AWARENESS (What causes you stress? How do you react?)
B = BALANCE (There is a fine line between positive/negative stress .How much can you cope with before it becomes negative?)
C = CONTROL (What can you do to help yourself combat the negative effects of stress?)
Stress Management Techniques
- Change your thinking
- Change your behavior
- Change your lifestyle
Task management tips for reducing job stress
- Prioritize tasks. Make a list of tasks you have to do, and tackle them in order of importance. Do the high-priority items first. If you have something particularly unpleasant to do, get it over with early. The rest of your day will be more pleasant as a result.
- Break projects into small steps. If a large project seems overwhelming, make a step-by-step plan. Focus on one manageable step at a time, rather than taking on everything at once.
- Delegate responsibility. You don’t have to do it all yourself. If other people can take care of the task, why not let them? Let go of the desire to control or oversee every little step. You’ll be letting go of unnecessary stress in the process.
- Be willing to compromise. When you ask someone to contribute differently to a task, revise a deadline, or change their behavior at work, be willing to do the same. Sometimes, if you can both bend a little, you’ll be able to find a happy middle ground that reduces the stress levels for everyone concerned.
- Taking responsibility for improving your physical and emotional well-being.
- Avoiding pitfalls by identifying knee-jerk habits and negative attitudes that add to the stress you experience at work.
- Learning better communication skills to ease and improve your relationships with management and co-employees.
Individual strategies for managing stress
- Use basic techniques of planning, problem-solving and decision making.
- Find some way to realistically and practically analyze your time. Logging your time for a week in 15-minute intervals is not that hard and does not take up that much time. Do it for a week and review your results.
- Do a “to do” list for your day. Do it at the end of the previous day. Mark items as “A” and “B” in priority. Set aside two hours right away each day to do the important “A” items and then do the “B” items in the afternoon. Let your answering machine take your calls during your “A” time.
- Don’t be a YES body – say no to things if you can’t do them and don’t over stretch or over commit yourself, of you know you will end up compromising in some way to finish the project.
- At the end of your day, spend five minutes cleaning up your space. Use this time, too, to organize your space, including your desktop. That’ll give you a clean start for the next day.
- Learn the difference between “Where can I help?” and “Where am I really needed?” Experienced leaders learn that the last question is much more important than the former.
- Learn the difference between “Do I need to do this now?” and “Do I need to do this at all?” Experienced leaders learn how to quickly answer this question when faced with a new task.
- Use a “Do Not Disturb” sign! During the early part of the day, when you’re attending to your important items (your “A” list), hang this sign on the doorknob outside your door.
- Sort your mail into categories including “read now”, “handle now” and “read later”. You’ll quickly get a knack for sorting through your mail. You’ll also notice that much of what you think you need to read later wasn’t really all that important anyway.
- Read your mail at the same time each day. That way, you’ll likely get to your mail on a regular basis and won’t become distracted into any certain piece of mail that ends up taking too much of your time.
- Have a place for everything and put everything in its place. That way, you’ll know where to find it when you need it. Another important outcome is that your people will see that you are somewhat organized, rather than out of control.
- Best suggestion for saving time – schedule 10 minutes to do nothing. That time can be used to just sit and clear your mind. You’ll end up thinking more clearly, resulting in more time in your day. The best outcome of this practice is that it reminds you that you’re not a slave to a clock and that if you take 10 minutes out of your day, you and your organization won’t fall apart.
- Don’t eat lunch at your desk. Get up and walk around during your lunch break, and go outside on nice days. Take a break and talk to people in the workplace at least twice a day.
- Create an “I Did” list (list of daily accomplishments) at the end of each day. This list will help you to recognize all the services you provide
- At the end of the day, lay out one project to do first thing in the morning. When you come in the next day, do not check your voicemail or email until you have finished that project. This will provide a sense of accomplishment and the satisfaction of a completed task. This will boost the employees’ confidence and self-esteem and stop the unorganized thinking that can ensue from heavy unmanageable workloads.
- Write weekly status reports. Include what you’ve accomplished last week and plan to do next week. Include any current issues or recommendations that you must report to your boss. Give the written status report to your boss on a weekly basis.
- Do a deep breathing exercise to relax and mentally debrief.
- Take time away. When stress is mounting at work, try to take a quick break and move away from the stressful situation. Take a stroll outside the workplace if possible, or spend a few minutes meditating in the break room. Physical movement or finding a quiet place to regain your balance can quickly reduce stress.
- Talk it over with someone. In some situations, simply sharing your thoughts and feelings with someone you trust can help reduce stress. Talking over a problem with someone who is both supportive and empathetic can be a great way to let off steam and relieve stress.
- Connect with others at work. Developing friendships with some of your co-workers can help buffer you from the negative effects of stress. Remember to listen to them and offer support when they are in need as well.
- Look for humor in the situation. When used appropriately, humor is a great way to relieve stress in the workplace.
Some suggestions for creating a more mellow workplace
- Get to the office 15 minutes earlier every day, thus taking the “rush” out of the morning.
- Don’t trust your memory, write everything down.
- Try not to over schedule yourself or your projects. Don’t promise what you can’t easily deliver.
- Be realistic regarding your standards. Don’t set them beyond your reach.
- Plan “B” should always be ready.
- Blow off steam. Get things off your chest.
- Take some quiet time for meditation or deep breathing, particularly when you feel stress building.
- Each evening, prioritize activities for the next day.
- Establish deadlines for yourself, and stick to them.
- Before making or taking a phone call, ask yourself, “Is this all really necessary?”
- Eliminate or deflect drop-in visitors that waste your time.
- Try to avoid rush hour by changing your work schedule.
- Ask yourself if a job can be delegated to someone else.
- Don’t always say “yes” to tasks thrown your way.
- Decide if a meeting is really necessary. Are there alternate ways to distribute or collect information?
- Try to see the other person’s point of view. Listen and gain insight.
- Stay positive. Focus on the resources you have, instead of those you lack.
Role of “Gumption”
Everything good usually starts with gumption. It’s picking yourself up, deciding that you could be happier, that you want to be happier – and then doing one small thing to get you started and keep you going. Boredom and blaming are the opposite of gumption. Stress and time management starts with gumption. It’s the trying that counts. Poor time and stress management often comes from doing the same thing harder, rather than smarter.
A variety of work-related factors have been found to negatively affect well-being and although no single factor is likely to cause stress a combination of problems can affect an individual’s ability to cope with stress at work. Factors which may contribute towards stress at work include:-
- Lack of control over work
- Underutilization of skills
- Too high a workload, impossible deadlines
- Too low a workload, no or few challenges
- Low task variety
- High uncertainty e.g. lack of clear priorities and targets, job insecurity
- Low pay
- Poor working conditions e.g. noise, overcrowding, lack of ventilation, excessive heat, inadequate breaks
- Low interpersonal support e.g. via inadequate or insensitive management, hostility from colleagues.
- Undervalued social position.
- Also, read Power, stress and your leadership