Work Stress: The Killer. How to Manage and Deal With It
Depending on how you are prepared to deal with it, today’s workplace can either be a workshop for stress, or it can be a tranquil environment where you do your best and shine amongst your colleagues and co-workers. But make no mistake: Stress is real…and it can even be fatal!
And, it is a world-wide phenomenon. Here are some startling statistics:
- One estimate puts the number of work-related suicides in Australia at roughly 3,800 a year
- In Britain, almost 1,510 workers per 100,000, reported depression or anxiety in 2016; contributing to nearly 45% of all lost work days
- Over 35% of American workers believe that their job hurts them both physically and emotionally, while 42% say it impacts relationships on a personal basis, with one 2013 report concluding that there were 780 deaths in 2011 attributable to workplace violence
- A 2009 report on European-based workplace violence noted that 28.5% of work-related violence came from the Education, Forestry & Fishing and Agricultural sectors
- Each year, over 600,000 Chinese workers die from overwork
The Root Causes
As individuals already employed in today’s workforce, or someone aspiring to enter the workforce shortly, you may be aware of a number of employer-driven factors that contribute to workplace stress. For instance:
- Too high expectations from the boss
- Lack of respect for workers; workplace bullying
- Feeling undervalued, e.g. being excluded from making decisions that could help the business
- An air of politics, intrigue and back-stabbing within the ranks
- No organisational culture of creating a ‘cheerful’ workplace
- Long or inconvenient working hours/schedules
However, believe it or not, there are an equal number of stress points that are created by employees themselves:
- Applying for (and working in) careers and positions they are ill-qualified to deal with
- Wilfully taking on more than they can safely handle
- Being disorganised
- Holding too high expectations of yourself
- Lacking the ability to prioritise work
- Being overly competitive (when you don’t have to!)
With so many factors driving and contributing to stress in the workplace, how do individuals beat it? And is there anything one can do to prevent being impacted by its fallout?
Stressed Over Stress? Don’t be!
“Good stress” can motivate and propel you to greater achievement. “Bad stress” can demoralise and depress you.
The bad news is that workplace stress has a very ravenous appetite – it feeds on itself. The more you stress over an already stressful situation, the more stressed out you will get. And that breeds a vicious cycle.
Though stress can be a mighty opponent, there are a number of strategies that you can adopt to healthily manage and deal with it.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) proposed a 5-step process for managing and dealing with work-related stress. While the process is aimed at organisations, so they can implement appropriate workplace stress management strategies; there’s no reason why a similar approach can’t be effective for individuals.
Here’s how you can manage and deal with workplace stress:
The first step to dealing with stress in to assess whether you are, or could be, experiencing work-related stress. If most of these are true, you may be in a high risk situation for workplace related stress.
Are you irritable during or after work?
Do co-workers and friends complain that you are moody?
Are you always sad, depressed and unhappy about your work (or even personal) life?
Is work overwhelming you?
Stress Management Action Plan
There are any number of ways that you can manage and reduce stress in the workplace:
- Make sure you clearly understand your role and the job requirements before you commit to doing the job. If you see any issues/challenges with doing the job, plug the gaps with more training or skills development, or speak with a supervisor or mentor.
- Take breaks during the day to recharge and de-stress.
- If allowed, personalise your work setting in ways that help soothe and calm you.
- Some people listen to music during work, others like a window seat with lots of light, still others will have potted house plants on their desks – do whatever is permitted and works for you
- When overwhelmed, ask for help or discuss the matter with colleagues or supervisors.
- Learn to say “No!” Polite refusal is a skill you must learn if you are to maintain your sanity at work.
- Organise yourself and your workspace. Clutter and confusion can add to an already stressful situation.
- Separate your work from home life – Try not to bring work home.
- Make sure you use all your entitlements for vacation and downtime.
- Socialise, network and mingle within your work circles. You’ll build a safety net of fellow-workers that can aid you in times of stress.
- Don’t be afraid to seek professional help if things get out of hand
Implement Your Action Plan: The above steps must vigorously be kept in mind, and followed as closely as possible. Be flexible though: Sometimes you may need to forego planned vacation time to meet a deadline. But those should be exceptions rather than the rule.
Evaluate Your Action Plan: Periodically, review how your stress levels are at work, making changes to the plan where necessary. For example, if you always eat at your desk, how about going out for a meal occasionally?
Lessons Learned: Do more of what’s working, and change what’s not working. Perhaps add a Yoga class to your post-work routine; or use the office “Quiet Room” during breaks; or find out what caused that “outburst” last week and plan steps to avoid such incidents in future
The ideal scenario for dealing and managing work stress is to head it off at the pass: Recognise it proactively before, or shortly after, it sets in. Then, once you have your action plan, make sure to continually update and refresh it.