I just returned from a weekend conference all about stress in the workplace. Listening to the array of international attendees and presenters I realize that we are not alone in this issue. However, stress is a serious concern.
Personally, I call stress the “root of all evil”, since it often leads to poor coping behaviors like smoking or excessive drinking, poor diet and lack of exercise. Let’s face it, after a rough day, people don’t crave salads.
While this particular conference was looking at what employers can and should do for their employees, not every workplace effectively addresses stress. If you don’t have a workplace program, you are left to figure it out on your own. Here are some of the most basic tips I can give.
- Set Boundaries – In a time of downsizing it can seem like everyone is expected to do the work of two or three people. Of course, you can’t “pass” on all of the projects your boss has for you, but you can be clear about your available time, energy and expectations of quality. Being able to effectively communicate how additional projects justifiably means that others might have to be delayed or less than complete is essential to preventing burnout. Additionally, being smart in eliminating unnecessary tasks or streamlining tasks is important. For instance, don’t check your email every 30 minutes and PLEASE turn off the new message notifications! At the same time, if you agree to check emails on your personal time, know that you create an expectation that you can be reached at all hours. You can only do what one person can do and you have to be clear on where your boundaries lie. Taking on more than you can handle only means quality of the work and your health will suffer.
- Single-Task – We’ve all been told that effective time management is just about learning how to do more within the time we have. Therefore, we all jumped on the multi-tasking bandwagon and found ourselves clearing out emails while on conference calls, working through lunch, and working on projects while on the phone with a client. Sometimes it is important to focus on one thing at a time. To be in tune with the person you are talking to, whether that is over email, the phone or in person you have to remove all distractions. Focusing means you will often finish a task faster and with better quality. It certainly means less frayed nerves too.
- Maintain a Good Attitude/Focus on the Positive – Much of stress is about perception. If you perceive that you work in a hostile environment and everyone is out to get you, you’ll leave stressed each day. If you feel that you are in a secure environment that rewards risk-taking and recognizes a job well done, you will likely feel challenged by tasks. While these workplace cultures can be very real, our minds can look for “facts” that prove our theory. Try to look for the good. Better yet, be the example of good. I have seen employees from all types of industries have an impact on making their work fun. Attitudes are contagious – both positive and negative. Be the positive force.
- Support a Culture of Health –Building off of that concept of being a positive force, it is your responsibility to help support a culture of health. This means being the one who congratulates others’ work, not being jealous and stirring up the rumor mill. You and your coworkers are in this together. I realize it can seem like a dog-eat-dog world at times, but look to build a network of supportive coworkers. I promise this good workplace karma will come back to benefit you.
- Reflect on Successes – It may be no surprise that those who feel like they are more employable are able to find jobs faster after a layoff than those who don’t have the same confidence – regardless of skill. When we remind ourselves of our accomplishments and the challenges we have overcome, it helps us build upon that success to achieve more. You are also more likely to set and stick to those boundaries I mentioned before (see #1).
Whether your workplace offers stress management and wellness programming or not, you have the power to choose to be healthy. Just like Eleanor Roosevelt said “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent”, I believe no one can make you feel stressed without your consent. Learn to reduce and manage your own work stress for health and longevity.