Stressed girl - Bailey and Yarmo

Preventing Stress In The Workplace

Are you stressed at work? If so, you are not alone. A survey by Harris Interactive done for Everest College found that 83% of American workers experience stress because of their job. Of the stressors reported by employees, the top two sources of stress in the workplace remained unreasonable workloads and low pay. Other stressors that were reported by employees included fear of being fired, co-workers, commuting, poor work-life balance, and lack of career advancement. Regardless of the reason why you are feeling stressed, workplace stress can have a significant impact on your work performance and your overall quality of life.

Why Do We Feel Stress at Work?

As mentioned above, there are many reasons why an employee may feel stress at work. Some reasons are specific to the job (i.e. a doctor dealing with life and death situations) while other stressors can be found in all workplaces (i.e. dealing with a difficult co-worker). While some stress is to be expected in all jobs, the demands placed on employees by employers to work harder, faster, and more efficiently is often a common denominator. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), stress in the workplace “is often made worse when employees feel they have little support from supervisors and colleagues and where they have little control over work or how they can cope with its demands and pressures.”

Most employees have very little control over their workload ability to change the attitudes of managers and supervisors. Fear of losing their job in a difficult economy also prevents most employees from complaining about the level of stress they experience at work while adding to the level of stress at work. Unfortunately, the stress does not stay at work after the employee goes home. The effects of chronic, uncontrolled stress are evident in the health and well-being of the employee, both at work and at home.

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How Does Workplace Stress Affect Employees?

Reducing productivity, hurting work performance, and increasing the risk of workplace accidents, prolonged workplace stress can be extremely harmful to an employee’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

Some common health problems associated with prolonged workplace stress include:

  • Stomach problems, ulcers, and irritable bowel syndrome
  • Severe headaches
  • Muscle tension
  • Sleep problems
  • Heart problems
  • Anxiety
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  • High blood pressure
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Back problems
  • Hair loss or skin problems
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Abuse of alcohol and/or drugs

Health problems are the number-one sign you are experiencing prolonged excessive stress in the workplace. Other health issues may develop depending on your physical, mental, and emotional health. It is extremely important to seek medical treatment as soon as possible, to avoid life-threatening complications.

Managing Stress in the Workplace

Managing stress in the workplace involves two elements: learning how to prevent stressful situations, and learning coping skills. In the first place, you will never be able to remove all stress from the workplace; you can learn how to prevent some stressful situations that add to your stress, however. Second, when you cannot prevent workplace stress, the best way to protect your health and well-being is to learn coping mechanisms that reduce the negative effects of stress.

Preventing Stress in the Workplace

Learning good time-management skills is a key step in reducing workplace stress. Often, stress is created by a lack of planning on our part. Controlling your schedule, rather than allowing the work to control you, is important. Learn to prioritize and organize your responsibilities, so you remain in control and avoid emergencies that create unnecessary stress.

Realize there will be problems along the way. Expecting yourself or others to be perfect causes unnecessary stress. To avoid setting yourself up for failure, set realistic goals for yourself. Improving your communication skills can help you avoid unnecessary problems. Communicating better with your co-workers, managers, and supervisors can prevent stressful misunderstandings.

To avoid unnecessary interruptions, schedule important tasks for the first thing in the morning or right after lunch. As co-workers arrive at work in the morning or return from lunch each afternoon, your chances of being interrupted increase as they begin work and have questions that may interrupt your workflow. It is better to get your hardest tasks accomplished before that happens. Constant interruptions can ratchet up your stress level. If you are interrupted, take a deep breath, then jot a quick note to remind yourself what you were doing and where to begin when the interruption is over.

Learn to delegate and work as part of a team. Many times we create unnecessary stress for ourselves by believing we are the only ones who can get the job done. If you are a supervisor or team leader, you must learn to delegate to your co-workers and team members. This not only reduces your stress, but also improves your productivity and efficiency.

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Ways to Cope with Stress in the Workplace

Workplace stress is inevitable, so learning how to cope with it reduces its negative effects on your health and well-being.

One of the most important ways to cope with workplace stress is to find time away from work to recharge. This allows you to de-stress and bring your mind and body back to a more relaxed “pre-stress” state. Do not skip breaks during the day. Take your lunch break away from your desk — away from the office, if possible, and do not discuss work at lunch. Take regular vacations, even if it is just a “staycation” with your family at home. Try not to bring work home with you in the evenings or on the weekend.

Take care of yourself. Maintain a healthy diet, get enough sleep, and exercise regularly. Your mind and body will function better, and cope with stress much better, if you are well-rested and in good physical shape. Take care of your mental health by taking time to enjoy activities with your family, meditate, or take up a hobby.

Track your stressors by keeping a journal to identify situations that most cause you to feel stress. What situations cause you to “lose control” in the workplace? How do you respond to those situations? You may not be able to avoid those situations in the future, but you may be able to adjust your reaction to those situations and thus reduce the level of stress you experience.

Take a stress management course. Several organizations offer courses in stress management in the workplace. If you are a professional, check with your local, state, or national organization for courses. You can also check with local technical schools or colleges. Online statement management courses are also available from a variety of sources.