Workload, lack of job security, and personnel problems gang up and overwhelm employees, dragging down their satisfaction levels. In fact, the negative consequences from stress are so strong that it has been declared a World Wide Epidemic by the World Health Organization.
While many have tried to construct all-encompassing lists of stress reducing tactics, recent studies have shown that there are not one-size-fits-all stress reducers. Rather, employee-environment fit should be the focus. If it's a good match, the employee is likely to be relaxed. A poor fits results in the opposite.
As managers and companies, we need to examine our employees and the environments we create for them. We need to make sure we are providing an office that fits our team’s definition of “not stressful,” not just what we think that looks like.
We have a few broad ideas that can be used to alleviate workplace stress, but make sure you tailor them to your workforce. Put these ideas into action; and remember, the best strategies start with leadership’s example.
1. Encourage workplace wellness
Exercise and healthy living are two of your best weapons against workplace stress. Exercise takes employees' minds off the stress of their job to focus on the task at hand. It also improves moods by increasing the production of endorphins, the brain's feel-good neurotransmitters.
Encourage employees to go on a walk during lunch breaks, subsidize gym memberships, or bring in a yoga instructor once a month. Consider holding a steps contest among teams for those who own fitness trackers.
Offer healthy snacks in the office, too. Employees feel valued when they think you're looking out for their health: a study by Peapod.com reported that 66% of the thousands of employees surveyed felt extremely or very happy when they're employer regularly stocked the refrigerator and cupboards, and 83% said that having healthy and fresh snack options was a huge perk. Something as simple as keeping fresh fruit or cartons of yogurt in the fridge goes a long way with employees.
2. Revamp the habitat
A lot of stress comes from environment. Think about every aspect of your office space and what it does (or doesn’t do) for the wellness of your team. Simple things like the quality of the coffee or the height of the cubicle walls can affect employee engagement. Update the office with an upbeat color scheme, additional plants, or new silverware. If you have the space, think about adding a ping pong or football table to allow employees to take their mind of their stress for a few minutes. Any changes that increase employee enjoyment will leave them feeling less stressed.
3. Allow for flexible hours and remote working
You hired your employees because you have confidence in their ability to do their jobs well and in a timely manner - now let them prove it. Your office shouldn’t feel like a cell, but rather a place that facilitates getting a job done. Let your employees know that their job is defined by the quality and timeliness of their work, not when they punch the clock.
Allow your employees to work from home, and give flexibility for start and end times. This freedom is great for office morale, and the policy shows employees that you trust them enough not to babysit.
4. Encourage social activity
Employees spend a lot of time together, and the more comfortable they are, the less stressed out they need to feel. As they get to know their coworkers, expectations and communication barriers are broken down, greasing the wheels for easier future interactions. If people enjoy spending time with coworkers, they’ll be less stressed at work.
5. Create quiet time
Stress can't be completely avoided, but you can help alleviate it when it arrives. Ensure your employees have a place where they can take a break. Our research shows that more than 80 percent of disengaged and hostile employees preferred the opportunity to have stress-relief breaks, such as a nap, massage, or required break. A small room, a lounge space at the end of the hall, and even an outdoor bench can be perfect places to find refuge from the chaos of the daily grind. Think about longer, retreat-style vacations, which can serve the same purpose.
If your organization can afford to do so, consider implementing "No Meeting Mondays" or something similar, essentially blocking off time for employees to focus in on individual task and keep from getting bogged down with meetings or overwhelmed by a heavy workload.
6. Provide onsite or telephonic counseling
Many companies have also begun providing counseling as a way for employees to help deal with stress; in a recent study, almost half of workers felt they needed help in learning how to handle the stresses of their jobs. This strategy – in or out of the office, in group settings or individually – can help employees prepare for what stress will come their way.
7. Recognize your employees
Employees love being praised for a job well done, and recognizing their success results in a serious boost in engagement. Each employee has a different personality, so be mindful when considering how and when to recognize. Some employees appreciate a call-out during a meeting or praise in a company-wide email, while more reserved types might prefer a card on their desk or a thank you in person.
However you choose to recognize, your employees will appreciate that you are aware off their success and want to share it with others. This makes them happier and more comfortable, in turn lowering stress levels
We have all suffered stress in the workplace at one time or another. For some, it is something they struggle with every day, for others it may be a once off bout of stress during a busy working period etc. Either way, it is important for us to know what stress is, how it affects us individually and what we can do to reduce workplace stress.
It is important for us as employees and employers to be able to recognize workplace stress before it has an effect on health, well-being, and productivity.
“Unfortunately, workplace stress does not just stay at work; it comes home with the employee and can have a detrimental effect on home life and relationships.”
Stress can lead to a number of health issues for the individual:
High blood pressure
Auto immune diseases
Unfortunately, workplace stress does not just stay at work;
it comes home with the employee and can have a detrimental effect
on home life and relationships. I’m sure you would agree that this is
so that you can take action to reduce stress levels where possible.
Workplace stress can be caused by a number of factors, ranging from heavy workloads and over-promotion to bullying and a blame type culture.
Excessively high workloads
When an employee’s workload becomes so much that they just cannot get it all done, it causes a huge amount of stress. With a high workload and unrealistic deadlines, it can make employees feel rushed, under pressure and overwhelmed. With this amount of work, it can be very easy for an employee to make a mistake, which in turn will cause more stress!
We all need clear direction when we know what it is expected of us, and then we are more confident in our role. Weak and ineffective management can leave employees feeling like they have no direction. Over-management can cause employees to feel undervalued and can affect self-esteem.
Bullying or harassment
Bullying or harassment in the workplace can have a serious and very negative impact on an employee’s well-being. It can cause psychological and physiological damage. Employees affected by this can change from being happy, confident and in control at work to becoming isolated, depressed and insecure. In turn, it can lead to absenteeism and long-term sick leave.
Poor company culture
Every company culture differs slightly, but the important aspects should stay the same, no matter where you work. Working in a company that is based on fear and uncertainty will for sure end up with a stressed employee. For example, a blame culture within a company can make employees feel afraid to make a mistake or afraid to ask for help.
Concerns about job security
No job is 100% secure, we all know that, but as humans, we all need some sense of security. We can’t spend our time worrying about whether we will get paid; have our job next week or what career opportunities are there for us. Time spent worrying about these things is time that we are not fully focussed on our jobs. When we feel insecure, we begin to feel stressed.
The above are only a few examples of what can cause stress in the workplace. Different things will stress different people out and that’s ok, that is what makes us unique! For whatever reason you feel stressed, then that is your pain point, don’t compare it to others.
It is important to remember that you cannot control everything in your work environment, but that does not mean that you are powerless, even when you are in a tough situation. Whatever your goals or work demands, there are always steps that you can take to reduce workplace stress and protect yourself from the negative effects of stress. This will improve your work life and strengthen your well-being in and out of the workplace.
How to reduce workplace stress
1. Inform your manager
Let them know the cause of your stress. Ask for their help and guidance. Be honest and let them know what the issues are. If you don’t tell them, how can they help?
If you feel you can’t confide in your direct manager, find someone in authority or someone in HR that you can trust.
2. Find support in your co-workers
Ensuring you have a solid support system at work, can really help you when you are having a rough time. A problem shared is a problem halved! Confide in someone you trust, it’s great to talk things through and get things off your chest with someone who understands the company and the culture. Just make sure you do the same for them if they ever need it!
Sometimes talking to someone who used to work in the role you are in can be a great source of help and advice. You may find out that the role has always had a very heavy workload for example or that the manager was difficult to work with. Either way, having that knowledge will give you some confidence and guidance about what to do next.
3. Support your health and well-being
Eat right, get enough sleep and get some exercise. It’s amazing how different things look when you are feeling good about yourself. If you find it hard to switch off from work, try yoga, meditation or mindfulness. Mindfulness is a great stress reliever because it takes you out of fight or flight mode and brings you into a relaxed state of mental clarity and calm.
4. Track your stressors
Consider writing down the things/situations that create the most stress for you and how you respond. By recording your thoughts, feelings and what was happening at the time, how you reacted etc., you will be able to find patterns relating to your stress and find a way to manage them.
For example, when you were feeling stressed, how did you react? Did you walk away, take it out on someone else, raise your voice, make a coffee, go for a walk?
5. Set your boundaries
Living in a digital world, it is very easy for us to feel that we need to be available 24 hours a day. It is critical to set some work-life boundaries for yourself. It could mean making it a rule that you don’t check work emails after hours or not taking phone calls after a certain time.
By setting some clear boundaries between home life and work life, you are making sure that you separate the two and you will reduce the potential for work-life conflict and the stress that goes with it.
While some workplace stress is normal, excessive stress can interfere with your productivity and performance, impact your physical and emotional health, and affect your relationships and home life. It can even determine success or failure on the job. You can’t control everything in your work environment, but that doesn’t mean you’re powerless, even when you’re stuck in a difficult situation. Whatever your ambitions or work demands, there are steps you can take to protect yourself from the damaging effects of stress, improve your job satisfaction, and bolster your well-being in and out of the workplace.
When is workplace stress too much?
Stress isn’t always bad. A little bit of stress can help you stay focused, energetic, and able to meet new challenges in the workplace. It’s what keeps you on your toes during a presentation or alert to prevent accidents or costly mistakes. But in today’s hectic world, the workplace too often seems like an emotional roller coaster. Long hours, tight deadlines, and ever-increasing demands can leave you feeling worried, drained, and overwhelmed. And when stress exceeds your ability to cope, it stops being helpful and starts causing damage to your mind and body, as well as to your job satisfaction.
If stress on the job is interfering with your work performance, health, or personal life, it’s time to take action. No matter what you do for a living, or how stressful your job is, there are plenty of things you can do to reduce your overall stress levels and regain a sense of control at work.
Common causes of workplace stress include:
Fear of being laid off
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!
Lack of control over how you do your work
Stress at work warning signs
When you feel overwhelmed at work, you lose confidence and may become angry, irritable, or withdrawn. Other signs and symptoms of excessive stress at work include:
Feeling anxious, irritable, or depressed
Apathy, loss of interest in work
Muscle tension or headaches
Loss of sex drive
Using alcohol or drugs to cope
Tip 1: Beat workplace stress by reaching out
Sometimes the best stress-reducer is simply sharing your stress with someone close to you. The act of talking it out and getting support and sympathy, especially face-to-face, can be a highly-effective way of blowing off steam and regaining your sense of calm. The other person does’t have to “fix” your problems; they just need to be a good listener.
Turn to co-workers for support. Having a solid support system at work can help buffer you from the negative effects of job stress. Just remember to listen to them and offer support when they are in need as well. If you don’t have a close friend at work, you can take steps to be more social with your coworkers. When you take a break, for example, instead of directing your attention to your smartphone, try engaging your colleagues.
Lean on your friends and family members. As well as increasing social contact at work, having a strong network of supportive friends and family members is extremely important to managing stress in all areas of your life. On the flip side, the lonelier and more isolated you are, the greater your vulnerability to stress.
Build new satisfying friendships. If you don’t feel that you have anyone to turn to—at work or in your free time—it’s never too late to build new friendships. Meet new people with common interests by taking a class or joining a club, or by volunteering your time. As well as expanding your social network, helping others—especially those who are appreciative—delivers immense pleasure and can help significantly reduce stress.
Tip 2: Support your health with exercise and nutrition
When you’re overly focused on work, it’s easy to neglect your physical health. But when you’re supporting your health with good nutrition and exercise, you’re stronger and more resilient to stress.
Taking care of yourself does’t require a total lifestyle overhaul. Even small things can lift your mood, increase your energy, and make you feel like you’re back in the driver’s seat.
Make time for regular exercise
Aerobic exercise, activity that raises your heart rate and makes you sweat, is a hugely effective way to lift your mood, increase energy, sharpen focus, and relax both the mind and body. Rhythmic movement, such as walking, running, dancing, drumming, etc., is especially soothing for the nervous system. For maximum stress relief, try to get at least 30 minutes of activity on most days. If it’s easier to fit into your schedule, break up the activity into two or three shorter segments.
And 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. Physical movement can help you regain your balance.
Make smart, stress-busting food choices
Your food choices can have a huge impact on how you feel during the work day. Eating small, frequent and healthy meals, for example, can help your body maintain an even level of blood sugar. This maintains your energy and focus, and prevents mood swings. Low blood sugar, on the other hand, can make you feel anxious and irritable, while eating too much can make you lethargic.
Minimize sugar and refined carbs. When you’re stressed, you may crave sugary snacks, baked goods, or comfort foods such as pasta or French fries. But these “feel-good” foods quickly lead to a crash in mood and energy, making symptoms of stress worse, not better.
Reduce your intake of foods that can adversely affect your mood, such as caffeine, trans fats, and foods with high levels of chemical preservatives or hormones.
Eat more Omega-3 fatty acids to give your mood a boost. The best sources are fatty fish (salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, sardines), seaweed, flaxseed, and walnuts.
Avoid nicotine. Smoking when you’re feeling stressed may seem calming, but nicotine is a powerful stimulant, leading to higher, not lower, levels of anxiety.
Drink alcohol in moderation. Alcohol may seem like it’s temporarily reducing your worries, but too much can cause anxiety as it wears off and adversely affect your mood.
Tip 3: Don’t skimp on sleep
You may feel like you just don’t have the time get a full night’s sleep. But skimping on sleep interferes with your daytime productivity, creativity, problem-solving skills, and ability to focus. The better rested you are, the better equipped you’ll be to tackle your job responsibilities and cope with workplace stress.
Improve the quality of your sleep by making healthy changes to your daytime and nightly routines. For example, go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends, be smart about what you eat and drink during the day, and make adjustments to your sleep environment. Aim for 8 hours a night, the amount of sleep most adults need to operate at their best.
Turn off screens one hour before bedtime. The light emitted from TV, tablets, smartphones, and computers suppresses your body’s production of melatonin and can severely disrupt your sleep.
Avoid stimulating activity and stressful situations before bedtime such as catching up on work. Instead, focus on quiet, soothing activities, such as reading or listening to soft music, while keeping lights low.
Stress and shift work
Working night, early morning, or rotating shifts can impact your sleep quality, which in turn may affect productivity and performance, leaving you more vulnerable to stress.
Adjust your sleep-wake cycle by exposing yourself to bright light when you wake up at night and using bright lamps or daylight-simulation bulbs in your workplace. Then, wear dark glasses on your journey home to block out sunlight and encourage sleepiness.
Limit the number of night or irregular shifts you work in a row to prevent sleep deprivation from mounting up.
Avoid frequently rotating shifts so you can maintain the same sleep schedule.
Eliminate noise and light from your bedroom during the day. Use blackout curtains or a sleep mask, turn off the phone, and use ear plugs or a soothing sound machine to block out daytime noise.
Tip 4: Prioritize and organize
When job and workplace stress threatens to overwhelm you, there are simple, practical steps you can take to regain control.
Time management tips for reducing job stress
Create a balanced schedule. All work and no play is a recipe for burnout. Try to find a balance between work and family life, social activities and solitary pursuits, daily responsibilities and downtime.
Leave earlier in the morning. Even 10-15 minutes can make the difference between frantically rushing and having time to ease into your day. If you’re always running late, set your clocks and watches fast to give yourself extra time and decrease your stress levels.
Plan regular breaks. Make sure to take short breaks throughout the day to take a walk, chat with a friendly face, or practice a relaxation technique. Also try to get away from your desk or work station for lunch. It will help you relax and recharge and be more, not less, productive.
Establish healthy boundaries. Many of us feel pressured to be available 24 hours a day or obliged to keep checking our smartphones for work-related messages and updates. But it’s important to maintain periods where you’re not working or thinking about work. That may mean not checking emails or taking work calls at home in the evening or at weekends.
Don’t over-commit yourself. Avoid scheduling things back-to-back or trying to fit too much into one day. If you’ve got too much on your plate, distinguish between the “shoulds” and the “musts.” Drop tasks that aren’t truly necessary to the bottom of the list or eliminate them entirely.
Task management tips for reducing job stress
Prioritize tasks. Tackle high-priority tasks 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, 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. Let go of the desire to control every little step. You’ll be letting go of unnecessary stress in the process.
Be willing to compromise. Sometimes, if you and a co-worker or boss can both adjust your expectations a little, you’ll be able to find a happy middle ground that reduces the stress levels for everyone.
Tip 5: Break bad habits that contribute to workplace stress
Many of us make job stress worse with negative thoughts and behavior. If you can turn these self-defeating habits around, you’ll find employer-imposed stress easier to handle.
Resist perfectionism. When you set unrealistic goals for yourself, you’re setting yourself up to fall short. Aim to do your best; no one can ask for more than that.
Flip your negative thinking. If you focus on the downside of every situation and interaction, you’ll find yourself drained of energy and motivation. Try to think positively about your work, avoid negative co-workers, and pat yourself on the back about small accomplishments, even if no one else does.
Don’t try to control the uncontrollable. Many things at work are beyond our control, particularly the behavior of other people. Rather than stressing out over them, focus on the things you can control, such as the way you choose to react to problems.
Look for humor in the situation. When used appropriately, humor is a great way to relieve stress in the workplace. When you or those around you start taking work too seriously, find a way to lighten the mood by sharing a joke or funny story.
Clean up your act. If your desk or work space is a mess, file and throw away the clutter; just knowing where everything is can save time and cut stress.
Be proactive about your job and your workplace duties
When we feel uncertain, helpless, or out of control, our stress levels are the highest. Here are some things you can do to regain a sense of control over your job and career.
Talk to your employer about workplace stressors. Healthy and happy employees are more productive, so your employer has an incentive to tackle workplace stress whenever possible. Rather than rattling off a list of complaints, let your employer know about specific conditions that are impacting your work performance.
Clarify your job description. Ask your supervisor for an updated description of your job duties and responsibilities. You may find that some of the tasks that have piled up are not included in your job description, and you can gain a little leverage by pointing out that you’ve been putting in work over and above the parameters of your job.
Request a transfer. If your workplace is large enough, you might be able to escape a toxic environment by transferring to another department.
Ask for new duties. If you’ve been doing the exact same work for a long time, ask to try something new: a different grade level, a different sales territory, a different machine.
Take time off. If burnout seems inevitable, take a complete break from work. Go on vacation, use up your sick days, ask for a temporary leave-of-absence—anything to remove yourself from the situation. Use the time away to recharge your batteries and gain perspective.
Look for satisfaction and meaning in your work
Feeling bored or unsatisfied with how you spend most of the workday can cause high levels of stress and take a serious toll on your physical and mental health. But for many of us, having a dream job that we find meaningful and rewarding is just that: a dream. Even if you’re not in a position to look for another career that you love and are passionate about—and most of us aren’t—you can still find purpose and joy in a job that you don’t love.
Even in some mundane jobs, you can often focus on how your contributions help others, for example, or provide a much-needed product or service. Focus on aspects of the job that you do enjoy, even if it’s just chatting with your coworkers at lunch. Changing your attitude towards your job can also help you regain a sense of purpose and control.
How managers or employers can reduce stress at work
Employees who are suffering from work-related stress can lead to lower productivity, lost workdays, and a higher turnover of staff. As a manager, supervisor, or employer, though, you can help lower workplace stress. The first step is to act as a positive role model. If you can remain calm in stressful situations, it’s much easier for your employees to follow suit.
Consult your employees. Talk to them about the specific factors that make their jobs stressful. Some things, such as failing equipment, understaffing, or a lack of supervisor feedback may be relatively straightforward to address. Sharing information with employees can also reduce uncertainty about their jobs and futures.
Communicate with your employees one-on-one.Listening attentively face-to-face will make an employee feel heard and understood. This will help lower their stress and yours, even if you’re unable to change the situation.
Deal with workplace conflicts in a positive way. Respect the dignity of each employee; establish a zero-tolerance policy for harassment.
Give workers opportunities to participate in decisions that affect their jobs. Get employee input on work rules, for example. If they’re involved in the process, they’ll be more committed.
Avoid unrealistic deadlines. Make sure the workload is suitable to your employees’ abilities and resources.
Clarify your expectations. Clearly define employees’ roles, responsibilities, and goals. Make sure management actions are fair and consistent with organizational values.
Offer rewards and incentives. Praise work accomplishments verbally and organization-wide. Schedule potentially stressful periods followed by periods of fewer tight deadlines. Provide opportunities for social interaction among employees.
Stress Management: Enhance your well-being by reducing stress and building resilience – Harvard Medical School Special Health Report
STRESS… At Work – Causes of stress at work and how to prevent it. (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health)
Stress at Work (PDF) – Help and advice for dealing with job and workplace stress. (Acas)