Monday, December 24, 2007

Stress In The Workplace - How To Cope With It

Most of us readily acknowledge that stress is an inescapable
part of life in our modern society. It's in the home, the
schools, and the workplace.

Workplace stress management is becoming a buzz word of sorts,
as more companies seek ways to cope with workplace stressors.
But what is it?

Defining Workplace Stress

"Stress is the reaction people have to excessive pressures or
other types of demand placed on them." (Managing stress at work:
Discussion document, United Kingdom Health and Safety
Commission, London, 1999)

Stress in the workplace can be either positive stress that
results in greater productivity, or negative stress that cuts
productivity. Our definition does not say that stress in the
workplace is a reaction to pressure, but to excessive pressure.
It is when stressors are too demanding, exerting too much
pressure on us, that they become negative.

Workplace stress of a harmful nature is intense, continued, or

Who Is Affected by Workplace Stress?

Everyone is affected at some time or other. As the world tries
to increase output and limit time required, workplace stress
hits both blue and white-collar workers. Evidence indicates that
work that was once considered non-stressful is now approaching
high-stress ratings.

On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the highest, increasing numbers
of occupations are inching up toward the scale's top. A recent
table prepared by the University of Manchester Institute of
Science and Technology lists law enforcement officers at the 7.7
level. Airline pilots are close behind at 7.5. And while they
may seem to cause patients stress, dentists are rated 7.3. Even
teachers have a high stress level of 6.2.

Adolescents and older workers often have more trouble coping
with workplace stress – women may have more trouble than men.
People who have high levels of stress in the family will be more
affected by workplace stress.

Family Stress Increases Workplace Stress

When a balance between work and family is missing, workplace
stress is increased. Two-income families and single parent
families are especially affected. Time-sensitive work can make
greater demands than the worker can handle. Work schedules may
change, creating stress in handling children. Harsh or bullying
treatment at work can cycle into family stress, and back to
workplace stress.

Health Impacts of Stress

It is well accepted that stress produces a "fight-or-flight"
response in humans. The heartbeat picks up speed. Breathing
rhythm changes. Blood is sent to muscles and other vital organs.
Adrenaline and noradrenaline is released into the blood, raising
levels of energy-providing nutrients. Our bodies are ready to
fight the enemy or run from him.

The trouble is, we cannot easily fight workplace stress. We
might want to land a punch on the nose of the boss that makes
unreasonable demands, but we cannot. We might want to quit on
the spot, but we need the income, so we are not able to carry
through on our "fight-or-flight" response.

Frustrated body systems trying to cope with this dilemma may
give in to consequences such as chronic fatigue, depression,
anxiety, migraine, insomnia, hypertension, heart disease,
substance abuse, and a host of other problems.

Some employers have instituted workplace stress management
programs, with more or less success. In many cases, though, a
program of self-help for workplace stress, without individual
research, might be more effective.

Self-Help for Workplace Stress

If you were to take a self-help course entitled, as this
article is, "Stress in the Workplace – How to Cope with It", you
would expect to learn practical things you could do to cope with
workplace stress. Reports and research aside, you would want
specific self-help. You would want steps that could help you
begin to cope today.

The following practical steps will get you started. Write your

1. Analyze your job. Do you have a clear job description that
tells what is expected of you? Are you sufficiently qualified
for the work expected? Do you have the tools you need? Does the
job use your talent?

2. Analyze your workplace. Is it clean and safe? Is it
attractive and laid out well? Are things easy to find? Is it
quiet enough for work? Is there a quiet room where you can take
a break? Can you take a 5-minute break every hour or so? Are
your work hours reasonable?

3. Analyze your feelings. Do you feel that your job is
meaningful? Do you think you get enough feedback from others as
to whether or not you are doing well? Do you feel as though
people see you as an individual rather than a resource? Do you
feel that you have the right to say "no" when the workload
becomes too heavy?

Once you have answered every question, decide what action you
will take to change unwanted situations.

You can, for example, request a clear job description if you
don't have one. You can ask to discuss job expectations. You can
request missing tools that would reduce stress.

You can often clean or rearrange a workplace. You can make
ergonomic changes for physical safety. With thought, you can
create better work flow, or relocate needed tools.

If your job seems meaningless, be creative. Look around for new
ways of doing the job, of cutting costs or increasing
production. A challenge can make a big difference in coping with
workplace stress.

Finally, learn to say "no" to unnecessary demands. Were you
asked to "help" a habitual-long-lunch co-worker by adding part
of her work to your own? Agree to do it once, but explain
respectfully why the practice is unfair to both of you. Are you
expected to remain at work until the last person leaves, even
though you arrive an hour before anyone else? Ask respectfully
if consideration can be given, since your work is done early.

You will best cope with workplace stress when you learn which
"monkeys" are yours to feed, and decline to feed anyone else's

About The Author: ©2007, Anna Hart. Anna Hart, a career
educator and writer, invites you to read more of her articles
about workplace stress management at Also on that site, Anna
addresses issues of family stress, which directly relates to
workplace stress. If you are eager to learn more recommendations
to reduce workplace stress, you won't want to miss Anna's


Workplace wellbeing said...

Exercise and healthy eating habits can improve concentration and employee engagement, and is likely to lead to higher productivity levels in the workplace. This may lead to an increase in morale, which can also be fostered by the knowledge that employee wellbeing matters enough to the company that it is making efforts to improve and encourage healthy behavior among workers.

Anonymous said...

Also some stress management techniques such as yoga can be done at your desk.