Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Work and Stress - Having a Life, Not an Illness

A report from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health quotes the following survey results:

  • 40% of workers reported their jobs to be very or extremely stressful

  • 25% viewed their jobs as the largest source of stress in their lives

  • 26% said they were often or very often burned out or stressed by work.

A study by University of Melbourne researchers last year found that job stress accounts for 1/3 of depression cases in women and up to 1/3 of cases of cardiovascular disease in men.

These are amazing statistics.

The answer to tackling stress at work is two-fold. Firstly, you can push to make changes to the job itself - a big picture approach. You need to have a clear idea of what is going wrong. The following may help if the problem isn't readily apparent.

Job Demands
Working long hours, infrequent breaks, monotonous routine, having to work fast, not using full range of skills

Job Control
Lack of participation in decision-making process, poor communication from managers

Interpersonal Relationships
Poor social environment, lack of support or help from co-workers

Work Role
Uncertain job role and responsibilities, too many "hats" to wear

Career Issues
Lack of opportunities for learning or advancement, lack of job security, organizational change not well communicated

Environmental Conditions
Crowding, noise, pollution, lack of comfort

Try to identify the causes of your stress, and work out what you would like to change to eliminate them. If you can discuss your problem with your manager he or she may be able to make immediate changes. If the source of stress is your manager then that's another kettle of fish! See if there are procedures in place to deal with this. If there aren't any then perhaps you can talk to an employee representative, HR department or Employee Assistance service (if you have one).

Don't be reluctant to talk about stress at work. No employer should subject their employees to work-related stress. They should take it as seriously as you do.

Changes to You

Secondly there are changes that you can make that you have complete control over.

  • Make a to-do list. Organize your work to feel more in control. It's easy to stop worrying about a future task if you record it on a list. Only record the tasks you are definitely going to do, not the long-term projects that are always on the backburner. Make sure you include a couple of things that you've already done, to get you off to a good start.

  • Cut down on caffeine. Caffeine gets the adrenaline hormone pumping through the body and causing "fight or flight" alertness. This is stress in itself, so it heightens any other stresses that you are also dealing with at work. Drink lots of water and keep your brain well-hydrated.

  • Exercise during the day. Regular exercise decreases the production of adrenaline which reduces the stress response. As a bare minimum go for a walk outside during your lunch break. Perhaps find a new place to buy lunch a few blocks away. Exercise outside of work hours will also help to cut your stress level during the day.

  • Take breaks from your computer. It sucks the life out of you, so by the end of a long day you're feeling irritable. Get away from the computer and connect with real people every now and then.

  • Slow down. Do you rush to work in the mornings? Simplify things so that you're not over-committed and rushed. Can you get up 15 minutes earlier for a calmer trip to work?

  • Don't forget to take vacations. The company won't collapse without you (unless you own it).

  • Work shorter hours. Limit your work day to what you agreed to with your employer. Working long hours is one of the main causes of work-stress. Protect your time and say "no" to requests that place unrealistic or unreasonable demands on you.

  • Rise above office gossip. Gossip is almost always negative, it brings people down and undermines relationships. Avoid difficult people. Instead find positive, energetic people to be around. Deepen friendships that are positive.

  • Create a relaxation routine. When something unexpected comes up you can deal with it without being stressed. A routine may be something simple like deep breathing exercises, a quick relaxation technique, a walk around the office or outside, a trip to the water cooler or a chat with someone.

  • Take mini-breaks during the day. Use your relaxation routine to good effect. Make sure that you move around away from your workspace.

In my own experience most managers are willing to make at least some changes if you present them with the problem and a solution. If stress is impacting your health then it's a high priority, and you need to be proactive. As for the changes to your own life? They will all make a positive difference so they are well worth adding to your work day. Don't become another statistic from stress at work!

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