Managing Workplace Stress - Best Practices

  • By: Staff Editor
  • Date: July 07, 2009
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The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, states that workplace stress/job stress, now more than ever, poses a threat to the health of workers and the health of organizations. NIOSH defines job stress as the harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources, or needs of the worker. Stress also occurs when the situation has high demands and the worker has little or no control over it. Job stress can lead to poor health and injury.

Work Related Stress

Categories Influencing Factors
The common causes of work place stress are:
  • Unreasonable demands for performance.
  • Lack of interpersonal communication between the employer and the employees.
  • Lack of interpersonal relationship among the employees.
  • The fear of losing one's job.
  • Long working hours.
  • Less time to spend with the family.
  • Under-utilization of skills.
  • Underpaid jobs.
  • A promotion that did not materialize.
Top four professions which cause more stress.
  • Nursing
  • Teaching
  • Managers
  • Professionals
Older employees are affected more than their younger counterparts. Stress at workplace could be due to:
  • External cause like dangerous working condition or poor interpersonal relationship with the colleague.
  • Internal causes like physical or psychological illnesses.


Warning signs of excessive stress at work   
When people feel overwhelmed, they lose confidence and become irritable or withdrawn, making them less productive and effective and their work less rewarding. If the warning signs of work stress go unattended, they can lead to bigger problems. Beyond interfering with job performance and satisfaction, chronic or intense stress can also lead to physical and emotional health problems.

Signs and symptoms of excessive job and workplace stress

  • Feeling anxious, irritable, or depressed
  • Apathy, loss of interest in work.
  • Problems sleeping
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Muscle tension or headaches
  • Stomach problems
  • Social withdrawal
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Using alcohol or drugs to cope

Manage job stress
There are a variety of steps to reduce overall stress levels and the stress one finds on the job and in the workplace. These include:

1. Reducing job stress by taking care of yourself: Start by paying attention to your physical and emotional health. When your own needs are taken care of, you’re stronger and more resilient to stress.
  • Physical fitness: Exercising and perspiring is an effective anti-anxiety treatment.
  • Frequent meals throughout the day maintain an even level of blood sugar in your body: Low blood sugar makes you feel anxious and irritable. On the other hand, eating too much can make you lethargic.
  • Moderation in alcohol consumption and total avoidance of nicotine
  • Sleep: When you're well-rested, it is much easier to keep your emotional balance, a key factor in coping with job and workplace stress.
2. Reducing job stress by prioritizing and organizing:
  • Create a balanced schedule: Try to find a balance between work and family life, social activities and solitary pursuits, daily responsibilities and downtime.
  • Don’t over-commit yourself: Avoid scheduling things back-to-back or trying to fit too much into one day.
  • Try to leave earlier in the morning: Even 10-15 minutes can make the difference between frantically rushing to work and having time to ease into your day. Don’t add to your stress levels by running late.
  • Plan regular breaks: Take short breaks throughout the day to sit back and clear your mind. Also try to get away from your desk for lunch. Stepping away from work to briefly relax and recharge will help you to be more, not less, productive.
3.Task management tips for reducing job stress:
  • Prioritize tasks
  • Break projects into small steps
  • Delegate responsibility.
4. Reducing workplace stress by improving emotional intelligence: Emotional intelligence is the ability to manage and use your emotions in positive and constructive ways. It is about communicating with others in ways that draw people to you, overcome differences, repair wounded feelings, and defuse tension and stress. Emotional intelligence in the workplace has four major components: Self-awareness, Self-management, Social awareness and Relationship management. The skill set that enables you to acquire these capabilities can be learned but requires the development of emotional and nonverbal ways of communicating that include: 
  • Learning to recognize your particular stress response and become familiar with sensual cues that can rapidly calm and energize you.
  • Staying connected to your internal emotional experience so you can appropriately manage your own emotions.
  • Learning to recognize and effectively use the nonverbal cues that make up 95-98% of your communication process including eye contact, facial expression, tone of voice, posture, gesture and touch. 
  • Developing the capacity to meet challenges with humor.
  • Learning to navigate conflict by becoming a good listener and someone who can face conflict fearlessly.
5. Eliminate self-defeating behaviors: If you can turn around self-defeating habits, you’ll find employer-imposed stress easier to handle.
  • Resist perfectionism: No project, situation, or decision is ever perfect, and you put undue stress on yourself by trying to do everything perfectly. When you set unrealistic goals for yourself or try to do too much, you are setting yourself up to fall short.
  • Clean up your act: If you’re always running late, set your clocks and watches fast and give yourself extra time. If your desk is a mess, file and throw away the clutter; just knowing where everything is saves time and cuts stress. Make to-do lists and cross off items as you accomplish them. Plan your day and stick to the schedule — you’ll feel less overwhelmed.
  • Flip your negative thinking: If you see the downside of every situation and interaction, you will find yourself drained of energy and motivation. Try to think positively about your work, avoid negative thinking co-workers, and pat yourself on the back about small accomplishments, even if no one else does.
6. Cultivate allies at work:    Just knowing you have one or more co-workers who are willing to assist you in times of stress will reduce your stress level. Just remember to reciprocate and help them when they are in need.
7. Talk it 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 empathy from someone else is often an excellent way of blowing off steam and reducing stress. Have a support system of trusted people.
8. Modify your job situation: If you really like your employer, but the job has become too stressful (or too boring), ask about tailoring your job to your skills. And if you got promoted into a more stressful position that you just are not able to handle, ask about a lateral transfer or even a transfer back to your old job (if that is what you want).


What managers or employers can do to reduce stress at work?
It is in a manager's best interest to keep stress levels in the workplace to a minimum. Managers must act as positive role models, especially in times of high stress. There are also organizational changes that managers and employers can make to reduce workplace stress, as the following Table reveals:


Improve communication
  • Share information with employees to reduce uncertainty about their jobs and futures.
  • Clearly define employees’ roles and responsibilities.
  • Make communication friendly and efficient, not mean-spirited or petty.
Consult your employees
  • Give workers opportunities to participate in decisions that affect their jobs.
  • Consult employees about scheduling and work rules.
  • Be sure the workload is suitable to employees’ abilities and resources; avoid unrealistic deadlines.
  • Show that individual workers are valued.
Offer rewards and incentives
  • Praise good work performance verbally and institutionally.
  • Provide opportunities for career development.
  • Promote an “entrepreneurial” work climate that gives employees more control over their work.
Cultivate a friendly social climate   
  • Provide opportunities for social interaction among employees.
  • Establish a zero-tolerance policy for harassment.
  • Make management actions consistent with organizational values.




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