Work-related stress has become more commonplace since the onset of Covid-19. A study released earlier this year found that 48% of employees experienced high to extreme stress over the past year, a 7% increase over the last two years. Whether this high stress has been caused by heavy workloads, demanding management, lack of work-life balance, an uncertain economy, health concerns or the challenges of transitioning to a remote or hybrid work environment, if untreated, stress at work can lead to more serious mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.
In addition to affecting employees’ mental health, workplace stress can cause a number of problems for employers as well. According to the American Institute of Stress, around 1 million employees miss work each day due to stress-related causes, costing U.S. businesses up to $300 billion annually, including $51 billion in absenteeism costs and $190 billion in healthcare-related expenses.
Though avoiding or even mitigating stress at work may not be an option for all employees, there are a number of things workers can do in order to better manage stress in their daily routine. Let’s look at a few.
1. Make Time To Step Away
One of the best ways to make workplace stress far worse is to not take any breaks. Just like athletes in training, there’s only so much physical exertion the body can withstand before performance starts to decline and rest is needed to recharge. By the same standard, employees who neglect to take breaks throughout the day and try to “push through” will see their productivity start to decline and their stress levels start to increase. By taking breaks every 75 to 90 minutes, workers can maximize productivity and alleviate stress, even if only temporarily.
This principle carries over outside of work as well. Office workers should make an effort to eat lunch away from their desk whenever possible, and remote workers should make a clear distinction between work and break time in order to refresh and return with a clear mind. Similarly, employees should limit the amount of time they spend reading and responding to work emails outside of work hours, allotting time to spend with friends and family, exercise or focus on any non-work activities that allow them to destress and refocus.
2. Monitor Your EQ
EQ has become a popular buzzword. Referring to “emotional intelligence,” EQ is the ability to manage one’s emotions in order to communicate effectively, avoid conflict and achieve goals. Simply put, those who are better at managing their emotions in stressful situations are also better at dealing with the effects of stress and not passing those stressors on to others.
Employees should be cognizant of how they react in stressful situations and of how their reactions cause others to react. Those who lose their temper easily, lash out or yell at or criticize others may only exacerbate stress and make uncomfortable situations worse. Conversely, those who manage their emotions in a calm and mature manner when the going gets tough are best able to dissipate stress and make those around them feel at ease.
3. Avoid Stressful People And Subjects
Sometimes the source of workplace stress isn’t workloads or deadlines but co-workers. Though work cliques may be less common for those now working remotely, they are an unfortunate side effect of an imperfect company culture, and some employees thrive on excluding others. Those who find themselves outside the inner circle should try not to let this affect their productivity. If, however, this exclusion leads to feeling unwelcome among co-workers, or worse, feeling bullied, employees should consider reporting it to HR.
Another potential source of stress can come from divisive conversation topics. In today’s hyper-sensitive political climate, discussing subjects such as elections or controversial political issues can cause anger, resentment and unnecessary stress. When it comes to conversations with co-workers, it’s always best to steer clear of sensitive topics in the interest of preserving relationships and a peaceful work environment.
4. Prioritize Assignments
Though work assignments all need to be completed, not all of them carry the same urgency. Learning to prioritize projects can help reduce stress by allowing employees to focus on completing assignments based on importance, deadlines, etc. For this same reason, workers should avoid multitasking, as trying to complete multiple assignments at once can hinder concentration and leave one feeling overwhelmed and defeated. By learning to plan ahead and focusing on individual tasks before moving on to the next, employees can increase their productivity while reducing stress levels.
5. Know When To Ask For Help
When it comes to stress, every employee has a different breaking point, and managers don’t always know where this is. If the workload becomes unmanageable, it’s up to employees to bring this to their manager’s attention. A good manager will recognize the need to hire more help, reassign work to other team members, help the employee manage his or her workload or even recommend counseling. Employees whose pleas for help go unanswered should remain patient and understand that their manager may be stressed out and overworked as well. However, if weeks or months pass and management refuses to provide any assistance, employees may consider looking for new employment or seek counseling on their own.
Studies show that job-related stress is the primary source of stress for American adults, which in turn contributes to the nation’s mental health crisis. As U.S. workers learn to deal with an ongoing pandemic, a fluctuating economy, long work hours and increasing workloads, many struggle to maintain work-life balance and manageable stress levels.
Nearly every job involves some form of responsibility, which includes some level of stress. Often, the more responsibility and higher salary the job commands, the more stressful it is. But regardless of how much stress a job involves, an employee’s tolerance for stress and coping skills can make all the difference in both work output and personal health. Those who possess or develop strong stress-management skills will always fare better than their counterparts in high-pressure situations.
This post is written by John Feldmann.