September 13th, 2021

How to Deal With Work Stress in Healthier Ways

Stress is an ordinary part of life. But work stress is uniquely challenging because it’s so widespread. Many people spend up to eight hours a day at work — sometimes more. In fact, throughout a lifetime, the average worker will spend 13 years and two months on the job. With one-third of U.S. employees reporting that they’re chronically stressed at work, that’s a significant portion of their lives spent grappling with negative emotions, and perhaps feeling like there’s no way out of it.

Eventually, there is a price to pay. Job stress costs companies around $80 billion per year in absenteeism, employee turnover, and reduced productivity. Stressed-out employees can face accumulating physical and mental health problems — and the medical costs associated with them. 

But is work stress just something we all have to live with, no matter how much of a toll it takes? 

While there’s probably no way to avoid work stress completely, there are certain things HR leaders, employees, and managers can do to get a handle on it. The first is to understand what causes work stress and its signs. The second is to implement healthy ways of dealing with work stress so that it becomes manageable and ideally lessens. Read on to learn more.

What causes work stress and what are the signs?

Change is one of the biggest causes of work stress. When workplace change happens rapidly or unexpectedly, workers find themselves unable to adjust. They feel like they’re not capable of doing what’s suddenly required of them — whether it’s working longer hours, working more for less pay, performing tasks that are too advanced for them, or doing work that falls outside their role.  

The pandemic is a perfect illustration of too much change, too fast. It brought an enormous amount of change to many workplaces, disrupting people’s lives and routines and requiring them to work in new and different ways that they weren’t prepared for. 

But what this ultimately has taught us is that factors at home can also add to workplace stress too. For example, when a child is home sick and a parent has to stay home to care for them, it can create a lot of stress. Employees may feel tired, like they’re letting their team down, or not getting enough done. 

And while the pandemic is an extreme example, some of the more common workplace changes can be just as difficult. Turnover, layoffs, acquisitions, and new processes or systems can upend what’s comfortable and familiar — leading to fear, worry, and stress.

Outside of change, other factors can cause stress, including poor management practices, general job insecurity, team conflict, and lack of control over workplace conditions. 

The signs of work stress vary since it can impact individuals differently. But over-stressed employees may experience any of the following:

  • Headaches
  • Loss of appetite or indigestion
  • Insomnia
  • A reduced attention span
  • Increased reliance on alcohol and drugs
  • Irritability

Over time, unchecked stress can contribute to more serious and chronic illnesses, including cardiovascular disease, obesity, and diabetes. 

How to manage and reduce work stress

At a high level, knowing what’s causing employees to be stressed can point you to certain factors in your company that may be overdue for improvement. Better communication, transparency, and management can go a long way toward boosting employee confidence, peace of mind, and trust. 

Communicating with employees about things beyond their workday is also important to building trust and managing stress. We all have personal lives that can spill into our workday and make it difficult to manage it all. Give your employees permission to be human and transparent about how they’re showing up each day. 

In general, creating a positive company culture — one that’s supportive to employees and helps them navigate work successfully — mitigates and prevents many of the situations that compound stress, such as high employee turnover and poor management.

Lastly, setting the expectation that some change in the workplace is inevitable — because the business landscape itself is always changing — is important as well. So is reinforcing the idea that not all change is cause for alarm. There are specific changes in tools and processes that can actually improve everyday operations and employees’ work experiences, which further reduce stress.

On a more practical level, there are things you can encourage your employees to do every day to keep work stress in check:

  • Schedule downtime between meetings. If employees regularly schedule back-to-back meetings, they have less time to get other work done, and the notion that unfinished tasks are piling up can cause anxiety. Suggest that employees schedule 45-minute meetings instead of hour-long ones. And encourage teams to limit the number of meetings they schedule each day so they have blocks of time they can use to catch up.
  • Update online status. There are going to be times during the day when employees aren’t available. Maybe they’re at lunch or had to go to an appointment. For office workers, something as small as updating their online status to let others know when they’re not available can be hugely beneficial. Other people can save their questions or discussions for later, and employees don’t come back to a bunch of frantic messages that need immediate responses.
  • Take a proper lunch break. Wolfing down a bag of chips and a soda while working through a lunch break isn’t healthy. And for some jobs not providing regular breaks is illegal. A major component of reducing stress is giving the body what it needs to function at optimal levels. Encourage employees to stop work and eat lunch away from their workspaces, consume healthy foods whenever they can, and drink lots of water to stay hydrated. 
  • Try not to multitask. This isn’t always possible, given the dynamic nature of many people’s jobs. But when employees make a conscious effort to slow down and allow themselves enough time and attention to complete each task to the best of their ability, they not only improve the quality of their work, they also reduce the hectic, unfocused energy that multitasking can produce — which inevitably leads to stress.
  • Get up and move around. Sitting at a desk all day may not be physically taxing, but it also doesn’t do a thing for reducing stress. Human bodies are meant to move, and exercise releases endorphins which are a natural mood-lifter. Remind employees to get up and move around at least once during the workday — whether it’s dancing at their desk, taking a walk, or going to the gym over lunch. 

These are just a few ideas for how employees can reduce stress at work. To get more ideas, download the eGuide below and share the tips with your employees.

Want to talk to a workplace expert? Contact Obsidian HR for all your HR-related questions and needs.

Download Our eGuide: 15 Ways to Reduce Work Stress

Your team is your most important asset. Learn 15 stress management techniques to keep your team stress-free and thriving.

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