Stress management is a problem everyone faces. Stress can be triggered by family challenges, personal debt, world-issues, or any of the common tensions on the job – 50-hour weeks, demanding bosses or concerns about workplace practices. To make matters worse, a Florida Statue University business school study shows that bosses have become more demanding and politics, brown-nosing, and backstabbing in the office are on the rise.

Stress Consequences

A certain amount of daily stress is normal. Stress is your reaction, whether positive or negative, to change, according to the Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. When stress places prolonged or extreme pressure on your coping mechanisms, it can become a clinical problem that requires professional help. Constant, high levels of stress can wreak havoc on the digestive and nervous systems, leading to irritable bowel syndrome, recurrent headaches, and heart attacks. The psychological symptoms often come in the form of burnout (losing interest in work) and depression. From an employment standpoint, it can lead to decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, and employee burnout or disengagement. There are several ways companies can help reduce and control stress.

Company Stress Control Techniques

Track Key Indicators

Efforts to impact stress should be linked to business outcomes in order to get attention. Show how reducing stress in sales can increase sales output and you’ll have everyone’s attention. Tract productivity, absenteeism, and turnover to provide measures to monitor as you begin stress control techniques.

Stress Assessment

It is crucial to determine at the onset of what your employees perceive as the root causes of their stress before jumping in with a stress management program. Conduct an employee opinion survey, do interviews, or find another way to get input from your employees.

Balance Work & Family Life

Where possible, encourage greater balance between work and family. Encourage employees to take weekends, vacation days, and breaks. People need to disconnect from work by spending time with loved ones or following a passion.

Supervisor Training

Authoritarian, non-communicative supervisors and those lacking in interpersonal skills create unnecessary stress in the work environment. It is stressful being managed by someone who doesn’t know how to manage and perhaps compensates for their insecurity by being controlling. Train leaders how to interact and work with employees to create less stress and increase productivity.

Work Control, Expectations, and Accountability

When possible, give employees control over work outcomes and help them see how what they do impacts customers and the business. Set clear, realistic expectations and give regular feedback to help employees feel accountable. Give recognition and show appreciation whenever possible.

Avoid “Firefight” Mode

We all have times when we must put forth the extra effort to meet an approaching deadline or solve a challenging customer issue. It’s a problem when this becomes the typical day, not the exception. Manage workloads and time pressure when there are down times to balance out the stressed times. Get out of firefight mode!

Organize, Plan, and Prioritize

Disorganization, lack of planning, and unclear priorities will create unnecessary stress. Here are some helpful tips to keep these aspects in check:

  • Organize work flow and work areas as best possible.
  • Plan out team and individual work strategy, clearly defining key performance indicators, due dates, and expectations every quarter, month, week, or in some cases day.
  • Identify and focus on the most important action priorities – the quarter, week, and day.
  • Organize and streamline your routine tasks.  
  • Create a “stop doing list” to eliminate or delegate low priority tasks wherever possible.
  • Make sure employees have a strong voice in setting expectations and work plans. Involvement gives them the opportunity to have control and reduce stress.

Build Job Security

Although we never want to promise complete job security, you can do the following to increase job security perception:

  • Share positive company results and business changes.
  • Increase the amount of communication with employees.
  • Celebrate small wins and progress.
  • Train and develop employees.
  • Involve employees in projects and activities that impact them. Allow them to come up with new ideas, cost containment and ways to improve.

Employee Assistance Programs

Offer a variety of employee programs, like EAP, exercise, personal time off, counseling, etc.

Employee Training

Train employees in being respectful, preventing harassment, working as a team, and in how to resolve conflict in order to further control stress in the workplace.

Stress Management Training

A worksite program that focuses on stress, anxiety, and coping measurement, along with small-group educational intervention, can significantly reduce illness and healthcare utilization. Training can include how to deal with change, physical symptoms of stress, stress triggers, fight-or-flight syndrome, and relaxation techniques, as well as efforts to persuade employees to develop multiple solutions for a problem. Label training as performance development and require it for all employees. This takes away any negative implications associated with stress management. Invest in stress reduction training for employees, helping them understand root causes, how to react to stress, and an individual strategy for managing stress. Train the following personal stress controls:

  1. How to mentally step out of yourself during or soon after a stressful situation, such as deep-breathing exercises, guided imagery, breaks, venting, or music therapy.
  2. Change your response and calm your mind. Keep a list of everything in your day that causes stress. Pinpoint how every item on the list makes you feel and ask yourself, “Is my reaction appropriate or over the top?” Understand where your emotions are coming from to find a healthier way to deal with them.
  3. Eliminate the source of your stress. Find ways to regain a sense of control over your time and your surroundings. For example, if you must endure a two-hour commute in rush hour traffic to arrive at the office by 9 AM, start your workday earlier to avoid the traffic. If you have difficulties with your colleagues, shut our office door or talk to them to resolve conflicts.
  4. Vent to someone you trust, who listens and provides positive encouragement. In many instances, it is a good idea to speak with your supervisor. As odd as it sounds, the supervisor has a lot riding on your ability to cope with stress and can be a strong resource.
  5. Relieve tension and clear your head by doing something physical. Wear yourself out on the treadmill, go on a strenuous hike, do laps in the swimming pool – whatever you need to do. The activity will get your endorphins pumping – the feel-good brain chemicals – and focus your mind on your body rather than the stress.
  6. Start setting aside enough hours for a full night’s sleep plus extra time each week for tension-relieving activities and self-reflection.
  7. Single out a few good friends and family members to lean on. Research shows, when lonely people are stressed, they experience higher blood pressure and more insomnia than those who have a strong social network.
  8. Take time out for a moment to disengage from a situation, practice a breathing exercise, stretching, or relaxation and then you’ll have a new perspective on where you are and what you must accomplish. Take regular breaks daily, walk around and get fresh air every 90 minutes. Do deep breathing exercises or shoulder shrugs at your desk. Sometimes, closing your eyes for just one minute will help as well. Relaxing is critical for creative thinking, strong relationships, and good health.
  9. Recognize your body’s reaction to stress. Does your heart rate go up? How are your behavior patterns affected? What about your words, thoughts, and actions?
  10. Set boundaries – Turn off your computer and cell phone during personal or family time. If the people you love are truly important to you, then show them every day with your words, thoughts, and actions.
  11. Stop being tyrannized by your emotions. The Mayo Clinic suggests the following: Rethink your standards – if your failure to achieve perfection causes continual guilt and frustration, redefine what success means. Reframe your situation – for example, weather delays your flight to an important business meeting. Instead of stewing about the disruption to your schedule, which you can’t control, take advantage of the extra time to prepare for your presentation or catch up on sleep. Reassess the significance of the problem – will it matter tomorrow? Next week? A year from now? Emotion magnifies the difficulty of a problem when in the moment and perspective shrinks it. Make sure you give yourself a steady dose of the latter.
  12. Exercise and nutrition – Regular exercise not only improves your health, it lowers your stress levels. Proven benefits include increased feeling of being in control, strengthened self-esteem, better regulation of emotions, and deeper relaxation.

Although stress is part of life, manage it so it does not negatively impact your work environment or your health.

Sources:

  1. “Learn to Change Your Reaction to Stress” – Tyler Kearn
  2. “Understand Stress”
  3. “How to Get a Grip on Stress in a Stressful Economy” – Alice Chen
  4. HR Magazine – “Stress Management,” Kathryn Tyler
  5. Cut the Stress” – Kathryn Tyler
  6. Workplace Stress? Deal with It!” – Pamela Babcock
  7. “Managing Leadership Stress”