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How to deal with workplace stress

I’m stressed out!” is something we hear a lot in the workplace. While life is extremely dull without some mind-sharpening challenges to get the blood pumping, too much of a challenge can cause the challenger to feel a sense of hopeless despair (read: stress).

When it comes to work, some stress can kick productivity up a notch, but too much can send it into a nosedive.

Contrary to popular belief, working in a bank may not be more stressful than, say, working for an events company, even though the latter may seem more “fun.” Even the happiest, most colourful work environment, with the coolest-sounding job can and will engender some sort of stress in the person actually doing the job, as deadlines and pressures exist even in the hippest company.

That said, stress doesn’t originate from deadlines and expectations alone. There is a host of factors, ranging from work to colleagues, and even some that stem from you. Discrimination and the denial of rights are also factors that cause people to daydream about either running the offender(s) over with a large vehicle or walking out the door and to never return. But, since stress is something that everybody encounters everywhere, we’ll talk about workplace stress, and how to deal with it in a non-violent manner.

Stress and its factors

There are many definitions for “stress” but one commonly accepted concept is that workplace stress is a result of the interaction between an individual and his or her work environment; the result being an awareness that he or she cannot cope with the present demands.

“Stress-causers” include:

The job itself and what it entails: Graveyard shifts, constant threats of violence or other dangers (police work, etc) make up some stress factors. Having to travel great distances every day to get to the office is also a factor that can slowly build up over time.

Unrealistic demands: Excessive deadlines, overly heavy workloads and a never-ending inflow of new pressures can cause anyone to snap.

Personal factors: An inability to get along with colleagues, family pressure and health constraints that prevent one from fully performing his or her duties are all stress-causers as well. Nobody can fully compartmentalise, so what affects an employee’s life outside of work could very likely affect him at work, too.

Handling stressed employees

If you’re an employee facing stress, tell someone about it, be it your supervisor or boss. Employers should be alert to signs of stress in their employees, but logically speaking it is impossible to scrutinise every single person (much more so in large companies) for signs of stress. Employees need to help themselves by speaking up, so from a HR aspect it would probably be wise to make sure there are procedures in place for employees to report their problems, while giving them the assurance that someone will give them the assistance they need.

If you’re an employer with a stressed employee, take some time to uncover the contributing factors that have led to the circumstances. If it’s within the company, then you are in a position – technically speaking – to address the issues and hopefully make a change that could benefit other employees who have yet to speak up.

If it’s due to outside factors – family, a second job, etc – that fall beyond your limitations as an employer, then it is up to you to ensure that these factors do not run a risk of harming your employee nor the other employees in the company.

It might help to have simple guidelines and procedures in place; in the event that an employee is temporarily impaired, whatever the source, steps can be taken to ensure that there is no risk of harm befalling the other people in your employ.

Handling stress

First things first: Identify your stress triggers. What makes you feel pressured? What would you like to change about your workplace/job/situation? If you can’t answer these questions off the cuff, try this:

For one week, make notes whenever you feel physically, mentally or emotionally pressured. Describe the situation, including details such as your location, the people involved, and your emotional response. Were you scared? Angry? These details will help you pinpoint your triggers.

Once you can confidently point to some specific stress causes, it’s time to tackle them. If, for example, your trouble lies in how you’re not given enough free rein at work due to a boss who micro-manages, then perhaps you need to ask him how you may be given more autonomy over how you handle your work.

If your stress is triggered by a difficulty in maintaining a work-life balance – having to leave at lunchtime to pick your child up from school, for example – then you might have to do some re-evaluating. For instance, you could pay someone to pick your child up, or you could use a bus service.

Remember, you are not alone. Talking to someone about the pressure you’re feeling could help – they could see solutions that you’ve missed, or play a part in easing the burden somewhat.

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