Don’t mess with stress: Make workplace less tense place

Veronica Daehn Harvey
Veronica Daehn Harvey

Stress in any form is no fun. That goes for stress at home or on the job.

The Wellness Councils of America defines stress as the inability to cope with a threat to your well-being that results in a series of physical responses and adaptations.

Stress is such a personal phenomenon, though, that everyone experiences it differently. Moreover, different things trigger stress for different people. A long line at the grocery store, for example, might cause stress for one person while giving another person a welcome opportunity to catch up on e-mails or texts.

Whatever the cause, workplace stress is common. It’s usually tied to the sense of a lack of control over one’s duties, workspace and other factors. And it’s not a good ingredient for a successful workplace.

The many symptoms of stress include anger, anxiety, congestion, fatigue, indigestion, insomnia, headaches, poor appetite, sadness or depression, a sore jaw and a tight neck or shoulders.

Any of those sound familiar?

Needless to say, employees battling those symptoms won’t likely be as productive as non-stressed workers who generally feel healthy.

This isn’t a small problem. Consider these stress-related statistics from the Wellness Councils of America:

  • About 1 million people miss work each day in the United States because of stress-related disorders.
  • More than 70 percent of Americans experience frequent stress-related physical or mental conditions.
  • Unmanaged stress puts people at a higher risk for cancer and heart disease than cigarette smoking or high-cholesterol foods.
  • More fatal heart attacks occur on Monday than on any other day of the week. The so-called Black Monday Syndrome results from people feeling trapped and lacking control at their jobs.
  • Up to 44 percent of women and 36 percent of men want to quit their jobs because of stressful workplaces.

According to the Institute of HeartMath, stress in the workplace can be caused by a number of factors:

  • Constant complaints.
  • An “us vs. them” mentality.
  • A sense of defeatism or resentment.
  • Judgment and suspicion.
  • Chronic antagonism, anxiety, despair, fear, intolerance and resignation.

The cost of stressed employees can be high. A report published by Fairleigh Dickinson University estimates that cost at $200 billion a year in absenteeism, lower productivity and staff turnover as well as health care costs, workers’ compensation and other expenses.

So what can be done about stress?

Employers with workers who suffer from negative stress — there can be good stress, too — could consider adopting a stress-management program. Such a program identifies environmental and work-related factors contributing to stress and seek ways to combat them. Employees also can take charge of their own health.

Here are some ideas from the Wellness Councils of America for reducing stress at work:

Try a team approach: Work toward an environment that encourages communication between co-workers and managers without fear of repercussion. Sharing with others helps prevent feelings of isolation and hopelessness. Working in teams also can reduce stress.

Define job duties in writing. Attend trainings that apply to your position and learn to defuse emotions. Look at the photo of your family or dog on your desk to help.

Learn to say no. Don’t overcommit. Take control of your calendar. Reduce overtime hours when possible. Work with management to set a schedule that works for both of you.

Take advantage of your company’s wellness program if it offers one. An employee assistance program can offer valuable, confidential help. Some companies also offer discounted gym memberships, classes and other perks.

Use your vacation benefits. Even if your workload is heavy and it seems you can’t possibly get away, take your scheduled vacations. Take mini-vacations during the work day if the need arises. Find a quiet room in which to meditate or read for 10 minutes.

Stress won’t vanish entirely, but it can be managed. And that’s a win-win for everyone.