“Now more than ever, workplace stress is an issue worth addressing,” says Patty Starr, the senior director of health insurance and benefits for the Council of Smaller Enterprises (COSE). “It’s essential for employers to learn new and enhanced ways of helping their employees cope.”
When employers help their employees deal with workplace stress, says Starr, they also help themselves maintain a productive and healthy work force, improve morale and reduce absenteeism.
Smart Business spoke with Starr about workplace stress and what can be done to prevent and relieve it.
What is workplace stress?
Workplace stress is a combination of the harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources or needs of a worker. Stress also occurs when the situation has high demands and the worker has little or no control over it. Learning how to identify and manage stress is critical to maximizing job performance, staying safe and maintaining good physical and mental health. Some common causes of workplace stress include fear of layoffs or job insecurity, high demands for performance and negative workplace culture.
What warning signs of workplace stress should employers look for?
The signs of workplace stress vary from person to person, depending on the given situation, how long the individual has been subjected to the stressors and the intensity of the stress itself. Signs of workplace stress may include absenteeism, low morale, negativism, physical problems, alienation, anxiety, apathy, boredom, depression, fatigue, frustration and irritability.
What practical concepts can employers share with employees to help relieve stress?
Managing stress is all about taking charge of your thoughts, emotions, schedule, environment and the way you deal with problems. The ultimate goal is a balanced life with time for work, relationships, relaxation and fun.
Other practices to relieve stress include:
n Decrease caffeine and sugar. Caffeine and sugar provide a temporary ‘high’ that often results in a ‘crash.’ By decreasing your caffeine and sugar intake, you will become more relaxed and sleep will improve.
n Exercise regularly. Physical activity plays a vital role in reducing and preventing the effects of stress. Exercise for at least 30 minutes, three to five times per week.
n Eat a healthy diet. Well-nourished bodies are better prepared to deal with stress. Start the day right with breakfast and have nutritious, balanced meals throughout the day to keep energy up and the mind clear.
n Avoid alcohol and drugs. Self-medicating may provide an easy escape from stress, but the relief is only temporary.
n Get enough sleep. Adequate sleep fuels your mind and body. Feeling tired increases stress because it causes irrational thinking.
n Relax. Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, visualization, meditation and yoga can help you activate a relaxation response. When practiced regularly, these activities lead to a reduction in everyday stress and boost feelings of happiness.
n Have realistic expectations. Perfectionism is a major source of preventable stress. Set reasonable goals and standards and learn to be OK with ‘good enough.’
n Reframe. Try to view stressful situations from a more positive perspective. Look at stressful times as an opportunity to pause, regroup and learn.
n Support systems. Spending time with positive people enhances your life. A strong support system will shield you from the negative effects of stress.
n Keep a sense of humor. This includes the ability to laugh. Laughing helps the body fight stress in a number of ways.
What are some ways to avoid stress in the workplace?
Employers should be positive role models for their employees, particularly in times of high stress. Share information with employees to reduce uncertainty about their jobs, and clearly define their roles and responsibilities. Make communication friendly and efficient, not mean-spirited or petty.
Implement a work-life program. Many employees work hard to juggle the demands of their careers and families. A good work-life program can help prevent employees from experiencing burnout.
Allow employees opportunities to contribute in decisions that affect their jobs, and consult them about scheduling and work rules. Be sure the workload is suitable to employees’ abilities and resources; avoid unrealistic deadlines. Also, create a sense of empowerment by delegating responsibilities to employees.
Also, award good work performance and provide opportunities for career development. At the same time, allow opportunities for social interaction among employees. Establish a zero-tolerance policy for harassment. Make management actions consistent with organizational values. And, finally, create open lines of communications. By clearly communicating goals and expectations, managers give employees a sense of direction.
Patty Starr is the senior director of health insurance and benefits for the Council of Smaller Enterprises (COSE), one of Ohio’s largest small business support organizations. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (216) 592-2269. Composed of more than 17,000 members, COSE strives to help small businesses grow and maintain their independence. COSE has a long history of fighting for the rights of all small business owners, whether it’s through group purchasing programs for health care powered by Medical Mutual of Ohio, wellness programs designed specifically for small business, workers’ compensation or energy, advocating for specific changes in legislation or regulation, or providing a forum and resource for small businesses to connect with and learn from one another.