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spike bullet October, 2002 - Reducing Stress in the Workplace

Workplace Stress
Managing Stress
The High Cost Of Stress
Types of Stress
How to Reduce Stress In The Workplace
Identifying And Handling Stress Cases
Stress-Reducing Tips 
Resources (links, books, articles, humor)

color bullet Workplace Stress

All of us, whether in our business lives or personal lives, are under stress to produce, abide by rules and to exist compatibly on the job and with others.  It is expected of us to interact with co-workers, supervisors, friends and relatives.  We are to do this without causing hardship to ourselves or others.  Each day brings new, stressful situations we must deal with in our business lives and our personal lives.

Stress is not confined to upper management and the people that make the major decisions.  Stress is found at all levels of life.  The anxiety of stress shows in our lives as a negative situation.  What we need to do is teach ourselves how to stay positive about job and personal life situations.  We need to learn philosophies in critical situations to prevent burn-out, depression, and anger.

Man hiding under desk

Because of the manager’s position, it becomes pivotal for them to identify the warning signs of stress. In order to do that, the manager must first be able to identify stress of their own.

color bullet Management of Stress

Stress — from a point of view of safety, productivity, health and cost containment — is a challenge to us all.  Managers, line supervisors and employees need to be aware of the danger signs of stress.  Stress effects each of us in different ways.  

For some, stress manifests itself as occasional nervousness, while chronic stress may be associated with heart problems and high blood pressure.

Management of simple stress may require nothing more than additional training and increased communication.  Sometimes just the ability to talk to someone who is neutral to a given situation or problem allows the troubled person a release.  That release often is enough to naturalize the feelings of stress.  

Communication is the most important element in preventing stress from festering, getting out of control and costing your business time and money in a workers’ compensation stress claim.

color bullet The High Cost of Stress

Stress overload not only causes health problems, it affect our budgets as well as our mind.

Stress claims are becoming the single most costly claim in the workers’ compensation system.  Stress in the workplace can be reduced by understanding why stress exists and working on the negative stress factors.  

Stress impairs immune systems functioning, lowering the body’s resistance to disease and reducing a person’s ability to be fully functional on the job.

A survey of medical tests estimate that as much as 50-80% of all disease is stress-related in origin.  Doctors Holmes and Rahe, pioneering researchers in the field of stress, proved conclusively that the greater the number of life-change events people experienced in a two-year period, the more frequently they became physically ill.  With health care costs skyrocketing, the financial impact of stress-induced illness and lowered work productivity are major drains on the economy, as well as on our personal pocketbooks.

The price of stress in the workplace in the form of lowered productivity, excessive absenteeism, increased insurance costs, and premature loss of key people is staggering. 

American industry spends more than $26 billion every year in disability payments and medical bills.  Executives alone cost American industry more than $10 billion annually through lost workdays, hospitalization and early death caused by stress.

General stress is increasing.  There are many factors outside the workplace which contribute to the normal pressures of doing any job.  In workers’ compensation areas, stress claims are on the rise, in some cases dramatically.  Many companies are ill-prepared to deal with stress claims, or to prevent stress from becoming debilitating.

color bullet Types of Stress

Consider such factors as:

The General Economic Climate
Many employees have family members and/or friends who have lost their jobs, lost their homes or seen reduced revenues in their businesses.  Those working may be afraid of losing their job, spending valuable energy worrying instead of being productive.  As companies are forced to trim down, there is more work for everyone and less money to go around.  For single parents or families with only one working adult, the pressure and worry increases.

World-Wide Disasters
Massive catastrophes add to the general stress felt by the population.  Concern about friends, relatives and about "what if..." a disaster happens increases general stress, even if no disaster strikes.  Our media constantly exposes us to the gory details of every negative event in the world, often to the point of total overload.

Workplace Diversity
As our employee population continues to reflect changing ethnic patterns, pressures to deal with different cultural styles and communication patterns increases stress.  Many companies must institute multiple language training programs and re-train their managers to be sensitive to many different cultures, while the existing work continues to grow.  Concerns about "offending" the many segments of the population creates great frustration (and occasional anger) from those who feel their space is being invaded by "outsiders."  On the other side, "minority" populations feel discriminated against and may be defensive in their attitudes in the workplace.  A growing challenge for all of us.

Changing Male/Female Dynamics Women entering the workforce contribute to the challenge of male/female communication, which has existed since Adam and Eve tried to live in Paradise.  Women competing with men try to take on "male" attributes, which is often confusing to them and confusing to the men around them.  Men try to understand the new roles they’re expected to play, yet may not really understand what is being asked of them.  

Men and women have differing work motivations — often creating confusion and conflict in communications.  Men are cultured to be "in control" and active, yet workplace changes are forcing them to deal with situations that seem to be out of their control.  Little of their training has prepared them for this event.  

Women find more satisfaction in being true to themselves, something men haven’t always been taught to understand.  Men may need to ask for help — yet resist — feeling this is a sign of failure.  Women tend to ask for help more readily, yet men see them as weak when they do.  Is it any wonder we have communication problems?

Dealing With Great Change
Many people feel the world (as they knew it) has ended.   The trauma of change and the attendant changes it forces on each of us, contributes to the level of pressure felt on each individual.  We must do things differently, react differently and feel differently in order to survive in the new world.  Fear of the unknown and fear of change touch into our basic sense of security and sense of self — our most vital human needs.

color bullet How To Reduce Stress In The WorkplaceMan and woman enjoying a coffee break

Positive job factors can play an important part in keeping stress in check.  Having supportive co-workers, managing time effectively, being active in social groups and not taking work home with you are effective ways to minimize stress.

Management can provide invaluable assistance to employees (and themselves) by setting effective stress management techniques.  Some of the vital ways to do this are:

  1. Set realistic goals and priorities: encourage employees to be part of the priority-setting process.  When they feel they are part of the decision, they are more likely to take responsibility, rather than grumble about "my nasty boss" and "this terrible place".
  2. Encourage good time-management techniques: planning for important activities, scheduling them in advance, following up with others, and keeping good records help people get things accomplished on time and realize their value.  Take time to make note of successes and projects accomplished.
  3. Take short breaks after a particularly stressful event, encourage employees to take a 5 minute walk around the block or a few minutes of quiet meditation to re-balance their energies.  Several short breaks throughout the day can keep employees working at peak performance.
  4. Rehearse and prepare: being prepared reduces stress.  Be prepared in advance of stressful situations for all possible outcomes.
  5. Don’t procrastinate: procrastination and delay breeds stress!  Eliminate items which won’t/can’t get done and do those that are important first.
  6. Know your limits: be realistic about what you can accomplish.
  7. Change your attitudes.  Think of stressful situations as a challenge to your creative thinking.  Know that eventually everything will either get done or it won’t - worrying won’t make it better.
  8. Learn to say "no": when your schedule is full, say "no" to activities you don’t enjoy, to unrealistic demands, to responsibilities that aren’t yours.  Doing this with tact and diplomacy takes some practice and may require special training.
  9. Schedule your stress: stagger known stressful activities and prepare for known stress in advance.
  10. Encourage employees to treat their body right: eat a balanced diet, get enough sleep, exercise regularly.  Companies that encourage employees to take a "fruit break" or 5-minute walk find the employees will work more effectively than if they are "hyped" by cigarette/coffee breaks and little physical exercise in their jobs.
  11. Encourage positive self-talk: use positive self-reinforcement affirmations, like "I can handle this one step at a time" and "Somehow the whole team will work this out".
  12. Give positive reinforcement: make sure that all managers and supervisors tell people when they do a good job, complement them on their neat offices or conscientious work habits.  
  13. Set up employee recognition programs: "Employee of the Month" or "Creative Suggestion" systems encourage people to do a good job.  Everyone needs a pat on the back and a sense of being a valuable person.  Constant criticism is counter-productive and causes hard feelings.  A daily positive comment goes a long way, at no cost!
  14. Take responsibility: encourage employees to take responsibility for their own job and for their contribution to the success of the company as a whole.  This encourages a feeling of control over their life.  Let them know how important their efforts are to the overall plan.
  15. Provide a sympathetic ear: often stressful situations can be managed, if there is someone who is willing to listen to the employee’s concerns and provide positive encouragement that they will get through the problem.  For many people, 15 minutes of a sympathetic listener can cancel out many days of otherwise unproductive worry.
  16. Most important, MAINTAIN A SENSE OF HUMOR.  As a wise philosopher said, "Don’t take life so seriously, it’s only a hobby".  Try to remember what was stressful in your life six months ago or a year ago.  Chances are, you can’t.  Know that this day will be just another day in history and whatever seems traumatic now will fade into oblivion as time passes.

Laughter is the medicine of the gods and great medicine for humans, too!

color bullet Identifying And Handling Stress Cases

Beneficial Stressors
To properly perform a job function, a certain amount of stress is required.  Beneficial stressors are motivation, energy, alertness, and a positive attitude.

Negative stressors
These are any situations in the work place that leave a feeling of depression, anxiety, or pressure.  They are commonly categorized as: overwork, ambiguity, workplace conflicts and responsibility.  One way to minimize the negative stressors is to know your limitations and set goals realistically within those limitations.

Overwork
Paperwork, long hours, deadlines, poor communication and inability to perform are all negative stressors.Man under stress

> Defenses against overwork
Learn to do the very best you can, while staying within your limitations.  Know your limitations and let your supervisor know your limitations as well.  Communicate your "overworked" feeling with your supervisor or even your supervisor’s supervisor.  Communicate early and often with your supervisor.

Don’t let a small problem that can be fixed early grow into a much larger problem just because there was a failure to communicate the problem.

Ambiguity - There are times when instructions and job functions become unclear and confused.  New procedures, new personnel, and new policies are many times the culprits that cause ambiguity.

> Defenses against ambiguity
If you work in an environment that breeds confusion and uncertainty, it is your duty and your right to seek clarity prior to beginning a job function or procedure.  Confusion can cause stressful situations as well as injury.  Communicate feelings of ambiguity to your supervisor and get clarity about what is expected..  

Work Place Conflicts
Conflicts will happen.   Everyone has a bad day once in a while.  Supervisors can get a little over-bearing or co-workers don’t understand your responsibilities.  Have a little spat with your better-half and you may go to work stressed and may not even realize it.  

> Defenses against work place conflicts
Realize that everyone has a bad day every once in a while.  In times of conflict, be a good listener.  Step back and try to see the situation from a different perspective.  When work conditions, equipment problems, scheduling problems or any problem that is management-correctable occurs, COMMUNICATE the problem to management for action.  A little communication can go a long way in avoiding workplace conflicts.

Woman under stressResponsibility
Responsibility breeds stress for some employees.  Some employees do not handle responsibility well. Responsibility is a part of our everyday work and personal lives.

> Coping with responsibility
Work responsibility is something that needs to be carefully taught to employees.  Responsibility should be a part of the employee’s goals and part of their on-the-job performance.  

Each employee needs to be trained to do their job functions well, allowing them to have a strong self-image and confidence in their ability to do the job properly.  Without a solid training foundation, the employee will have doubts about their responsibility roles, creating a stressful work climate.

Source: Above article adapted from Workers' Comp Cost Reduction training program, Chapter 5: Stress in the Workplace.  

color bullet More Stress-Reducing Tips

  1. Breathe diaphragmatically.  It will help you calm down, think more clearly, improve your memory, relieve the knotted feeling inside, improve  your heart function, circulation and digestion. 
  2. Handle change skillfully and gracefully. 
  3. Do one thing at a time. 
  4. Do it right, not over. 
  5. Cultivate being a friend.  Not merely to have friendships. 
  6. Laugh. 
  7. Want what you have. 
  8. Do Desktop Yoga ® 
  9. Forgive. 
  10. Be around positive people.  Avoid whiners. 
  11. If you really don't like your work or work environment, change it. 
  12. Eat nourishing food. 
  13. Drink water. 
  14. Avoid too much caffeine, soda pop, alcohol, and junk. Better yet, stop using them.  Don't smoke. 
  15. Get involved in your workplace wellness program. 
  16. Enjoy nature. 
  17. Move around.  Use the stairs.  Walk. 
  18. Smile and have fun. 
  19. Breathe fresh air. 
  20. Notice life now.  All of it. 
  21. Believe in miracles. 
  22. Play with pets. 
  23. Balance work with an active home and play life. 
  24. Focus on the moment.  Don't get caught up in the past or future. 
  25. Don't get caught up in gossip or negative thinking. 
  26. It's all a game.  Be a team player and play well with others. 
  27. If you're in a hole, quit digging. 
  28. Go for results, not activity. 
  29. Schedule time for yourself. 
  30. Find your own voice. 
  31. Take a relaxation break. 
  32. Remember that whatever is happening is only temporary.  That goes for the little picture and the big picture. 
  33. Count your blessings. 
  34. The best things in life aren't things. 
  35. Focus.  Leave work at work and home life at home. 
  36. Have faith. 
  37. Say "yes" when you can, and "no" when you can't. 
  38. Take naps.  Rest. 
  39. Prevent problems. 
  40. Let go of attachments and desire. 
  41. Get over it. 
  42. Strive to be, rather than to become. 
  43. Simplify. 
  44. Get to know yourself.  Be yourself. 
  45. Love more.  Fear less. 
  46.  Hum.  Sing.  Dance. Whistle. 
  47. Wear comfortable shoes. 
  48. Listen to your real self.  Be. 
  49. Enjoy the journey and let the destination take care of itself.

World Wide Web graphic  Internet Resources

book graphic  Books

  • This Job Should Be Fun! Bob Blasso with Judi Klosek (contains evaluation of supervisor form) iUniverse.com; (December 2000) ISBN: 0595141420
  • The Tao of Leadership, John Heider, Humanics Limited, Atlantic GA, 1985 (wonderful short insights) ISBN: 089-33407-9-0

world wide web - articles  Articles

smiley graphic  The Lighter Side  

MEMORANDUM

TO:  Mary Jones, Insurance Claims Adjuster

FROM:  Joe Smith, Bricklayer

RE: My Accident Claim

I am writing in response to your request concerning Block #11 on the insurance form which asks for "the cause of injuries" wherein I put "trying to do the job alone."  You said you needed more information, so I trust the following will be sufficient.

I am a brick layer by trade and on the date of the injuries, I was working alone, laying brick around the top of a four-story building when I realized that I had about 500 pounds of brick left.

Rather than carry the bricks down by hand, I decided to put them into a barrel and lower them by a pulley which was fastened to the top of the building.

I loaded the bricks into the barrel and flung it out over the side of the building with the bricks in it.  I then went down and untied the rope holding it securely to insure the slow descent of the barrel.

As you will note on Block #6 of the insurance form, I weigh 145 pounds.

Due to my shock at being jerked off the ground so swiftly, I lost my presence of mind and forgot to let go of the rope.  Between the second and third floors, I met the barrel coming down.  This accounts for the bruises and lacerations on my upper body.  Regaining my presence of mind, again I held tightly to the rope and proceeded rapidly up the side of the building, not stopping until my right hand was jammed into the pulley.  This accounts for my broken thumb.

Despite the pain, I retained my presence of mind and held tightly to the rope.  At approximately the same time, however, the barrel of bricks hit the ground and the bottom fell out of the barrel.  Devoid of the weight of the bricks, the barrel now weighed about fifty pounds.  I again refer you to Block #6 and my weight.

As you would guess, I began a rapid descent.  In the vicinity of the second floor, I met the barrel coming up.  This explains the injuries to my legs and lower body.  Slowed only slightly, I continued my descent, landing on the pile of bricks.  Fortunately, my back was only sprained and the internal injuries were minimal.

I am sorry to report, however, that at this point I again lost my presence of mind and let go of the rope.  As you can imagine, the empty barrel crashed down on me.

I trust this answers your concern.  Please know that I am finished "trying to do the job alone!!" 

[ Above all else, MAINTAIN A SENSE OF HUMOR ! ]

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Page updated: October 05, 2013   

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© Copyright 1980  -  2014               Copyright Notice and Student Research Requests                 Privacy Policy and Legal Notice