Destressing the WorkplaceNovember 18, 2016
Just about everyone who has held a job has felt a degree of anxiousness or stress about it at some point. In fact, there are times when stress provides us with the energy and motivation to meet or exceed expectations. The pressure can help us rise to the occasion and meet challenges, goals and/or deadlines. However, when stress goes beyond this and causes exhaustion, frustration, dissatisfaction, or feelings of being out of control, we begin to see the negative side of stress and its effects on individuals and businesses. Looking at the numbers from recent surveys there are certainly concerns within the workplace about the mental health of employees and the effect this has on productivity and general workforce health.
- A report done in 2012 observed that 28%of Canadians between the ages of 15 and 75 reported most work days to be “quite a bit stressful” or “extremely stressful”.
- A 2013 online survey from Partners for Mental Health in Ottawa found that 47% of employed Canadians considered work the most stressful part of their lives.
- A 2015 Morneau Sheppell survey of workers revealed that 58% of participants reported a negative effect on productivity, 31% had taken time off work and 25% had become ill — all due to work-related stress.
But the numbers are not all daunting. The same 2015 report indicated that “employees overwhelmingly believe that workplace support can mitigate the impact of negative stressors” and that “90% of employees believe that a mentally healthy workplace is a productive one”. So how can workplaces and employees work together to make sure the work environment is a healthy and supportive environment where success can be achieved in a healthy way?
What are some of the factors that lead to stress in the workplace?
It is not always possible to completely avoid stress in one’s life. Any job can have stressful factors, even if you love what you do. Some of the most common stress factors include the following:
- Low salary
- Heavy workload
- Lack of opportunity for growth or advancement
- Level of Responsibility
- Duties that are unappealing or unchallenging
- Lack of support (social, collegial, etc.)
- Lack of control over decision-making
- Unclear performance expectations
- Long hours
- Fear of job redundancy/layoffs
- Relationships at work (supervisors, co-workers, subordinates)
- Poor workplace communication
- Work/life imbalance
What can you do to manage stress?
Since you can’t always avoid the tensions that occur at work and work-related stress also doesn’t magically end when you leave and head home, there are a number of coping behaviours and strategies that individuals can employ in an effort to mitigate and management feelings of stress.
Track your stressors – keep a journal for a week or two to identify which situations are causing the most stress and what your feelings and reactions are to these situations.
Act Rather than React – Many people feel stress when they are out of control. Identify aspects of the situation that you can control and create a way to act on those parts.
Work on Time Management Skills – Feeling overwhelmed or under pressure? Work with colleagues and supervisors to set realistic goals, identify clear priorities and schedule realistic timeframes.
Establish Perspective – Often when you are experiencing stress it feels like it is taking over your life. At these times it is important to look at some coping behaviours: take time out for a break to recharge; try relaxation techniques such as meditation, deep breathing or mindfulness exercises; consciously make decisions about maintaining good health by eating properly, doing exercise, or getting some sleep; and take time out of the situation to pursue hobbies that you enjoy (reading, socializing, etc.).
Establish boundaries – With today’s technologies it is sometimes hard to disengage from the workplace and you end up feeling like you are on-call 24/7. Decide upon some concrete rules that separate work from personal life.
Communicate – Talk to supervisors and/or colleagues about your concerns, they may be able to provide a fresh perspective or coping suggestions. Your employer has a vested interest in your mental health since it impacts productivity, talking to your supervisor can provide the opportunity to cooperatively come up with a plan to manage stress, help you build new time management skills, clarify expectations, and perhaps get additional support resources.
Seek Help – There are times in one’s life when even trying all the above doesn’t help relieve the job stress or burnout. Know when it is time to seek help from a mental health provider or counselor. They can help you learn effective ways to handle the stress.
What can organizations/companies do to mitigate stress?
As mentioned above, employers have a stake in the mental and emotional well-being of their employees as stress can cause productivity to go down due to health issues, injuries/accidents, and/or decreased mental capacity. Employers can take a proactive role in managing stress for their employees by looking for sources of pressure and who may be harmed by these pressures. There are many process and procedural ways that employers can create an environment that looks out for employee well-being such as:
- Take stress seriously and be understanding to staff under too much pressure
- Involve employees in decision-making and allow for input
- Incorporate stress prevention or positive mental health promotion in policies
- Sick leave
- Re-bundling of tasks to provide meaningful work
- Special equipment or revised expectations
- Changes to workplace process or procedure
- Flexible hours
- Staff training
- Offer an EAP (Employment Assistance Program)
Are there resources that can help?
Most definitely! If it is a personal matter, your family doctor should be able to recommend a professional that can provide you with assistance. Otherwise there are many organizations and programs out there that can help such as:
- Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) – confidential, short term, counselling services for employees with problems that affect their work performance (check with your HR department).
- Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA)
- Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA)
- Not Myself Today® – a “workplace mental health initiative helps companies build greater awareness, reduce stigma, and foster safe and supportive cultures”.
Stress and poor mental health should not be prohibitive in a work environment. By identifying potential stressors on an individual or organizational level, preventative measures can be taken that will benefit the mental and physical health of both employees and the organization at large. Collaboration and communication on both parts will help maintain a healthy work environment.
American Psychological Association. Coping with Stress at Work.
Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety. Workplace Stress. OSH Answers Fact Sheets
Goudreau J. (2013). 12 Ways to Eliminate Stress at Work. Forbes.
Grawitch, M. J., Ballard, D. W., & Erb, K. R. (2015). To Be or Not to Be (Stressed): The Critical Role of a Psychologically Healthy Workplace in Effective Stress Management. Stress & Health: Journal of the International Society for the Investigation of Stress, 31(4), 264-273.
Mayo Clinic. Coping with Stress: Workplace tips.
The information presented in SIRC blogs and SIRCuit articles is accurate and reliable as of the date of publication. Developments that occur after the date of publication may impact the current accuracy of the information presented in a previously published blog or article.