Looming deadlines, overlapping priorities, strained relationships, staggering workloads. It’s no wonder stress at work is common — and on the rise. More than half (52%) of the workers in a Robert Half survey said they were overwhelmed at work on a daily basis, and six out of 10 reported an increase in work-related pressure in the last five years.
Workplace stress can trigger increased health risks and take a toll on everyone. If you’re a manager, asking your team to do more work with fewer resources can lead to diminishing returns. If you’re tasked with heavier workloads, it can affect your overall well-being — and that’s just part of the picture.
What brings on stress today? For some, it’s technology and the fear of being replaced by it. Robert Half’s new report, Jobs and AI Anxiety, explores the impact of digital disruption and offers advice on how to prepare for the workplace of the future.
Other common sources of work stress include long hours on the job, bad bosses, lower wages than desired, never-ending to-do lists, limited opportunities for advancement, lack of support, conflicting demands, unrealistic performance expectations and inflexible work schedules. There’s also annoying workplace behavior and the anguish of being stuck in a dead-end job — and the list goes on.
The good news is that there are ways to manage stress and take it down a notch for yourself. Kerry McClure, a wellness practitioner who worked for 25 years in the corporate environment, from aerospace to the high-tech industry, calls it learning to “stress well.”
Countering stress at work
McClure has a three-step mindfulness process she calls the three P’s. It helps both managers and employees work with the underlying feeling that you’re always “on” and have to do it all.
- Pause — Push your chair away from your desk and give yourself a moment or two to check in with your breathing, posture and thoughts. Check in with yourself. Stand up and stretch your legs, making the time to be fully present in the moment.
- Perspective — Ask yourself, “Am I busy, or is my day full?” “Am I fine, or am I well?” “Do I have to do something or do I get to do it?” This shifts your energy so you can gain a positive perspective.
- Prioritize — Determine what you need to do today and what you can do later. Create those to-do lists, clear your desk of clutter and mark what you finish.
“Pausing, gaining perspective and prioritizing,” she says, “helps you manage your stress so you can change your focus, create healthy boundaries, and move through your day and through the world with mindfulness, the underpinning of all of this.”
A few practical stress-relievers
Some professionals say they combat stress at work with exercise — primarily yoga, walking and running. They also spend time with friends or partners after work, listen to music and engage in hobbies.
If you’re an employee who feels buried under too many projects and an endless list of tasks, it’s possible you have too much on your plate during your workday. Here are some suggestions for ways to stress well:
- Eat well, sleep well, move well. Along with stressing well, McClure’s three other holistic pillars for a vibrant life involve eating well to get the fuel necessary for physical and mental energy, plus getting restful sleep and movement to boost your energy and enhance your immunity, mind, weight, heart, strength and more.
- Reach out for help. Overwhelmed with work? Seek advice from your manager on meeting expectations and discuss possible solutions to alleviate the pressure you’re feeling, such as adjusting deadlines or delegating to relieve the pressure you’re feeling.
- Take control of your schedule. Some of the ways you can do this are to keep track of how you’re doing with time management, prioritize your tasks, block your calendar and delegate. Plan for time out of the office, and help your coworkers prepare for your absence so all important projects are covered.
- Ask for flexibility. Flex time and telecommuting are already commonplace at many leading companies. If you ask, you might be able to work from home a day a week.
- Take breaks and time off. Try to stretch every hour, take the stairs instead of the elevator and stand during conference calls. Make sure you have periods of time when you aren’t thinking about your job. And when you can, take a vacation that's a true escape.
- Set healthy boundaries. There are ways to get more out of your day so you can reward yourself at the end. One of them is to learn the healthy habit of saying “no.” And while you’re at it, remember that no one is perfect! Allow yourself to be human and do the best you can.
- Strive for a well-rounded life. Follow work-life balance tips from people who inspire you, and if you can’t make it work in your current job and decide it’s time to look for a new one, find companies that pride themselves on their organizational culture.
Managers: Is it time for reinforcements?
If you’re a manager, you know your workers are among your most valuable assets. As McClure says, “The welfare of employees has a direct impact on the success of the company, and it is in everyone’s best interest to improve their well-being and job satisfaction.”
Some of the signs of stress to keep an eye out for include fatigue, added sick days, irritability, lack of drive, low morale, anger, reduced work performance and physical symptoms like headaches. If stress-related issues are detected early, there is a greater chance of exploring solutions to reduce the stress and help with coping skills.
If your workforce is too lean, you might reach a breaking point of stress at work, which affects the whole company. Here are signs it may be time to expand your team with a new hire:
- You’re missing growth opportunities. You have sufficient financial resources to pursue new business, but your staff can’t handle the stepped-up workload it would entail — so you wait instead of growing.
- New business isn't making you smile. Maybe you secured a new client, but instead of celebrating, you or your employees are worrying about how to get it all done.
- Someone has walked out the door. A talented team member has left, and now you need to find a replacement and consider your employment retention strategies.
- Even top performers can't keep up. Communication with your ace employees is suffering, and they’re missing deadlines constantly.
- Overtime is becoming the norm. It isn’t just around peak seasons or big projects anymore. Overtime has become the rule rather than the exception, and work is starting to invade the home space.
- You're pitching in too often. Good managers know when to roll up their sleeves and pitch in, but now you’re doing the work of three employees.
- Staff members are frequently out sick. Your team is using plenty of sick days, and not just for sleeping in. Overwhelming workloads may be impacting their health.
- Errors are on the rise. In a rush to get all the work done, your team is making more mistakes than in the past. When pressed, they explain they just don’t have time to re-check their work before moving on.
- Clients are noticing. Dissatisfied customers are speaking up more often about missed deadlines, poor work quality and spotty communication.
If you’re encountering any of these signs of stress at work, you can support your team with a workplace wellness program. You can also bring in reinforcements. Using a combination of full-time employees and highly skilled temporary professionals can help you staff up or down cost-effectively in response to business demand.