Combating Stress in the Workplace

Stress is an important issue in todays organizations both for employees and their employers. As Mark Slaski, Chief Psychologist at ConsultingTools, notices stress leads to sickness absence, which in turn puts pressure on other employees to cover their work. Consequent job overload can lead to increased errors, accidents and wastage and puts extra strain on working relationships. This increases stress, reduces job satisfaction and commitment and increases employees intention to leave. Companies become less able to attract talent, and selection and training budgets soar…

Are there any possibilities to escape form this “stress spiral” and successfully manage stress? We say yes and present you Dr. Kenneth Nowack’s – one the most prominent researches in this area – recommendations for combating stress in the workplace.

Let’s look at what different members of organization – employees and their employers – can do to cope with stress.     

Relieving stress...what employees can do

There is no one-size-fits-all approach for how individuals manage stress. Different strokes work for different folks. Experiment. Pick and choose what is right for you: 

  • Identify what truly gives you satisfaction. What do you find absolutely engaging and absorbing? Make a conscious effort to carve out time and put that in your schedule. 
  • Try to maintain balance in your life. Put work in perspective. If circumstances force your life to be temporarily out of balance, accept it, but commit to reprioritizing and rebalancing at a defined later point. 
  • Practice positive lifestyle and health habits on an ongoing basis: regular exercise, eating well, meditation, relaxation, restful sleep, and social support. 
  • Find humour even in difficult circumstances. Seek out people with positive attitudes who make you laugh. Treasure those relationships. 
  • Know when you have had enough of a bad situation. Realize you have options. Try to maintain a sense of hope and perspective. Without denying the reality of a negative situation, try to find the challenge or “gift” in it. 
  • Intersperse mini-stress reducers throughout your day. (Stretch, focus on your breathing, yawn deeply, take a short walk, strike a Yoga pose, call a friend at an appointed time for a non-work conversation). Take time to relax when you eat lunch. 
  • Deal with unpleasant relationships in ways that are best for you. Accept that some interpersonal stress is inevitable. Know when to walk, when to ask for help or advice, and when to give it your assertive best. 
  • Space out your stressors. Most of us can deal with a certain amount of stress and do just fine. The problem is not having a chance to recover from one before the next one hits. If possible, give yourself a chance to recuperate before jumping into the next likely stressful situation. 
  • Try a holiday without bringing along work -- physically or mentally. Also, schedule frequent mini-vacations. Make it a point to use your holiday as a restorative time and minimize the “let down effect” by practicing mental and physical relaxation exercises before and after your break.

Relieving stress...what employers can do

Employers can do quite a bit to help alleviate employee stress. Of course, there are constraints based on culture, economics, the industry one is in, and a host of other factors. Nevertheless, here are some general recommendations for helping reduce employee stress:

  • Invest in talent management. Send the message to managers throughout the organisation that bad behaviour is unacceptable. Encourage and reward healthy management practices.
  • Share information generously. Even under adverse circumstances, employees want to know what is going on. Yes, people will grumble and complain when they hear bad news. However, that is nothing compared to the resentment they will feel if they have been kept in the dark. Over-communicate!
  • Manage the pace of change. To the extent possible, allow people a breather after a major change hits. Give them a chance to recuperate before the next one comes along.
  • Establish a climate of openness and honesty. Make it safe for people to express themselves. Tell it like it is. Make sure people don’t fear retaliation if they speak out.
  • Get the right person - job fit. Steer employees into jobs they can succeed at and have a passion for. Productive employees usually are the happiest (however, the opposite - that happy employees are productive - is an outdated myth). Give people jobs that challenge them but where success is attainable.
  • Provide services employees can use for themselves and their families. Wellbeing programs, gyms, childcare centres, and other services mean a lot, especially when employees are encouraged to use them and there is no stigma attached.
  • Have “family friendly” policies. Balance short term productivity costs with a longer term investment in people. Having generous flex time and maternity/paternity policies can help employees manage the stresses of work and home. Make it OK to use these services. Do not just have them on the books, but informally discourage their use.
  • Employ “fatigue countermeasures” to ensure that employee fatigue does not result in accidents and injuries. Review and control working hours, rotating shifts and policies surrounding work and travel schedules.
  • Make sure employees know the organisation cares about their wellbeing. Provide appropriate avenues for people when they feel wronged. Let them know there is recourse beyond their immediate boss if their legitimate rights have been violated.

And remember, if you feel that despite all your efforts stress defeats you or your employees, do not be afraid to seek the assistance of the professionals. Consultants and facilitators can help you to get a better understanding of the way you are responding to stress and to discover ways to successfully cope with it. You can also use professional assessment tools, such as StressScan, that is developed by dr. K.M. Nowack and is based on more than 20 years of scientific stress research. StressScan helps to quickly and clearly identify the areas of life a person is experiencing difficulties in, as well as to evaluate his/her major lifestyle habits, posing a risk to his/her health or helping to protect against the adverse effects of stress.

You can read more about StressScan  here.


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