The modern world is a stressful place, and most of us could use a few effective coping strategies. After all, with all of our electronic conveniences, most of us still do not have enough time in the average day. This leads to everything from inadequate exercise and an unhealthy diet, to an unproductive sleep routine and the health problems that are the natural result. Sadly, this makes us even more stressed.
Add to this the fact that most of us encounter various types of workplace stress and the situation just worsens. Too much work, too little work, fear of errors, tight deadlines, problems with co-workers…these are just some of the ways that workplace stress might manifest. And though it is difficult to think about, there are also many stories of workplace violence, which can only add to a general sense of uneasiness and stress that many faces.
There is good news, though, and it is that there are many ways you can start to reduce your experience of stress in the workplace. Whether you are an employee, someone in charge or even a business owner, there are many amazing steps to take to see stress in the workplace reduced or even eliminated.
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The team at The Resilience Institute breaks down the best coping strategies into an array of headings that focus on issues like language, culture, personal responsibility, and more. This demonstrates the simple fact that stress reduction in the workplace must involve more than just basic steps or theories.
As an example, many experts would say that using rather general morale boosters such as a periodic yoga class or adding calming water features to the office can help. There is truth to that, but if the goal is to truly reduce or even banish most workplace stressors, it requires daily effort and highly effective techniques. So, we present 30 of them and will use divide techniques into various categories.
Before digging into the techniques, however, we have to understand how they can be integrated into the workplace. After all, the very concept of a workplace varies widely from a two to three-person operation or an office with hundreds or more. Let’s begin there and then look at the methods that can be used to de-stress the workplace.
The Modern Workplace
Ask a few dozen people what the term “workplace” means to them, and they might say uncertain, unpredictable, complicated and even difficult to navigate. Others might say completely opposite terms and describe their office or workplace as stable, productive, creative and more.
Wouldn’t it be great if that latter group of workers could bottle that feeling and disperse it to the other workplaces in the world? Since they can’t, we need to consider what sets those workplaces apart. In other words, what makes a good workplace?
The experts at Chron investigated this matter specifically and found the elements that make the best workplaces include:
Employers knowing what matters most to their workers
Employers generous to their teams
Good communication of company mission
Clear standards for workers
Transparency on all matters
Nurturing growth of individual employees
Celebrations of employee milestones
Personal interest in workers
They also found that opportunities for workers to express their needs in relation to improving the workplace was vital. Yet, that last point comes with a bit of a glitch. What is that? Many of us know that we feel workplace stress and may even understand why it is happening. And even if we could express our feelings on such matters, there is not always a remedy that can be implemented.
As an example, let’s say that your company is a bit understaffed and everyone has to take on a bit more work until a new hire or two is onboarded. There is not much to be done until that occurs. Maybe there is a co-worker who is a bit of a negative or skeptical person who brings the mood down when they enter into a conversation. That too is something most would have to simply weather, and often for many years!
This tells us that improving the workplace and reducing its stresses has to start, most often, within each individual worker. That means it is time to look at the different groups of steps and actions you can use to start eliminating your sense of workplace stress today.
Words and Ideas
Let’s consider a handful of steps that involve only the words and ideas rattling around inside of your head, and periodically slipping out of your mouth, whenever you are thinking of workplace stress.
Power of the word “Stress” – When we give anything a name, we give it validity. A great way to immediately reduce the amount of workplace stress you experience is to give it a new name. All of your associations with “stress” occur to you subconsciously when you think about your work stress. Take away that specific term and think of it as something else. When it becomes a specific “challenge” or “hurtle”, “pressure” or “deadline”, it reduces the stressor to a single thing and not a whole array of issues. What words would you use to describe the issue causing you to think “stress, stress, stress!” Start answering the question of “how is work?” using those terms instead. You can no longer reduce it to, “Oh, so stressful!” Instead, saying “Oh, there is a bit of a challenge with one co-worker?” or “This project brings a lot of pressure” narrows it down in your mind and makes it much easier to address.
Acute not chronic – Another way to start perceiving stressors, apart from giving them more appropriate names, is to recognize that they are typically “acute” and not “chronic”. In other words, when you tell yourself that it is just a brief burst of stress (even if it is going to last a few weeks), it becomes much less of an issue. Look at stressors in the “this, too, shall pass” category and they suddenly shrink in significance.
Stress v. distress – Here is a notable tactic for identifying a real issue, and one that is not as easily managed. For example, the job you have been given is causing you to feel uncomfortable, overwhelmed or doomed to failure. This is not stress but is instead “distress”. This is authentic suffering and you need to take action and the first step – giving your stress specific names – to draw the line between stress and distress. Any prolonged period of feeling overwhelmed is usually distress and not job stress. This may mean re-evaluating your job or role and speaking with leadership about it.
Engaged – Here too is another tactic that renames your feelings and helps you build better associations with them. When you feel that a project, assignment or other part of your job is so challenging that you describe it as stressful, stop and consider if it is simply challenging. For instance, you might still be highly motivated to accomplish whatever it is causing that “stress”, and by renaming your feeling to something more positive like “engaged” is often a good way to turn the situation around. Your mind starts working at problem solving, more adept management, and so on. Being engaged usually means being energized while being stressed usually means being sapped of energy, and by telling yourself “I am fully engaged with this project/problem/issue/task/and so on”, you don’t diminish yourself and you cut out all of the associations you have with the word stress.
Stress is a power-sapping term that is used too freely. We see four ways that you can quietly re-evaluate your use of the word and the idea of stress in order to determine if you are looking at it the wrong way.
Naturally, a helpful workplace culture can be another great way to eliminate stress. It is important for individuals and company leadership to use those tips above as the first line of defense, but next comes the actual culture in which employees exist each day.
Company culture is one thing, but workplace culture is an entirely different matter. Every office is an environment of its own and each space has its own dynamics. It is up to those within them and in charge of them to take essential steps to ensure no unnecessary stressors exist, and when they do to use tips like those below to reign them in and turn things around.
Impulse control – When the goal is to keep the workplace stress free, it requires everyone in the office to refrain from outbursts that might include everything from shouting and displays of anger to sorrow and tears. As experts warn, this sort of behaviors can actual “create waves of distress that echo for decades.” Practicing personal impulse control and also knowing ho to calm others into a more constructive and productive form of conversation goes a long way in cutting workplace stress.
Willingness to apologize – Shakespeare told us “To err is human” and finished that sentence with “to forgive divine”. He might also have added something about a readiness to apologize. If you have made a mistake, use humility and “own it”. And a mistake can mean a mistake in work, saying something out of line, or behaving in a way that caused others to feel what they might think of as “stress”.
Practice empathy – Ask any group of people who have achieved success as a team and most will agree that empathy brought them a very long way. It “requires that you be physically present, emotionally attuned and can take the perspective of others. If people feel listened to and understood,” a sense of stress is eliminated.
Understand personal style – You and any colleagues or employees are all very different people. You communicate differently, and one way to end a sense of stress in the workplace is to take some time to learn the different styles at play in the workplace, and how to be more flexible around them. For example, someone might typically joke as a defense mechanism. This can be difficult during times of stress but recognizing this and learning how to adjust your own communication to that response helps end your experience of stress, as well as theirs.
Master conflict resolution – It is fair to say that this alone might be the best way to bring an end to workplace stress. Few of us know how to deal with a messy human interaction, particularly if there is disagreement. Any workplace culture that nurtures respectful debate, disagreement and resolution (without also compromising on truth, compassion and respect) is best.
Work in a rhythm – Whether you or your company calls it bursts or fixed hours of time, it has been noticed that any workplace with a fixed rhythm is often a workplace with no noticeable stress. For example, you might tell yourself that you will work intensely and at optimal levels for 40 minutes to an hour, and then take three minutes to walk around and stretch. Doing this throughout the day establishes a distinct flow and can keep many common stressors at bay.
Mandatory breaks – Taking time for lunch and at least two longer tea or coffee breaks should be mandatory in any workplace. This allows workers an essential break from intensity and even to go outdoors, get life tasks done, and so on. Without them, people can become glued to the desk and suffer from too much intensity.
Design a system that stops interruptions – Nothing causes workplace stress to intensify more than a colleague who seems ignorant of the deadlines and pressures of others, even themselves. They chat at your desk or door, they interrupt during a burst of work, and so on. Whether you create your own “signal” that lets others know that an interruption is unwelcome, or create workplace policy that prevents interruptions, it is important to do so if stress is to be reduced.
What to do if the workplace culture does not encourage such behaviors and patterns? It is time to consider your personal responsibility in the workplace, whether you are in the role of leader or employee.
You owe it to yourself and all around you (in life and the workplace) to get your ducks in a row. The person who displays all kinds of stressful behaviors in the office or talks all of the time about stress at home, causes everyone around them to react. Because of that, we recommend these tips.
Think positive – We all make the mistake of banging out an email without thinking about the use of more positive messaging. Make a habit of re-reading every message you write with the idea of “happier” or more “positive” language. It will make you an encouraging communicator and this instantly boosts your mood as well as that of all you message.
Train yourself in work/life balance - While a good employer makes it clear that they understand everyone has lives outside of work, they may not actually demand that their employees know how to relax, deal with family and/or life issues, and so on. If an employer is not supporting their team in areas like family, health and financial fitness, it is up to you as the individual to create work/life balance. By addressing these matters, you may realize your workplace is not a source of stress at all, and you are doing a huge favor for colleagues.
Request resources to support work/life balance – You can also do a huge favor to your workplace and co-workers by asking your company to offer resources to nurture work/life balance. This can include everything from coaching and workshops to other forms of training.
Take care of yourself – Getting a good night’s sleep, eating well and getting at least 30 minutes of exercise into most of your days keeps your body and mind fit. You certainly ow yourself optimal health, but out of respect to co-workers, skip the mid-week all-nighters and other behaviors that reduce your effectiveness, mood and more.
Optimize time – We’ve all seen the different suggestions about managing time more effectively, with one of the most common tips being to focus on emails only periodically. This is actually a remarkably effective technique. Use it for all emails and any messages. Designate four specific times per day that you can go to the email and other messaging applications and tackle all responses at those four designated times. It cuts down on stress substantially and almost instantly.
Learn how to calm yourself and clear your head – Did you know that simple relaxation training techniques can take as little as a few minutes’ time and can yield a notable reduction in even the most stressful situations. Whether you feel stress in the workplace or realize you are a source of it, learning how to do some mindful breathing, focusing your attention, and calming your emotions is great in everyday life, but even more so in a stressful workplace.
Quite often, the stress we feel in the workplace is an accumulation of many things. It is your responsibility to address your feelings before insisting that workplace stress is outside of yourself. As we said, start by giving it a different name. Is it that guy in accounting demanding reports too often? Is it the project just added to your list of things that makes you feel overwhelmed? Whatever causes you to use the word “stress”, try to rename it, and then use all of the other methods to improve your workplace experience.
We also have a handful of more general and “all purpose” methods that have shown success in millions of workplace environments around the world. You may want to consider some of them for your workplace once you’ve used the tips above.
General Purpose Tips for Overcoming Workplace Stress
Whether you own the workplace, manage it or just work there, you can try some of these methods to help yourself and coworkers eliminate stress:
Do a daily meditation somewhere in the building – Five to ten minutes of guided meditation or focused breathing does wonders and there are many free videos and online recordings that you, and your co-workers, can use during a short break to relax, clear the mind and cut stress.
Create a weekly “Happy Hour” – When co-workers can gather together at the end of a busy and challenging week (note we didn’t say stressful), to compare notes, unwind and just chat about anything but work, it does a huge amount of good. Being friendly and genuine with one another and wishing each other well at the end of the day is incredibly empowering and bonding.
Find “days of service” opportunities – Whether or not your workplace already has a day of service initiative, if you feel there is too much stress, introduce an opportunity of this kind. It may take some effort but asking for a single day off for workers to volunteer at a local nonprofit or other group is a real gift. Giving back is a wonderful stress reliever and a sign of good will from your company.
Go “potluck” – Any workplace that cooperates to feed itself once a month, and which comes together to share favorite dishes is a workplace with reduced stress. Become the designated organizer and get everyone to sign on for a part of a meal, and then ensure that everyone sits down together to share and relax.
Stress Awareness Month programs – Every April is Stress Awareness Month and it is a great time to introduce all of the concepts you learn in a guide such as this and to open a dialogue with management, co-workers and others about any ideas they have for building more positive energy in your shared workplace.
Celebrate people – Land a big project? Have a few birthdays that month? Hit a milestone? Don’t just put it in the newsletter or email…celebrate it. Whether it is the owner/manager or the team, enjoying a celebratory sweet treat in the break room or a meetup at a local hotspot to raise a glass is a great way to erase workplace stress.
Plan workplace walks – Whether it is a 15 minute midday walk around the block, warehouse or someplace else or a longer hike as a group over the weekend. Doing something physical as a group builds bonds of friendship and this is a sure way to cut stress.
Brighten up the space – Esthetics are important and whether it is tackling the need for better lighting, healthier colors, more personalized workspaces, you can go a long way in reducing workplace stress by making it a healthier and happier spot to spend the work hours.
Host standing meetings – For those who find themselves in frequent meetings, everything can be made less formal and far less tense if the meetings are held in places where everyone can comfortably stand. A courtyard, around the water cooler, in the break room…wherever it allows a relaxed stance away from a desk or table helps cut stress.
Ask about later starts or work at home options – A workplace that allows its team to come in an hour later and work an hour later or one that allows some to work at home can go a long way towards reducing workplace stress. If you need that extra time, ask about it and be clear that it is necessary to help you with work/life balance and better performance.
Encourage unplugged hours – If your company does not have an unplugged window of time each day, see if you can institute this policy. It is simply making one afternoon a week an “unplugged” period. This is when devices are silenced, messaging comes to a holt and people can focus on their work without a single distraction.
Organize it – Forbes found that “employee stress can be magnified in an unorganized environment.” Try to help with this within your own space but also that of others. Tidy up, clear out junk and make the space pleasant to use. It will cut a sense of stress sharply.
Whether as a boss or employee, there are many ways to bring workplace stress under control and improve the health of the company as well as the individuals that make it a success. Use these tips and soon you will see changes in how you see and experience the workplace and will also see the same changes in those you share such tips with.