December 16, 2013
5 tips to reduce work stress
Over the past 30 years, the amount of time Americans have spent at work has steadily risen. According to the OECD, by 2012 the average number of hours worked per person per year in the United States was 1,790. As a comparison, that's about 17 more days a year than employees in the United Kingdom, 39 more days than those in France and 51 more days than workers in the Netherlands.
Unfortunately, as hours worked have increased, so has workplace stress. While a certain amount of job stress is to be expected, stress in the workplace can affect individual well-being as well as organizational performance.
With the holidays adding to many people's stress levels, December is a good month for managers and employees to learn how to identify the factors that cause job stress, carefully monitor stress levels and take proactive steps to reduce stress and burnout.
What is job stress? The CDC defines job stress as "the harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources or needs of the worker." Unfortunately, ignoring or refusing to acknowledge that workplace stress exits can be a costly choice.
The high cost of job stress: I'm sure we've all felt how workplace stress can affect us as individual employees. But did you know that it can also create huge costs for companies? According to the American Institute of Stress, "Job stress carries a price tag for U.S. industry estimated at over $300 billion annually as a result of accidents, absenteeism, employee turnover, diminished productivity, and direct medical, legal and insurance costs."
Reduce stress with on-the-spot techniques: The key to managing stress "starts with identifying the sources of stress," say mental health educators Melinda Smith and Robert Segal. This can include taking a hard look at your habits, attitudes and excuses, and then learning healthier ways to manage stress.
During the holidays, try to avoid unnecessary stress by using these five tips from Smith and Segal:
Learn how to say "no." "Know your limits and stick to them," they warn. "Taking on more than you can handle is a surefire recipe for stress."
Avoid people who stress you out. "If someone consistently causes stress in your life and you can't turn the relationship around, limit the amount of time you spend with that person or end the relationship entirely," they recommend.
Take control of your environment. Identify situations that cause stress, and then make changes. If you're driving home from work and "traffic's got you tense, take a longer but less-traveled route," they say.
Avoid hot-button topics. Be aware of people who are purposely argumentative and then, if possible, change the subject or excuse yourself from the conversation.
Pare down your to-do list. There aren't enough hours in a day to take on everything, so prioritize your most important projects and don't take on more than you can handle.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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