Some simple advice — and pass-along strategies — for reducing stress in the workplace.
Stress is costing American business big time. Estimates range from $80 billion to $300 billion annually in illnesses, absenteeism, diminished productivity, accidents, mistakes, burnout, high turnover, and soaring health insurance premiums.
It’s no surprise, then, that many companies have been fighting the stress epidemic aggressively with an arsenal of anti-stress initiatives. But a nagging question remains. If all the stress management programs out there are so effective, why are so many workers still stressed out?
The answer may lie in the fact that some organizations are simply trying too hard. In an effort to reduce stress, they are actually adding to it. As well-intentioned as their stress programs may be, many are complex and time-consuming, require a lot of reading and recall, are heavy on theory and light on practical advice, or just don’t connect with employees on their level…or with their specific problems.
Remember, what people who are stressed out lack most is time…and patience. They have no time to attend lengthy stress seminars that pull them away from the very tasks that are stressing them out. They have little patience to sift through wordy guides and procedures to dig out those rare nuggets of advice relevant to their situation. Some stress programs merely address the symptoms of stress rather than eliminate the causes. They have little lasting effect. Workers become frustrated and cynical, believing that nothing will work, and go right back to their costly, stressful ways.
What, then, can management and human resources professionals do to overcome these obstacles to effective stress management, and “reach” their employees with solutions that will connect…and stick? A good way to start is to offer simple, candid, targeted strategies workers can quickly incorporate into their lives—techniques that get their attention and produce immediate results. These are less intrusive, take little or no time to implement, and get the user started on the right track, with the right attitude. To give you some examples, I’ve selected the following ten workplace strategies I use in my books and seminars, which have been field-tested with positive feedback from thousands of readers and participants worldwide. Simply pass them along by email or interoffice memo. I believe they can have a significantly positive effect on your employees, too.
Do one thing at a time.
Do it mindfully. Do it well. Enjoy the satisfaction. Then go on to the next thing. Multitasking might work for computers, but humans have yet to get the hang of it. A growing body of evidence affirms that trying to accomplish several things at once takes up more time overall than doing them sequentially. It consumes an excessive amount of mental energy, too, so you fatigue more quickly. The lack of focus also leads to careless mistakes, shoddy work and unreliable performance. Worst of all, having to do things over. This is no way to live. Give what you’re doing your undivided attention. Take the time to get it right. You’ll be more productive, and less stressed, in the long run.
Chip away at projects with long lead times.
When you get an assignment with a “luxury” of time, don’t squander it. Get at least a start on it right away, when your enthusiasm and understanding of it are at a peak. Then spend a little time on it each day to keep the momentum going. That way, every thought you have of the project will be a positive one: “I’m on the case, I’m getting it done.” Put it off, and every thought will be increasingly negative: “Yikes, I haven’t even started yet!” Which can add up to big stress over time. And a major crisis as the deadline nears, you’ve forgotten what to do, and your enthusiasm has been supplanted by anxiety and dread. Get it going early. You’ll do a better job, in less time, without the stress.
Don’t let unhealthy job stress persist.
If your workload or project is impossible to complete without pulling your hair out, doing a slapdash job or suffering a near stroke for your trouble, speak up early on rather than bottle it up and be unable to perform the work accurately and professionally. And do it in a positive way, by offering possible solutions: you’ll need more time; you can do part of the project in the allotted time; or you’ll require more help. If you’re a good competent worker your request should command respect and compliance. It doesn’t help anyone to say nothing and let it eat away at your well-being, and subject both you and your company to poor performance.
Stress is often caused by an inability to let go, a constant need to micromanage, the fear that everything will fall apart the minute you turn your back. It leaves you hung up on time-consuming details, stifles the participation and growth of others, and creates unnecessary tension all around. Take the leap of faith. Learn to delegate. Assign responsibilities and give others the chance to prove themselves. You can dole it out gradually, to gain confidence and minimize error, but begin unburdening yourself of the oppressive minutia that’s needlessly choking your life. You can experience a marked reduction in stress in a relatively short period of time simply by delegating.
Be a team player.
It’s more productive—and less stressful—to work as a team. In your job, in your family, in your community. When you spread the work and responsibility around the pressure eases, everyone becomes more cooperative. As much as we like to think of ourselves as complete packages, we’re not. We need others to contribute what we lack, to balance out our collective strengths and weaknesses. Let go the urge to put it all on yourself or take all the credit. Society is a team effort and success most gratifying when everyone’s involved.
Rotate working on different projects.
For example, if you have three projects due next week, performing them in their entirety one after the other can make each seem long, drawn out and tiresome. Instead, divide your time each day into thirds and work on all three. Each project will provide a refreshing break from the others, while allowing you to make steady progress on all. Like a farmer rotating crops to keep the soil rich and fertile, varying tasks will keep you more alert and imaginative, making the work proceed more quickly and enjoyably.
Are you a checkaholic?
How much time do you waste excessively checking things. Check the weather. Check the time. Check the markets. Check your email. Check your hair. Check your voicemail. Check the news. Check your makeup. Check to see if your wallet is still in your pocket. How much of your day are you frittering away doing this? More than you might care to know. Ease up. Things aren’t going to fall apart when you’re not looking. So resist the urge to receive constant, needless, monotonous updates. Use that time to maintain your focus and get more done. When you get the urge to check on something…simply let it go.
Forget about deadlines. How about startlines?
For a society so obsessed with when a project gets finished, we’re curiously all too casual about when to get it started. And that can be the most critical factor of all. Which may explain why so many deadlines aren’t met. Instead of stressing over when something is due, focus on getting it underway. Set a “startline.” That is, a time before which it’s essential you get a project started, so it isn’t performed in a rushed and slapdash manner. If you stick to your startline, it not only assures efficient, unhurried performance, it all but eliminates the need for a deadline…and the anxiety that goes with it. Which “line” would you rather work under? Get it started.
Be a good gear switcher.
You may have the kind of job where you constantly have to drop something to take care of something else. This can be a never-ending source of stress and frustration. If you let it. Or, as unlikely as it seems now, you can condition yourself to get used to it…even enjoy it! When you prepare yourself for such interruptions, you can make a clean break without anxiety, knowing you’ll return later on to tie up loose ends. Just give whatever you’re doing at the moment your undivided focus…and let it go promptly when necessary. Quick transitioning is a skill, an art you can learn, master and take satisfaction in.
Stand up and stretch.
Especially if you have a desk or computer job. A day at work shouldn’t be like an eight-hour plane ride. Periodically get off your chair and stand, stretching your arms and legs—even squatting, bending from side to side, rolling your head, walking about, etc. It’ll get the blood flowing more freely, loosen cramped muscles and joints, help you think more clearly, and relieve some of the stress. Give your body a quick tune-up at least one or two minutes each hour.
Maintain your presence of mind.
It’s easy to get flustered, panic and lose your composure when you’re rushed and pressured. Your mistake level soars, carelessness abounds and civility often goes out the window. Only making things worse. Practice maintaining your presence of mind in pressure situations. Take slow deep breaths and approach the crisis with calmness and control. You’ll discover you can handle things more efficiently, even more quickly, when you strive to keep your cool. Hysteria accomplishes nothing.