Last Friday, Dr. Kirsch spent all morning in interviews with Fox News Radio discussing the topic of workplace stress. He was on the air with Fox affiliates during morning drive time coast to coast in response to an article posted on health.com regarding a list of “8 Types of Workplace Stress”. As I sat in on these interviews, listening to questions coming from people across the U.S. in various levels of workplace hierarchies—I found a common thread: People spend most of their waking hours at work, under a barrage of stressors that are making them sick and tired—and they are tired of being sick and tired! People want to know, “What can I do to alleviate my stress at work?” or “ Ok, I fit the description of one of these ‘types’… now what?” and “How can I take control of my stress and make my days better?” The first, and most important point to make, is that there are no real “8 Types of Workplace Stress”. This was a catchy article title created by a writer somewhere, that served its purpose in getting people to read the article, but more importantly it has people TALKING about workplace stress. To try to attach labels and make a limited stress reactions “list” for workplace stress is a useless and impossible task, as there is no limit of stressors nor are there enough labels in existence that could accommodate the individual stress responses woven into the fabric of the global workforce. Just as there is no real definition of stress- as it is different for every individual, there can be no definitive “workplace stress” definition or series of labels.
Think of the workplace setting as a tribal microcosm of life. In a typical workplace setting, you have various personality types thrown together that otherwise might not ever meet. You can rarely choose your co-workers, like you choose friends, but you must find a way to work together on a daily basis to accomplish workplace goals. This meshing of various personality types can be stressful and the individualized reactions stemming from external stressors compounds the problem. Following this “tribal” example, there is usually one chief and a pyramid structured, hierarchy of workers. This model is the most typical found in corporate America, but there are a few forward thinking corporations that have shifted to a more web-like approach. This web like structure empowers people to communicate their feelings and ideas more freely. It makes people feel more like part of a team, rather than a top down dictatorship. But don’t start restructuring just yet—simply how you reference your employees or co-workers can make a huge difference in how they feel about their place in the world and how they respond to daily stressors. As Dr. Kirsch suggested in his interviews, try referring to your workforce as “team members” or a corporate “family”. In both cases, you offer a sense of empowerment in the context of equal opportunities from team or family members to contribute and to have their contributions valued. The most important factor in managing workplace stress is for each worker – no matter if they are the boss or the employee- to feel in control of their productivity and a vital part of the team. Much stress is caused when you leave your job each day and don’t feel that you were allowed an equal opportunity to be a productive team member. But before we can hope to get control of our workday and begin managing the inevitable stress that comes along with being responsible adults—we must become aware of who we are on a deep and personal level and what “stresses us out. “
Becoming aware of the stressors that effect your job performance and in turn daily life is the first step in managing stress and becoming a happier and more productive person- at work and at home. This list is more about labeling personality types than workplace stressors. Let’s examine “the list” and see what we can learn about ourselves in the context of stress reactions in the workplace.
- The Overworked Underling– This person experiences high demand and low control of their time.
- The Frustrated Go-Getter– This person is not receiving enough credit or compensation for the work they do.
- The Castaway– This person is largely ignored. They feel they have no input or contribution to plans.
- The Doormat-This person takes repeated abuse from management, customers or both. These people tend to say “yes” too often as a way to get people to like them.
- The Tech Prisoner– This person is too accessible. No one needs to be accessible 24/7, 365. Find the off button on your gadgets.
- The Burnout– This person is exhausted all the time. It sounds simple, but many people don’t – TAKE TIME OFF.
- The Bully Target– Bullies are not limited to the playground. Bullies can be bosses, co-workers or even employees. No one should suffer from workplace bullies and there are ways to stop the bullying and take back your control. Your Human Resources Department is a good place to start.
- The Wronged Victim– This person feels that the boss plays favorites and that they are not the favorite. The workplace lacks organizational justice.
In all of these “workplace types” the main problem is that people do not feel in control. They do not feel empowered to be assertive to stand up for their health. Management needs to appreciate the mutuality of purpose in a workplace setting and respect their employee’s efforts and limitations. Employees need to self evaluate their personal stressors and take active steps to either eliminate the stressor or learn to manage them. In this very real and unfair world we live in- you must take responsibility for yourself and your reactions to the stressors you encounter. Workplace stress is far and away the major source of stress for American adults and that it has escalated progressively over the past few decades. Increased levels of job stress as assessed by the perception of having little control but lots of demands have been demonstrated to be associated with increased rates of heart attack, hypertension, stroke, cancer, diabetes, fertility issues, depression and more.
The earliest signs of workplace stress are: poor concentration, decreased memory, constant fatigue, sleep disturbances and increased frequency of headaches. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms it is time to take action.
Here are 5 tips to help you take back your control and manage your stress—before you mange to ruin your health!
- Set a “Stress-less” Schedule. Build “Gap Time” into your day. Dr. Kirsch recommends building in five “gaps” a day. One upon waking, one at 10am, 2pm, 4pm and again at bed time. Each gap is a short two minute (or less) self assessment where you take stock of yourself. Ask yourself, “How am I doing?” Take a deep breath, focus on how your body feels—are there any tense spots? Most people hold tension in their forehead, jaw and shoulders. Relax. Breathe. Simply scheduling a very short “gap” into the stream of information flowing into your consciousness, will allow you to plug into your “self” and interrupt any stress reactions that are building and make adjustments, which will gradually build your resiliency to stress.
- Be Assertive-Learn to say “No” or “Maybe”. If your boss or co-worker is constantly dropping work into your already overflowing “inbox” — try this assertive statement: “ I appreciate your confidence in my work. I can try to get to this project completed in a timely manner, but as you can see I am already swamped.” This statement will bring awareness to your overworked situation while also maintaining a positive, team oriented tone.
- Take time off. Use your vacation and personal days each year. Even if you don’t travel to an exotic location- just time spent relaxing at home away from your typical workplace stressors will relax you and build your resilience.
- Find the “Off” button. Turn off your phones and gadgets after 6 or 8pm each day. This will allow your body to fully “unplug” from the day’s stressors too. This also means that while at lunch—just focus on eating lunch or chatting with your friends—don’t spend lunch texting or checking emails.
- Talk the Talk and Walk the Walk. Ok, this is really two tips in one—but they really work together as a stress busting power house! The best stress management techniques are two- fold including both a psychological and physiological intervention—talking and walking are simple and cheap. Talk to someone about what you are dealing with at work. It does not have to be a professional, a like-minded co-worker, friend or loved one will do. Just the act of venting your frustrations makes them easier to cope with on a daily basis. Walk. Get out and break a sweat. Physical activity is far and away the best stress buster out there. Our bodies have a fight or flight response built in to either fight off an attacking tiger or run away from it to safety. When under acute stress our bodies are flooded with adrenaline and other chemicals to help us escape the “tiger”. In the workplace, you can’t run away from the “tiger” of workplace stress but you can take a brisk walk during your lunch hour or a jog after work to blow off steam and greatly reduce your body’s stress response.
If you experience any signs and symptoms of stress (and we all do) you must take action before you cause serious damage to your health. Our bodies were designed to cope with acute stress—such as escaping a tiger, not the chronic stress we face in our daily lives much of it from the workplace or financial stress. Chronic Stress is found at the root of deteriorating health and is a proven cause of everything from increased frequency of colds and flu to cancer. Try one or all of these 5 stress busting tips the next time you feel your stress level spike.
I want to hear from you. Do you experience workplace stress? How do you cope? Post a comment here or start a conversation in the AIS forum. To read more about these and other stress topics visit The American Institute of Stress’s website: www.stress.org
Contributed by: Kellie Marksberry, AIS Executive Director