Work conditions changed forever with the global financial crisis, leaving people more vulnerable to stress, something that has destroyed careers and productivity. Given all the distractions and interruptions that happen for every professional every day, given all the corporate restructurings that people go through, it comes with the territory of the modern workplace. Stress also usually comes with excessive workloads, few opportunities for advancement or growth and no control over job-related decisions.
Stress can be a killer because the automatic responses developed by our ancestors kick in. Faced with danger, hormones flood into our body raising heart rates, increasing blood pressure and filling us with the energy to deal with the problem. These days, we’re unlikely to be eaten by a sabre-toothed tiger but our bodies react the same way when we’re faced with deadlines, workplace tensions, paying bills and balancing child care and pressures from home. And that can affect our health.
Stress will affect most people. How best to deal with it, either your own stress or that of your team?
To manage one’s stress, there are some very simple strategies.
1. Keep a journal: This is just to keep track of what’s happening to you. It’s not for publication so feel free to just record what happened, and your reaction. How well did you handle it? Could you have done it better? What this will help you do is identify patterns in the stressors and your response.
2. Stay healthy: This is important because so many people fall apart under stress. They take to alcohol or drugs, they over-eat or don’t eat at all. Exercise is a great stress buster, try to get some every day. Eat well, watch your sleep hygiene, and try to get in time for the things that give you pleasure, whether it’s listening to music (or if you play an instrument, even better), cooking, reading a novel or spending time with the family.
3. Recharge: When you leave work, make sure you don’t take it with you. Disconnecting is important for stress management.
4. Stick to boundaries: In this 7 day a week 24 hour a day work cycle, it’s very easy to lose sight of work-life boundaries. And yet these boundaries are what will keep you steady during times of stress. So when you’re under stress, make sure you don’t check email after hours. And switch the phone off.
5. Learn to relax: This can involve anything from meditation and deep breathing to walking. There are people who know how to chill out just by taking the time to enjoy a meal. The joy of being able to focus on a single activity without distraction is a great way to ease stress.
6. Talk to supervisor: This is a good way to handle the stressors. One tip: don’t come up with a list of complaints, use it as an opportunity to come up with an effective plan to handle the stress.
To ease the stress of teams, try the following:
1. Workplace hygiene: Creating a better physical work environment is important. Having a space that’s dark and dishevelled, with harsh overhead lighting, stark furniture and sterile cubicles would be enough to put anyone in a bad mood.
2. Employee self-management: Encourage people to take breaks and teach them not to sweat the small stuff. Make sure you have procedures in place to listen to staff and handling complaints. Run workshops teaching people time management skills.
3.Team building and empowerment: Teams work really well because their support systems kick in when people need it the most. Empowerment is a good idea too. Allow employees to make decisions that will affect their job performance and give them autonomy. Instead of taking orders, they will have a sense of power and that reduces stress.