Manage Stress for Success in the Workplace

It’s 7:00 p.m. Friday evening and you’re still at work – and you have another full day ahead of you tomorrow. It’s been a long, stressful week.

On Wednesday, one of your best employees gave notice. Rumors of cutbacks due to the economy have started to circulate around the company. Earlier today, one of your biggest clients called with complaints about the job you’re doing for them. When you stop and reflect on it, you realize stress hasn’t been limited to this past week. Things have been tough for several months…maybe even the past year. It’s starting to wear on you.

You tell yourself, “Life is always going to be filled with stressful situations – both professional and personal. Ignore it and it’ll go away.” Certainly life always will present stressful situations. A word of caution about ignoring it: If you let your stress level soar and stay that way for too long, you, your team, your company and even your family could pay a high price. Toxic stress can hurt your health and your performance on the job – preventing you from managing your team effectively or doing your job well.

Not all stress is bad. At a reasonable level, it can give you energy and drive you to tackle challenges in the workplace and accomplish important goals. The key to managing stress is to be able to recognize the difference between toxic and productive stress – and then assess your own stress level.

You can’t eliminate stress completely. However, you can learn to manage it so it works for you instead of against you.
As I travel around, I often witness kitchen and bath industry professionals struggling with high-stress jobs – and it’s not limited to bosses: It affects all staff members.

Impact of Stress

Some level of stress is natural, but in the fast-paced work world, human responses often become toxic to our own productivity, peace of mind and health. Here’s what a few experts on the subject of stress say:

  • According to a University of Chicago survey, “more than 40% of Americans suffer stress at work,” reports the NPR Morning Star.
  • “Job stress today accounts for more than 50% of the 550 million workdays lost annually due to absenteeism,” says K.R.S. Edstrom of the nationally syndicated KRS Edstrom Radio Show.
  • “Job stress is a worldwide epidemic,” says the World Health Organization.

Toxic Stress

What seems normal and familiar – a feeling of worry and anxiety about daily activities – may be preventing you or your team members from reaching your goals. Toxic stress can:

  • Reduce productivity
  • Affect health
  • Drain energy
  • Damage relationships

Worry is our natural defense to a threatening situation and helps us to react quickly. So, up to a point, worry and anxiety are healthy.

At first, as worry increases, performance increases. Though at a point, anxiety begins to reduce productivity. A key goal for everyone is to find the level of anxiety to bring about peak performance while avoiding toxic anxiety.

The question is: Do you have a problem? How can we tell if the stress is healthy or not? Problem worriers exaggerate fears, spend too much time on non-constructive concerns and are often slow to produce results.

Common causes of stress are:

  • Changes in the work environment
  • An unhealthy work environment
  • Individual responses to normal or abnormal situations at work

Stressful shifts at work include:

  • Change in workload
  • Change in compensation
  • Change in job assignment or team partners
  • Change in job security

Work can also feel stressful if employees must deal with:

  • Work overload
  • Workaholic office culture
  • Difficult supervisors
  • Negative co-workers

Some workplaces foster anxiety and other negative individual responses. Examples include:

  • Fear of failure
  • Low self esteem or confidence
  • Lack of trust
  • Isolation from teammates
  • Job burnout

Levels of Stress

Levels of stress can range from healthy responses to exaggerated worry about every aspect of life. Consider your situation: Does stress at work promote energy? Are major stresses affecting your performance or the work of those around you? Do you, your boss or your team members show signs of toxic stress?

If you or your team is having a stress problem, it’s time to deal with it! Next time, I will discuss strategies to deal with toxic stress. Our goal is to achieve a healthier stress performance balance.