Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Costs of Workplace Stress

For the fourth year, Harris Interactive conducted their survey on workplace stress on behalf of Everest College. While the results certainly aren’t surprising, they are nonetheless, interesting. Overall, 10% more people report being stressed at work than in the previous year.

Everest College's 2014 Work Stress Survey was conducted by telephone within the United States by Nielsen between Feb. 20 and March 2, 2014 among 1,004 employed U.S. adults ages 18+. Results were weighted for age, sex, geographic region, and race when necessary to align them with their actual proportions in the population.

Again, the perception of low pay, along with long commutes combined to produce the heftiest dose of workplace stressors. The survey found that 80% of Americans are stressed by at least one thing at work. Thirteen percent of adults ranked low wages as the most stressful aspect of work. This shared the top spot with the commute to and from work, which jumped to 13 percent from 11 percent in 2012 and 9 percent in 2011, respectively. An unreasonable workload (12%) finished third for the race that stresses Americans the most at work, followed by annoying coworkers (10%), poor work-life balance (8%) working in a job that is not a chosen career (6%), lack of opportunity for advancement (5%), the boss (5%), and fear of being fired or laid off (4%).

Levels of income and education play a significant role in determining the top stressors, according to the survey. Low pay is most often cited by those with household incomes of under $50,000 and those with less than a college education. The highest earners and those with at least a college education are more likely to cite unreasonable workload and poor work-life balance.

Wendy Cullen, vice president of employer development for Everest College. "I don't think you can ever eliminate all the factors that cause workplace anxiety, but as individuals we can definitely create a plan of action to improve our careers and change our lives."

According to the American Psychological Association's Center for Organizational Excellence, and others, there are ways to help control the stress and change your job situation for the better. 

Take care of yourself. Job stress can make you physically ill. Take the time to relax and do things you enjoy – be with friends, read for pleasure, whatever makes you happy. Maintaining your physical health is important and can help you be more immune to the negative effects of stress. Take responsibility for improving your physical and emotional well-being.

Avoid pitfalls by identifying knee jerk habits and negative attitudes that add to the stress you experience at work.

Learn how you deal with stress. Do you engage in unhealthy behaviors such as smoking, drinking or eating poorly to cope with your stress? Do you lose patience with your children or spouse or coworkers when you feel overwhelmed by work pressures?

Learn better communication skills to ease and improve your relationships with management and coworkers.

Resolve your concerns. For example, if you’re stressed about a project, think about who can help to clarify the scope and required tasks. If it’s a conflict with a co-worker, think about what you can do to resolve it. Basically, the key is to take a problem-solving approach and try to fix what’s within your power.

Keep a "To-Do" list. Worried that you'll forget something important? Mentally itemizing all the things you need to get done? Put those thoughts on paper (real or virtual) and create a list of work and personal tasks and mark them off as you complete each one. It’s actually pretty satisfying to physically cross a task off your list!

Take short breaks. Take a minute or two throughout the day to stand up, stretch, and shake off the building tension. Take a 10-15 minute break every few hours to recharge and avoid the temptation to work through lunch. Productivity gains will more than make up for the time you spend on these small breaks.

Practice gratitude. Think about one thing you’re grateful for every day at work. Every time something good happens at work, write it down. Soon, you might be surprised how often good stuff actually happens. We tend to remember the one really bad thing as opposed to the many good things.

Remind yourself what you loved about your job. For most people, there was a reason they chose their career, or a particular job in their career path. Get back to that both in thought and in action. Find ways to live that on a regular basis.

Disconnect. The stress people feel comes, in part, from the pressures of today's connected world. Because of email, cell phones and the Internet, we find it more and more difficult to switch off from the workplace and concentrate on our personal lives and priorities. Take time to turn off your phone, your computer and to some degree your mind (at least as it relates to work) and enjoy your family, your hobby, your friends without the wireless umbilical to your job. And don’t feel guilty about it! We all need to get away from it at least sometimes.

Don’t be afraid to seek professional help. If the going gets too tough, get some help. Your employer may have a confidential Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that offers online information, counseling (either in person or by phone) and referrals to mental health professionals. If no EAP is available to you, consult with your physician for a proper referral.

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