Stress—both at home and in the workplace—is real, and while we can’t completely eliminate stress, there are some things we can do to better manage and proactively reduce stress.
“I’m so stressed.”
“I’m so stressed out.”
Maybe you’ve found yourself saying or thinking these two phrases (or similar ones) at one time or another, maybe even frequently. Or maybe you don’t even realize when you’re stressed out anymore because it has just become a normal part of your life. Either way, it’s safe to say that everyone feels some level of stress, whether at work or home. But, since stress is so commonplace, do we actually understand what it really is?
What is stress?
Simply put, stress is a reaction—physical, mental, or both—to an external occurrence. While we tend to think of stress negatively, all stress isn’t bad. Positive stress, known as eustress, can serve to incentivize you to try harder, face challenges in positive ways, increase your productivity, and boost your motivation and excitement. Since we’re focusing on stress in the workplace, this can look like getting a sought-after promotion, taking on a new project that will utilize your skills and knowledge, developing new skills that will further your career, and so on.
Negative stress, also known as distress, has been defined as, “A condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize.” Distress can make you feel overwhelmed, a lack of control, and like you don’t want to even get out of bed in the morning. Examples of distress can be found every day in many workplaces: Feeling unequal to assigned roles and responsibilities, an excessive workload, lack of support and understanding from leaders, fear of change, poor organization on the part of leaders and/or employees, toxic working conditions of any kind, etc.
Unfortunately, in some work environments, “being stressed out” can be viewed as a badge of honor and something to aim for. Heather Kelly, CEO of Next PR, said, "We live in a culture that values business and stress.... Stress is a powerful currency. The busier and more stressed you are, the more important and valuable you seem.”
What are the impacts of stress?
Stress can go way above and beyond simply feeling stressed, and it can wreak havoc on your physical and mental health in the following ways:
Unfortunately, if you have a pre-existing health condition, stress can intensify how this condition affects you, potentially making stress an even more troubling issue both personally and professionally.
Now that we better understand how stress can affect you mentally and physically, how does stress manifest itself in cold, hard statistics both in and out of the workplace? The American Institute of Stress reported the following:
These statistics show that stress can potentially have a huge impact on you and your team—both personally and professionally.
Tips for managing stress in the workplace
If your workplace falls anywhere in or around the statistics we uncovered, you and your team will experience stress at one time or another. Stress can originate inside or outside the workplace—maybe even both at times, but no matter where it comes from, one will affect the other. It’s difficult to leave personal stress outside the office door and work stress outside the home. As a leader, it’s crucial that you learn how to manage your own stress AND be aware of how stress is affecting your team because it’s impossible to totally eliminate stress.
Here’s another thing to keep in mind: People view and deal with stress differently, and how you view and deal with stress can affect you, your relationships, your success in the workplace, and life in general. The same is true for your team, so it’s important to understand that some employees handle stress better and in different ways than others. Managing stress does not have a one-size-fits-all solution. That being said, here are 7 tips that can help you and your team better manage and hopefully reduce any stress that may be present in your workplace.
Identify stress triggers. Pay attention to what causes you stress, and put a plan in place to help you better manage it when it happens: Take a short break, walk around for a few minutes, breathe deeply, write about what’s happening, or anything that will take you out of the stressful moment and give you the space to see things more clearly.
Where your team is concerned, observe how they handle stressful situations, and work together to understand how to better deal with stress so it can be turned into a positive as much as possible. This involves making the time to get to know each team member so that these types of individual insights can be possible.
Create opportunities for frequent, honest, and transparent discussions. In order for these types of conversations to be successful, an environment of trust must exist, especially when it comes to discussing hard topics. Employees must feel safe to voice opinions, criticisms, and ideas without the fear of retribution or ridicule from leaders or their team. Trust, alone, can go a long way towards reducing stress in the workplace: When a foundation of trusts exists, employees experience 74% less stress.
Establish and respect boundaries. Due to technology, everyone is available 24/7/365, and it can be easy for the boundary between work and personal life to be crossed. It can also be easy to cross the boundary between realistic and unrealistic expectations, so it’s important to frequently evaluate deadlines, responsibilities, workloads, and the general pulse of you and your team to ensure that boundaries are respected team-wide.
Make self-care a priority. Self-care can be an antidote to stress. When self-care is neglected, not only can the risks of stress be magnified, but feelings of burnout can also be stronger. Self-care can look like exercising, eating healthy foods, making time for meditation, or anything that makes you feel healthier mentally and physically. As a leader, it’s essential to provide opportunities for self-care for your team: Vacation time, honor work hours, create opportunities for in-office social events, and make resources available for mindfulness, in-office movement, stress-reduction, and so on. Ensure your employees are in the 65% who receive resources at work to help them manage their stress, and you’ll go a long way towards achieving best boss status!
Compensate fairly. A July 2021 survey found that 73% of those polled stated that finances were their #1 cause of stress. If anyone on your team falls into this category, this stress can permeate the workplace and their productivity, no matter how positive the work environment might be. Employee responsibilities can change over time, sometimes necessitating additional compensation, so be vigilant in making sure that compensation meets what’s required of each member of your team.
Encourage employee development and advancement. If an employee feels like they’re not contributing to their fullest or believes they are stuck in their current position, stress can be a by-product of these feelings and beliefs. Provide opportunities for both career development and advancement for your team, ensuring that your employees are happy and thriving in their current and future roles and less likely to seek out opportunities elsewhere.
Show empathy. In its simplest form, empathy means being able to—or trying to—understand and share the feelings and experiences of someone else. Some employees will be hesitant to share what’s causing stress, especially if it is related to their personal life, while others might be more open. Either way, show empathy and understanding when employees are stressed out, even if you don’t know the cause of the stress or don’t have any experience with a particular cause of stress. This doesn’t mean you take on the role of therapist or best friend either. It’s possible to be empathetic and a leader at the same time with some practice.
When concluding her remark shared above, Heather Kelly said this: “Culturally, we perceive ourselves as the most-stressed worker-era in history, and our perception is our reality." Unfortunately, she’s right. However, while we can’t eliminate stress, we can find better ways to manage it and proactively lessen its negative effects on us, our relationships, our team, our productivity, and our lives.