10 Strategies for managing job stress
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by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.:
Stress is something we
all face as workers -- and we all handle it differently. There is no getting
around it. But, not all stress is bad, and learning how to deal with and manage
stress is critical to our maximizing our job performance, staying safe on the
job, and maintaining our physical and mental health. For workers like Melissa,
doses of job
stress pose little threat and may be effective in increasing motivation and
productivity, but too much -- and too prolonged -- can lead to a downward spiral
-- both professionally and personally.
Some jobs, by definition, tend to
be higher stress -- such as ones that are in dangerous settings (fire, police),
that deal with demanding customers (service providers), that have demanding time
pressures (healthcare), and that have repetitive detailed work (manufacturing)
-- but stress is not limited to any one particular job or industry.
The National Institute for
Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), part of the U.S. Department of Health
and Human Services, states that job stress, now more than ever, poses a threat
to the health of workers - and the health of organizations. NIOSH defines job
stress as the harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the
requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources, or needs of
the worker. Stress also occurs when the situation has high demands and the
worker has little or no control over it. Job stress can lead to poor health and
Job Stress Statistics
Numerous studies examining job stress sound an alarming bell about the mental
and physical health of American workers:
A Families and Work Institute study found 26 percent of workers report
they are "often or very often burned out or stressed by their work."
A Yale University study found 29 percent of workers feel "quite a bit or
extremely stressed at work."
A Princeton Survey Research Associates study reports that three-fourths
of employees believe the worker has more on-the-job stress than a generation
A Gallup Poll found that 80 percent of workers feel stress on the job,
and nearly half reported that they needed help in learning how to manage it.
According to an article in Shape Magazine, women are 60 percent more
likely to suffer from job stress than men.
- A Northwestern National Life study found that 40 percent of workers
report their job is very or extremely stressful. And that one-fourth of
employees view their jobs as the number one stressor in
Symptoms & Warning Signs of Job Stress
and early warning signs of job stress and burnout:
While the causes can be something other than job stress, here are the most
Physical problems (headaches, stomach problems)
- Low morale
Causes of Job Stress
There are two schools of thought on the causes of job stress.
According to one theory,
differences in individual characteristics, such as personality and coping style,
are best at predicting what will stress one person but not another. The focus
then becomes on developing prevention strategies that help workers find ways to
cope with demanding job conditions.
The other theory proposes that
certain working conditions are inherently stress-inducing, such as fear of job
loss, excessive workload demands, lack of control or clear direction, poor or
dangerous physical working conditions, inflexible work hours, and conflicting
job expectations. The focus then becomes on eliminating or reducing those work
environments as the way to reducing job stress.
Strategies for Managing Job
While many of the methods of preventing job stress need to be developed and
supported by the organization, there are things that workers can do to help you
better manage job stress.
Here are 10 tips for dealing with the
- Put it in perspective. Jobs are disposable. Your friends, families, and
health are not. If your employer expects too much of you, and it's starting
to take its toll on you, start looking for a new job/new employer.
- Modify your job situation. If you really like your employer, but the job
has become too stressful (or too boring), ask about tailoring your job to
your skills. And if you got promoted into a more stressful position that you
just are not able to handle, ask about a lateral transfer -- or even a
transfer back to your old job (if that's what you want).
- Get time away. If you feel the stress building, take a break. Walk away
from the situation, perhaps walking around the block, sitting on a park
bench, taking in a little meditative time. Exercise does wonders for the
psyche. But even just finding a quiet place and listening to your iPod can
- Fight through the clutter. Taking the time to organization your desk or
workspace can help ease the sense of losing control that comes from too much
clutter. Keeping a to-do list -- and then crossing things off it -- also
- Talk it out. Sometimes the best stress-reducer is simply sharing your
stress with someone close to you. The act of talking it out - and getting
support and empathy from someone else -- is often an excellent way of
blowing of steam and reducing stress. Have a support system of trusted
- Cultivate allies at work. Just knowing you have one or more co-workers
who are willing to assist you in times of stress will reduce your stress
level. Just remember to reciprocate and help them when they are in need.
- Find humor in the situation. When you - or the people around you --
start taking things too seriously, find a way to break through with
laughter. Share a joke or funny story.
- Have realistic expectations. While Americans are working longer hours,
we can still only fit so much work into one day. Having unrealistic
expectations for what you can accomplish sets you up for failure -- and
- Nobody is perfect. If you are one of those types that obsess over every
detail and micromanage to make sure "everything is perfect," you need to
stop. Change your motto to performing your best, and leave perfection to the
- Maintain a positive attitude (and avoid those without one). Negativism
sucks the energy and motivation out of any situation, so avoid it whenever
possible. Instead, develop a positive attitude -- and learn to reward
yourself for little accomplishments (even if no one else does).
Okay, so it's a cliche, but your health is everything. You need to take care of
yourself, and no job, customer, or boss is worth putting yourself at risk. Find
a way out through one or more of our 10 strategies. Take control of your
situation -- and fix it -- and you will have better mental and physical health,
as well as better relationships with the people around you.
( Dr. Randall S. Hansen is
founder of Quintessential Careers,
one of the oldest and most comprehensive career development sites on the Web, as
well CEO of EmpoweringSites.com.
He is also founder of
EnhanceMyVocabulary.com. He is publisher of
Press, including the Quintessential Careers electronic newsletter,
QuintZine. Dr. Hansen is
also a published author, with several books, chapters in books, and hundreds of
articles. He's often quoted in the media and conducts empowering workshops
around the country. Finally, Dr. Hansen is also an educator, having taught at
the college level for more than 15 years. Visit his
personal Website or
reach him by email at