A 2021 study by the American Psychological Association (APA) shows that 66% of employees view their job as a very significant or somewhat significant stressor, up 2% from the year prior.
Stress is not always bad; it can be a motivator to complete tasks quickly and effectively. However, when stress becomes too great, it can adversely impact workplace performance. In fact, an estimated 1 million workers call in sick as a result of stress every day.
Left unchecked, workplace stress can even seep into employees’ personal lives, affecting friendships, family and recreation, which compounds the problem. A stressed-out worker is an unhappy worker, and an unhappy worker is an unproductive worker.
It’s important for employers (and employees) to be able to identify the signs of workplace stress and understand how to reduce or eliminate it.
Although some jobs are more stressful than others, most (if not all) employees experience workplace stress at some point. According to the APA, some common work-related stressors are low salaries, few opportunities for growth or advancement, uninteresting or unchallenging work, a lack of social support, a lack of power over your career, and conflicting or unclear expectations.
Other common causes of workplace stress include excessive workloads (46%); problems with co-workers, supervisors, or customers (28%); poor work-life balance (20%); and lack of job security (6%).
Stress can present itself in many different ways. A Colonial Life study found that stress reduces employee engagement (33%) and productivity (41%), and increases employee turnover (15%) and absenteeism (14%). Since workplace stress can impact you physically and mentally, it is important to look out for the various signs.
You may experience physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, back pain, heart rate spikes, fatigue and sleep disturbances. Chronic stress can result in anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system, according to the APA. Such stress also contributes to health conditions, including depression, obesity and heart disease.
Compounding the problem, people who experience excessive stress often deal with it in unhealthy ways, such as by overeating, consuming unhealthy foods, smoking cigarettes, or abusing drugs and alcohol.
Stress can impact you psychologically by causing depression, anxiety and irritability. You may feel overwhelmed, have a shorter temper, or have trouble concentrating or making decisions. Stress can also cause aggressive behaviors, mood swings, impatience and frustration.
It might not be feasible – or even necessary – to change jobs for the sake of your health, so what else can you do? Here are a few ways to reduce workplace stress.
It may seem simple, but identifying the sources of your stress can begin the healing process. Self-awareness helps you identify the things that trigger stressful states of mind so you can find better, healthier ways of coping.
Since there are many possible causes of stress, it is important to take an inventory of your personal and professional lives to determine which factors are causing you the most stress. Once you create a list of major stressors, you will be able to start planning a clear path to eliminate or reduce them.
It is important to identify these stressors before they get out of hand, because unmanaged stress can have negative – and potentially dangerous – effects. According to a study by the American Institute of Stress, 65% of workers say that workplace stress has caused difficulties. Some 10% say that they work in an atmosphere where physical violence has happened as a result of job stress, and 42% say that yelling and other verbal abuse is common in the workplace. And 14% said that they work where machinery or equipment has been damaged because of workplace rage.
Once you’ve identified that work-related stress is weighing on you, assess how you’re working and interacting with your colleagues. Slight changes to your communication and work styles could establish a better connection with those around you and remove some anxiety.
Do you have friendly relationships with your peers, or do you duck behind your computer screen and avoid contact? You don’t have to be a social butterfly and hit up happy hour every week, but making small talk with your colleagues might help you relax. Bring up light, interesting subjects and get a conversation going. This can be beneficial for productivity and stress release, said Austin Paley, an MBA candidate at Columbia Business School.
“You will begin to understand one another on a more individual level and work in a more collaborative environment as a result,” Paley told Business News Daily.
Even just getting to know the people on your immediate team can improve your mood and help you work together better.
Projects “can be very stressful if you’re working with people you don’t know well,” Paley said. “Lead the team you’re working with through team-building exercises when you have downtime – whether it’s playing a cooperative game, going out for food or just doing something you all love – together in your free time.”
Being connected via your mobile device 24/7 comes with its own set of stressors. Constant phone calls, texts and email updates have become overwhelming, especially when you’re answering messages after clocking out for the evening. Although there may be some instances where you must stay connected with your team after hours, it is in your best interest to take advantage of your well-deserved downtime to relax and recharge. This can help to not only reduce stress, but also avoid employee burnout.
Another way to unplug is to say yes more often when co-workers offer help on a big project or are willing to collaborate. This alleviates some workload and serves as a stress reducer, and staying organized and on task allows for a more productive workflow.
Staying on task with a to-do list is essential for success and general wellness. In the digital age, the notion of writing out your tasks for the day might seem tedious, wasteful and unnecessary. But Paley said that a prioritized, handwritten list of your most important to-dos helps you gain a clearer outline of what your day should look like.
“By having a handwritten to-do list, my tasks for the day never get lost amongst all the other things happening on my computer over the course of a day, and I don’t stress out over whether or not I’m forgetting any important tasks,” he said. “[Writing] the list in the morning helps to outline what the day will look like and make it clearer at the beginning of the day what needs to get done. Additionally, crossing off items of your list physically can be incredibly gratifying and instill a feeling of relief and accomplishment.”
Your day-to-day practices and routines often play a huge role in your stress levels. Breaking bad habits and forging good ones can help you feel more at ease during the workday.
If you focus only on work all day and never give yourself time away from work-related tasks, you’re much more likely to be stressed out. Paley advised building designated breaks into your daily schedule – and really sticking to them.
“Go for a walk, grab coffee, or take the time to sit down and have lunch,” he said. “All of these things give you the time to clear your mind, give your brain a break from whatever you’re working on, and reduce stress. Breaks lasting no more than an hour won’t cut into your productivity and are especially beneficial if you work in a position where creativity is important.”
Paley noted that scheduling these breaks at similar times every day helps you train yourself to be prepared for a “brain reset,” making you far more productive over the course of a day.
John Koeberer, author of Green-Lighting Your Future: How to Manifest the Perfect Life, said a healthy diet and regular exercise, along with a good self-image and spiritual practices, can prepare you to deal with stress successfully.
“Just the knowledge that your mind, body and soul are in sturdy shape is a huge deterrent to stress getting a foothold,” he said.
When you’re bogged down with stress-inducing projects and deadlines, it can be difficult to see beyond them. Even long-term assignments end eventually, so you just need to keep going and remember that the challenges you’re facing now will seem small and insignificant when you’ve finally overcome them.
“We can all recollect instances that we thought at the time were real deal-killers, only to have them turn out to be a small anthill,” Koeberer said. “Adopt the thought that this too shall pass.”
It may be impossible to eradicate every stressor from the workplace. You may not even want to do that, as some stress can be healthy and encourage you to meet deadlines and stay motivated. But working to eliminate bad stress and making your workplace healthier will change the way you view your job.
Excessive workplace stress is bad not only for employees’ health, but also for employers. Job stress carries an estimated $300 billion price tag as a result of accidents, absenteeism, employee turnover, diminished productivity, workers’ compensation cases, and medical, legal and insurance costs. Employers can reduce excessive workplace stress with these actions:
Skye Schooley contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.