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Stressed Out! Unrealistic Expectations Put the Pressure on Workers

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Mirtmirt/Shutterstock
  • More than half of the U.S. workforce feels stressed while at work.
  • Unrealistic expectations and a lack of work-life balance are the leading causes of stress.
  • Managers should take an active role in helping their employees manage stress at work.

Stressed about work? You're in the majority: New research finds that more than half of employees are stressed at work on a day-to-day basis.

The 2017 study produced numbers that still apply today, from the staffing firm Accountemps, revealed that 60% of U.S. workers said their work-related stress levels increased. Younger workers are feeling the most pressure. The research found that 64% of employees between the ages of 18 and 34 said they feel job-related stress, compared to just 59% of workers 35 to 54 years old and only 35% of professionals over the age of 55.

Large workloads, pressure-filled deadlines, unrealistic expectations from bosses and the pressure of trying to attain a healthy work-life balance are the main causes of stress for employees, the study found. [See Related Story: 3 Steps to Eliminate Workplace Stress] 

Unrealistic expectations at work arise when there is a challenging organizational culture. When there is poor leadership, that can lead to a lack of or poor communication. There also is a tendency to have no clarity about objectives and strategies. When deadlines are impossible to reach because there is not enough time to complete the task or there are not enough workers to handle the workload, the pressure is on and expectations become unrealistic.

The most common ways employees try to reduce their daily stress is by exercising, enjoying time with friends or significant others after work, engaging in a hobby, listening to music and taking vacations.

Bill Driscoll, a district president for Accountemps, said business is moving faster than ever, and employees feel the crunch when it comes to imminent deadlines.

"Workers shouldn't suffer in silence," Driscoll said in a statement. "They can tap internal resources for help or seek advice from their managers to ensure they meet work expectations while maintaining a healthy work-life balance."

The study found that most managers recognize the tremendous amount of pressure their employees are under. Specifically, 54% of the executives surveyed acknowledged that their staff is stressed, and 55 % have noticed that employee anxiety has risen.

"A stressed employee can have detrimental effects on the department or company, including decreased morale and productivity, and increased burnout and turnover," Driscoll said. "Managers should look for signs their staff is overworked — like missed deadlines or excessive overtime — and talk to employees to pinpoint triggers and implement stress-relieving solutions."

To help both employees and managers, here are several tips to combat work-related stress:

  1. Use your time wisely. There is only so much time during the workday to get things done. Be sure to stay organized so you can keep on task and finish assignments on time. Also, instead of juggling multiple tasks at once, try dividing up time throughout the day to focus on each of your key projects.

  2. Ask for help. If you feel like your to-do list is too overwhelming, don't be afraid to talk to your manager about your workload. If you think you need help with an assignment, ask for it.

  3. Give yourself a break. It is important to take some time during the day to refresh. Step away from your desk and go for a walk or grab a snack. Even if you can't get away from your office, take a few minutes to look away from your computer and think about something non-work-related.

  4. Avoid conflict. Avoid gossip at work and try to keep your personal opinions about politics and religion to yourself. If you can, avoid those who do not work well with other people. Learn how to deal with conflict properly when it does arise.

  5. Improve your health with exercise. Thirty minutes of any exercise that makes you sweat and raises your heart level each day helps you relax and lifts your mood. It can also increase focus and give you energy. Running, walking or dancing is great for your nervous system when you are stressed.

  6. Get proper sleep. Try to get 8 hours of sleep each night. Put away all screens one hour before bed. Try to read or listen to music with the lights turned down low to help focus on a quiet activity. Getting enough sleep helps you to be more productive and creative, improves focus, and helps your problem-solving skills.

  7. Keep a journal. This may seem odd, but writing down or typing your emotions is a great way to relieve stress. You can take everything that is in your head and put it down on paper. Sometimes this allows you to work through a problem. Just getting the thoughts out of your head can make it easier for you to handle the situation. 
  1. Assist in prioritizing. Offer your employees help by prioritizing what assignments need to be done first. Knowing which assignment you are expecting first, and when, helps employees better schedule their time. This is also an opportunity for managers to determine if there is too much work on employees' plates.

  2. Offer stress-help resources. Make sure all of your employees know about the stress-related programs your organization offers. Encourage them to take advantage of these offerings, which may include stress-help webinars, wellness programs, and yoga or meditation classes. Also, set a good example by taking part in these types of classes.

  3. Have fun. Even though jobs are serious, that doesn't mean you shouldn't try to have a little fun around the office. Find ways to lighten the mood by planning social activities or staff celebrations.

The study was based on surveys of 2,200 chief financial officers from companies in more than 20 of the largest U.S. metropolitan areas and more than 1,000 U.S. office workers.

Business News Daily Editor

Business News Daily was founded in 2010 as a resource for small business owners at all stages of their entrepreneurial journey. Our site is focused exclusively on giving small business advice, tutorials and insider insights. Business News Daily is owned by Business.com.