Eleven Ways to Control Stress on the Job

By Dale Collie

Jobs are heating up. We’re all feeling the pinch of hiring freezes and information overload. Workplace stress is increasing right along with the workload. Headaches are turning into migraines, back pains are driving us to the chiropractor, and minor irritations are causing tempers to flair.

Stress is even taking its toll on the bottom line. Stress is driving up the cost of health care and we can see a huge impact in things like tardiness, absenteeism, personnel turnover, and accidents. The annual price tag of stress in corporate America is more than $150 billion.

While forecasters tell us we can expect more of the same, we all need our jobs, so we need to find ways to control the stressors that are affecting our health and productivity. Here are 11 ways you can keep your cool and minimize the impact of stress on your life.

1) Do your own job

When poor the work habits of others create stress, remember why you’re there. Pay attention to your own job. You will not be rated on the performance of others, but the boss will note the quality of your work. Stay focused on the job you were hired for and let management deal with improving the department or the company. Don’t get stressed about things that are not your responsibility.

2) Organization

Regardless of company expectations, you can alleviate a lot of your stress by organizing your workspace and getting a firm grasp on the work that must be done. Even if you have to pay for it yourself, get the tools needed to organize your effort, such as files, furniture, PDAs, software, and training. Work with your boss to prioritize projects and routine tasks. Only get concerned about unfinished work if the boss gives it a priority. You’ll never get everything done, so pick the most important and file everything else in an easy to reach file drawer.

3) Communication

It’s important to maintain your supervisor’s comfort level, so meet with them as often as necessary to keep them informed of projects and progress. Give them updates the way they want them (email, memos, briefings, etc.), and persist in getting the feedback that is so important in reducing stress. Use this same strategy with those who give you information or products to do your job and those who depend on what you give them. Good communication is essential for good stress control.

4) Interruptions

Avoid stressful interruptions by controlling your schedule and your communications. Establish times for meeting with those who want information from you and hold them to it. The more persistent you are, the more organized they will be. Handle phone calls and respond to email during specific times. Develop a list of people and events that disrupt your job and work with each until it is under control.

5) Family Time

Family situations are among the greatest stressors at work. There’s an old axiom that says, “If momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” It’s true. Avoid future problems by prioritizing family time on your schedule and stick to it. Get professional help if you’re unable to resolve sticky situations.

6) Exercise

More than 80% of all doctor’s visits are stress-related. Those who find time to exercise, reduce stress, strengthen their immune system, and improve their well-being are much more effective than those who do not. Do a little research and talk with the experts to find out what fits your needs. Make exercise part of your work schedule if possible; don’t let it cut into family time. Regular exercise can add years to your own life and make you more productive for your employer.

7) Nutrition

Proper nutrition is a key to stress control. The US Army recognizes proper nutrition as a critical element in controlling stress among combat soldiers and you must admit, your job is sometimes as stressful as combat. Get information to improve nutrition. You’ll have to make some deliberate changes because our eating habits are affected by our culture, the expectations of others, and inadequate knowledge about what makes a proper diet. Learn what is needed and make a plan.

8) Rest

Take charge of your sleep habits in the same way you work on your eating habits. Sleep deprivation is a major stressor by itself and it adds to the problem with other stressful events. Cut out the late night television. Quit taking work home from the office. Change the pattern of your weekend parties. Get some new friends. Do whatever is necessary to get back on track with seven or eight hours sleep every night. Studies show that twenty-minute power naps make us more productive, so use part of your lunch break for nutrition and part for a short nap to control stress. You’ll get more done.

9) Discussion

Tell people what’s on your mind. If you can’t ignore someone’s special talent for bugging you, talk it over with him or her. There’s a good chance they are unaware of the offense, so you don’t need to get up tight about it. In a friendly tone of voice, let them know what gets under your skin and be ready to make some concessions yourself. As you now know, their irritating habit is probably magnified by other stressors, so make sure you’ve done what you can to control stress before challenging anyone.

10) Education

The more educated you are about your job, the less stressful it becomes. Even if you’ve been on the job for years, there’s always more to learn about the upstream and downstream impact of what you do. Stay up to date with trade journals, books, and other research. Become the expert at what you do and coach others. While some companies do not pay for this type education, your own investment will make you more valuable to your company. What you know is portable – and it looks good on a resume.

11) Volunteer

Helping others has an immediate impact on stress levels. Build in some family time by volunteering as a family once a month. Build rapport with supervisors and co-workers by organizing a once-a-week lunchtime volunteer program. Lead a food or clothing collection for needy employees or families outside your company.

Each of these stress relievers works independently of the others. Find one that’s practical for you and put it to work. Friends, family, and co-workers will all notice the changes in you and thank you for making the effort.

Dale Collie is an author, speaker, former US Army Ranger, CEO, and professor at West Point. His McGraw-Hill book, Winning Under Fire: Turn Stress into Success the US Army Way, takes strategies from the battlefield into the boardroom and beyond. A Purple Heart recipient, Dale has succeeded in both the Army and the corporate world through his management and leadership strategies.

[From the April/May 2005 issue of AnswerStat magazine]