Sat, 05 Jul 2003

Tips: How to manage stress at work

Anna Margaretha, Consultant, INSpira Consulting

Stress is a phenomenon that is part of life. We experience stress at different levels according to our daily roles.

A common source of stress is work. This is particularly true for those who leave home to go to work. But few realize that they are living stressful lives since the symptoms of stress are not always clear.

Fatigue, forgetting important things, difficulty concentrating and emotional instability are symptoms of stress. These symptoms usually become apparent if stress is experienced over a prolonged period.

If stress continues the symptoms may become more physical as the body struggles to cope with the pressure that the mind is under: headache, diarrhea, gastritis or more seriously heart disease, high blood pressure, depression.

In the workplace symptoms appears in a different form: increased absenteeism, poor performance or work-related accidents.

Since stress can cause a significant decrease in workplace productivity concrete action against workplace stress by managers may have immediate results in company efficiency.

Managers must work with staff to discover the sources of stress. Stress at work could be caused by a tight schedule, complex assignment or a daunting new task.

Often a stressed person is unable to fill the expectations of the role he or she has assumed. Unclear expectations, an overload of work or conflicting ideas of status are fast routes to stress. This can escalate into job dissatisfaction or ill health.

Behavior and the attitude that colleagues have toward one another is also a major cause of stress. For the people you see every day: low trust, lack of support; jealousy of power or position ... or feelings of superiority? It's a stressful way to coexist.

Waiting for promotion, deciding if you're on the "right track," feeling satisfied with the profession that you've chosen, corporate culture; other elements of the job that a worker might grapple with and stress over. And then there's the environment uninhabited: noise, temperature, monotonous color, spatial design, pollution (depending on where your workplace is).

Problems with friends, family problems, daily chores, can add up and hinder optimal performance at work.

Once a manager realizes where the stress is coming from he or she can take action to help the employee relieve the situation. He or she may use an individual approach or look at restructuring the workplace.

Individually an employee may be counseled by a manager. The manager may suggest ways to overcome the problem or propose relaxation training for staff.

To compliment this approach management might take further steps: decentralization of the decision-making process, the introduction of open policies for performance evaluation or promotion and improvement of communication systems.

Role ambiguity may be clarified through group meetings to specify roles and goals clearly.

Training programs and conflict management training can help overcome interpersonal conflict. And once a change is instigated frank discussion beforehand can encourage understanding and acceptance of new conditions.

More general strategies such as the availability of a health care program or employee assistance program for companies involved with high risk operations, such as off shore drilling, mining or flying planes can help employees cope. These programs can provide professional help for employees with acute and chronic stress.

Although such programs may be considered costly and time consuming, the return of employees' well being and productivity will far exceed the outlay and ensure the company a prolonged existence.