Having to go to work is one of the few things that just about everyone in the world has to deal with throughout their adult lives.
Whether it’s an office, a shop, or even a trailer, we all know the feeling of showing up to work on a bad day. Whilst good days at work can be fantastic and productive, bad days can dampen our moods and prevent meaningful work from being accomplished. A driving cause of these bad days can be stress, a feeling that everyone knows well. Stress in the workplace is no good for anyone or anything; it often means that completing work is a struggle, and can make coworkers feel stressed out as well. Recognising what causes work stress is the first step to combat it and to learn how to deal with stress at work.
What is stress?
We all know what stress feels like, but many of us don’t really know what stress actually is. This is because stress is a general term that describes the body’s reaction to any change that requires an adjustment or response; physical, mental, and emotional changes characterize these responses, and these changes often manifest themselves as stress. Any environment can induce stress, but one of the most common is an environment that we are all familiar with- the workplace. Stress can cause the body to become overworked, leading to distress and an inability to get much of anything done.
Top 7 causes of stress in the workplace
1. Overtime Work
Overtime work is perhaps the biggest cause of stress in the workplace. Whilst a little overtime every now and again can lead to projects being finished earlier and positive outcomes for your team (and paycheck!), continually working overtime is likely to lead to overwhelming feelings of tiredness and fatigue, which then causes stress.
One way to ensure that you or your team members aren’t working too much overtime is to introduce time tracking software to your team, so that the amount of overtime worked can be monitored. The best time tracking software will make sure that overtime is well monitored and that no one begins to suffer from stress as a result of trying to get projects finished quickly. Avoiding excessive overtime doesn’t just reduce stress however; it also leads to happier, healthier teams that often will finish a project faster and to a much higher standard than overworked and stressed out teams.
2. Unrealistic Deadlines
A major cause of overtime work and thus of work related stress are unrealistic deadlines for projects or tasks being delegated to individuals who simply cannot complete them on time. Unrealistic deadlines cause team members to worry about reprisals from management if they do not complete the tasks on time and often leads to overtime work and huge amounts of stress. This then has the effect that the task, even if completed by the unrealistic deadline, may not be finished to a high standard and almost certainly will not have been reviewed.
One way to make sure that the deadlines you are setting are not unrealistic is to utilize time management software to see how long, on average, it takes to complete a task. The deadlines that you set can then be built around this average, so team-members aren’t scrambling to finish an important task that needs a little extra time to be polished off.
3. Pressure to work at an optimal level- all the time!
Everyone needs a break sometimes: even if that means pausing work for a little while. Whilst most people have a genuine desire to work to their best abilities most of the time, pressure to work at this optimal level all the time causes people to doubt themselves when they don’t reach that level, and to worry about the standard of their work, both of which leads to stress.
There are a few ways to mitigate this, the easiest being to let your employees know that it’s alright to take a break sometimes, and to work on some easier or less mentally consuming projects whilst your brain recharges. Another great way is through utilization of client management software; this helps employees manage clients (which often can be very emotionally and mentally draining), and allows them to take a bit of that workload off their hands, thus reducing the likelihood of stress occurring.
4. Stressful Environment
Your work environment has a massive effect on how you personally work! You may be surrounded by lazy workers who do nothing all day and continually distract you (and before you know it, you may well become one of them), or you may be surrounded by dull disciples who slave away to the bosses instruction all day, sapping your own motivation and willpower.
An environment worse than both of these extremes however is a stressful one, where specific deadlines have to be met seemingly every day and where there can be no escape; even when you are ‘relaxing’ at home, a request to finish an important task by midnight is only one email or call away.
Even if the environment you work in is a naturally stressful one, there are ways to mitigate this; try adding some greenery to your office space (even a little helps you connect with nature), or take a short walk outside the office during your break times. You could even separate the stages of your day into timeblocks, which can make the day (and project) seem far more manageable. Above all else, remember to have some downtime every day.
5. Poor communication
Communicating with others is something that is very important to the vast majority of workers and professionals. Unfortunately, just about every workplace will have some team-members who are naturally poor communicators. This can become especially frustrating when these people are managers or working directly with you. Poor communication can blur the goals and stages of projects and lead to them going astray- to get back on track will require more work, and more work causes - you guessed it - more stress.
It is best to communicate directly with anyone you are working with, and make sure that you are all on the same page regarding daily, weekly and monthly goals and tasks. Constant communication and checking up on each other can also help team-members feel that help is there for when they need it, and ensures that no one is left behind.
Finally, if one member of the team seems to be an exceptionally bad communicator, it can pay to delegate them tasks that won’t impact on other tasks or people- that way, the job can still get done with minimal confusion and stress.
6. Fear of being laid off
This can be a tricky issue to navigate, however it is important to address; fear of being laid off can often lead to a vicious negative feedback loop where workers get more and more stressed and so complete less and less work- thus leading to more and more stress. There are several ways to deal with the issue of being fearful of being laid off; the easiest is to ensure your employee’s that this is not going to happen and to stick by them even in their low points. Time tracking apps can additionally help monitor the amount of time spent on projects; this allows employees to see their improvements and you can hold them up to a benchmark so that they can be proud of their work. For those employees that seem to chronically miss the benchmark, fear of being laid off can be mitigated by having one on one conversations with them, finding out their unique situation, and then deciding on an action plan to improve their work.
A personal issue that can, indeed, be more difficult to manage than the fear of being laid off is conflict between coworkers or managers. Conflict can range from simple issues over who sits where during a meeting to major issues that can be exacerbated through poor communication, such as arguments over who was responsible for the “stuffing up” of your last project. The best way to manage conflict, therefore, is to fix any communication problems. One on one time between team leaders and team members, keeping the bigger picture in mind, and taking regular breaks can all help to reduce conflict and thus the stress that arises from it. Remember: all conflict is temporary! When things are bogged down, it is all too easy to blame a specific person. However, it is much more conducive to your work and your relationships to work through the problem together and finish the job.
How can you overcome workplace stress?
Communicate with your co-workers and employer about your stress
Hopefully, some of the tips provided above will have helped you avoid the onset of stress. However, it is only natural that you will still get stressed sometimes, and when this happens it is best to let your co-workers and employer know as soon as possible. This allows you all to work out an action plan before your stress impacts your work significantly and means that other problems, such as conflict that may arise as an offset of your stress can be avoided. Effective communication with your co-workers about your stress and what you believe that causation of it can lead to stress eventually being removed from your work life.
Have good sleep and exercise habits
Sleep and exercise are integral components to a healthy human life, however they are often ignored by many in favour of watching that TV show, or finishing that last project, or saving some time by catching a bus. Although most people need at least seven to eight hours of sleep a night, some people need up to ten, and that’s ok! You can work out how much sleep your body needs by downloading sleep apps, noting whether you feel tired and fatigued throughout the morning, and trying out varying lengths of sleep. Healthy sleeping habits can be formed by maintaining a regular bedtime, a regular waking time, and a regular screen-free schedule before going to bed. Exercise is nearly as important; it makes you feel good about you and your body, and means you have something to focus on other than work. Regular exercise after work can help you sweat the stress of the work-day away and arrive home prepared for your downtime.
Have a good work-life balance
Spending sixty hours at work a week is never fun, and has the added downside that going to work is nearly always on your waking mind. Giving yourself time to spend with loved ones, time to exercise, and complete days off where you can relax, read a book and spend some time in the garden gives you time to recharge your brain and body and allows you to return to work feeling rejuvenated. When you are feeling exceptionally stressed at work, try taking a bit of time off and see how you feel when you return. Often, this can reduce any stress you have been suffering from and leaves you feeling ready to tackle the next stage of your project.
When everything else fails, when regular exercise, sleep and time-off still leaves you feeling stressed, when showing up to work is a mental hurdle in itself, and when your Fridays don’t even really feel like Friday’s, it may be worth recognising that the work is not right for you and that it’s best to simply leave- and this is alright! Toxic working cultures exist everywhere, and one person often is not enough to fix them; in these situations, leaving the job and finding another can often serve as the only effective solution to reducing stress and restoring your life to what it usually is. Stress can attack at any time; but if it’s attacking all the time, then it’s worth taking a step back and asking yourself- is it all really worth it?