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Manage Workplace Stress

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The impact of the recession is still taking its toll on employees in many UK companies with stress levels rising in light of increased job insecurity, higher living costs, declining incomes and few signs of economic recovery. Marielena Sabatier, CEO, Inspiring Potential, advises businesses on how to keep stress levels under control in these testing times

The financial impact of stress in the workplace

Stress is a serious problem. It not only damages the physical and mental wellbeing of individuals, but research has shown clearly that it can also have a detrimental impact on the economy. In April, statistics from the Health and Safety Executive revealed that stress was responsible for almost 40% of the working days lost to ill health in the UK since the credit crisis began. Between 2007 and 2008, a staggering 13,547,000 days were taken off due to work-related stress, depression and anxiety, with these levels of absenteeism costing the UK economy an estimated £3.7 billion a year.

In addition, research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (2008 Absence Management survey report) found that stress is the number one cause of long-term absence for non-manual employees and the fourth biggest cause for manual workers. What's more these stress-related absences are frequently long, averaging 21 days per spell of absence (Spurgeon et al 2007).

Workplace stress has also been shown to decrease employee motivation and commitment, lead to a greater number of resignations and increase conflict at work. In these difficult times, executives should be looking for signs of stress in their colleagues or managers and also make sure they are keeping their own stress levels under control. While it is widely recognised that some levels of stress in the workplace can be positive and lead to increased employee motivation and productivity, the downsides of stress are too important to ignore.

How to spot workplace stress

'Negative' stress comes from feeling of being overwhelmed and unable to cope with the responsibility or emotion faced at the time. It doesn't mean a person can't, it just means they feel they can't. It is a feeling of being stuck, depressed, anxious and panicked.
Tell tale signs of workplace stress might include a sudden increase in absenteeism or frequent lateness, increased conflict and tension between colleagues or individuals working long hours, but producing very little. People who are stressed also do not sleep well, they may be drinking more, be indecisive and prone to mood swings and confrontations.   
Stress cannot be handled effectively until the root causes have been identified. As stress is complex and can be caused by a variety of different factors, people tend to need help to pinpoint what is making them feel stressed. Rather than bottle it up they should talk to someone trustworthy at work or enlist the support and help of a business coach who is experienced in helping people work through their problems and putting in place action plans which will eliminate stress.

Coping with stress

1. Accept stress

Denial of stress will only worsen the symptoms. People need to be honest with themselves that they are in a situation that needs to change.

2. Find the root cause of stress

This is not necessarily as easy as it sounds but good coaching can usually get to the heart of the matter fairly quickly. People need to spend time contemplating their feelings understand the sources of stress and talking to a friend or business coach can help provide clarity and focus.

3. Identify what needs to happen to change the cause of the stress

It is important not to place too much emphasis on reducing the symptoms without acknowledging the underlying causes. Changing the cause might include looking for a more suitable job. Other examples of changing the cause might include arranging for some work to be delegated to others. It could also include improving organisational skills so that things don't get so out of control in the future.

4. Focus on the solution not the problem

Instead of dwelling on the problem, people need to ask themselves how they would ideally be feeling or what their ideal desired outcome is. Too often people get stuck thinking about a problem without considering an alternative or focusing on the end result they want to achieve.

5. Set an action plan in place

Without actions people are placing their destinies in the hands of others. Blaming others for the situation is also futile. To reduce stress, people need to take responsibility to make the situation different. They will be surprised at how much better they feel by simply knowing they are taking steps to alleviate the problem, however small they might seem. Moving forward will make them feel empowered and in control.

6. Don't take on too much

If people are feeling stressed, they shouldn't overwhelm themselves by taking on extra duties that aren't necessary or important.

7. Delegate and say no

Sometimes saying no is essential to reduce stress and people need to do this without feeling guilty. They also need to ask others for help if they need it.

8. Prioritise

Even if they feel stressed, people can't avoid all the responsibilities and obligations they have, but by prioritising carefully they can tackle each obligation in their own time and way, which will help them feel more in control.

9. Socalise

When stressed, people tend to overlook their hobbies, friends and interests but spending time with family and friends can be the best tonic. Exercise also helps combat stress by releasing endorphins that create a natural high and it can help replace feelings of tension with optimism and calm.

10. Think positively

People should count their blessings daily. At the end of every working day people should reflect on the good things that happened and write them down. At the end of the month when they read the list they will realise that life far better than they thought.

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