The workplace environment is rapidly and constantly changing. With online platforms, digital tools and smart devices make work more portable and professional lives more accessible than ever. Whilst these devices are intended to simplify things, they also make professional and personal lives more stressful. It has become all too easy for work to be a 24/7 pursuit. The number of Australian workers stressed because of technology has increased by 27 per cent since 2016, according to the latest workplace survey from Reventure, 2017.
With organisations increasingly putting a strong emphasis on employee productivity, many workers are faced with long hours, unrealistic workloads and looming deadlines. The pressure to be ever-available and ultra-responsive could be having an adverse effect on the health and productivity of employees.
According to statistics provided by health insurance provider Medibank, 3.2 days are lost every year per worker due to stress-related absenteeism. The total cost on the economy weighs in at a staggering $14.81 billion per year, with more than $10 billion being a direct cost to employers. These statistics highlight the importance of maintaining mental wellbeing in the workplace.
Stress affects everyone differently, but there are common symptoms:
- Firstly, there are the immediate physical symptoms, like sweaty palms, racing heart, tense muscles, clenched teeth, high blood pressure, and low energy.
- Then there are the mental symptoms like constant worrying, racing thoughts, forgetfulness, an inability to focus, and being overly pessimistic.
- Lastly, and probably most disruptive to the ability to work, is the emotional impact of workplace stress. Stress causes people to feel overwhelmed and out of control. It is easier to become agitated and frustrated, thus making workplace relationships more difficult. Decision making, focussing and quieting down racing thoughts, becoming a struggle. All of these can lead to a loss of self-esteem and confidence, which in turn leads to procrastination and a loss of motivation.
So here are some tips that can assist in the reduction of work stress:
- Getting enough sleep- A healthy mind requires enough sleep. Most would agree that adequate sleep is the most important element in reducing stress and living a balanced lifestyle.
Keeping to a healthy sleep routine, reducing use of electronics before bed and simply an earlier bedtime are all recommended as a means of ensuring adequate sleep.
- Reduce the number of interruptions at work- Emails, phone calls, co-workers and clients, many of us can relate to being bombarded from a multitude of sources vying for our attention throughout the day. The high number of distractions encountered in the modern workplace, is a factor in workplace stress.
Allocating structured time periods to deal with tasks requiring communication and collaboration, would enable one to better manage and control interruptions, while setting aside the rest of the day to concentrate on the task at hand.
- Setting boundaries on a workday- Continually increasing workload, changes to work environment and unrealistic work expectations increase the chances of burnout, which is characterised by constant fatigue, cynicism, feelings of disenchantment and loss of motivation.
Without clear boundaries, the temptation to continue working is more difficult to contain. Reducing the temptation to overwork requires the identification of factors contributing to the need to put in long hours. These can include:
- Unrealistic deadlines;
- Scheduling interruptions and work across timelines;
- Readily available access to communication (email, phone, chat).
Once identified, these factors can be changed. This may include scheduling work and rest times, having a discussion with management about reasonable workloads and expectations and controlling technology access.
- Ensuring that regular breaks are taken- Research shows workplace performance improves after a period of rest and recovery, even among people who enjoy their work.
Whilst taking breaks is important, taking the right types of breaks is also significant. Some suggestion include: Going outside where practical since fresh air has been found to increase energy levels; Resting eyes from all of the screens; Doing some brief stretching exercises; Eating the right food and drinking plenty of water.
There’s no escaping the fact that work is a stressful place. Yet it’s when that stress becomes a constant presence in our lives that we need to start worrying about it. Too much exposure to stress makes us worse at our jobs. It puts us at risk and can have serious consequences to our physical health.
If you would like some support with better managing work stresses, why not give us a call today? Our team of highly skilled and well-experienced psychologists are here to help.
Author Unknown (2019). Burnout: A Growing Mental Health Crisis Employers Are Regrettably Dismissing. Corporate Wellness Magazine. July 17, 2019
McMillen, Lindsay (2017). Industry Insights. Reventure. https://www.convergeinternational.com.au/docs/default-source/research/a-future-that-works—industry-insights.pdf?sfvrsn=fc34b56e_2
Medibank (2019). Are our jobs making us more stressed than ever? 21/1/2019
Smallwood, J. and Schooler, J (2015). The Science of Mind Wandering: Empirically Navigating the Stream of Consciousness. Annual Review of Psychology, Vol. 66:487-518.