As humans, we spend almost 30% of our lives working, equivalent to about 25-30 years. Add the additional 36 years we spend sleeping, and you’ve got little time for much else. It’s no wonder why work-related stress is prevalent in so many of us. Work and stress correlate. They have no chance not to. Today we want to talk about that correlation as it relates to an individual (“I”), a team (“We”), and work systems (“It”) to give you a better understanding of work-related stress.
What Is Stress?
You may be thinking, “I don’t need to read about what stress is—I live with it!” but it is essential to dive into the science behind stress because stress isn’t all bad. Stress is an integral part of being alive. It is what tells us, “This situation doesn’t feel right, and I need to leave.” or, “The deadline is tomorrow!? Time to pull a few extra hours.” This fight or flight feeling dates all of the way back to our ancestors when they needed to decide if they should fight an animal or dangerous situation or flee from it.
The problem exists when we can’t get rid of this feeling—when we feel stress in day-to-day situations. Chronic stress can create many issues, from low energy, insomnia, jaw-clenching, aches and pains, difficulty paying attention, poor judgment, forgetfulness, and more. When this stress is being caused by work, it is time to look at the sources and see how we can combat them.
Causes of Stress At Work
According to The American Institute of Stress, the leading causes of work stress are workload (at a whopping 46%), personnel issues (28%), juggling work and personal lives (20%), and the lack of job security (6%).
Some unnecessary stress at work can be thwarted by simply thinking ahead. We outlined how to navigate through a political season on our blog. Thinking through situations like these can help employees feel included and help keep some personnel issues at bay. Helping us thwart stress within the system of the workplace (“It”), which can trickle down.
With that in mind, knowing the workplace stressors that most employees feel on an individual level (“I”) can help you in working with your team to think ahead. Stress about job security sometimes comes down to your employees simply not receiving any feedback on their work. They may be working day-in and day-out to meet goals and deadlines and doing a wonderful job at it. However, if you do not have a feedback protocol in place, you could be missing an easy way to make sure that your team feels heard. A solution for this is to have an open dialogue with your team. Give them clear benchmarks and award good behavior. A simple “Great job.” could be the difference between your team feeling secure at their job—and thus, keeping stress within your “We” (team) at a healthier level.
Your employees also want to feel a level of control over their work outcomes. As leaders, we can sometimes want to see something done our way and only our way. But, an employee is hired to help solve a problem within the workplace. Allow them a level of freedom to get the job done and even provide new solutions to problems that could make your workflow stronger than before (“It”). Allow your employees to make suggestions and be open with you about how their job could be enhanced, and then take the suggestions seriously. You might not always want to take on an employee’s recommendation, but seriously considering what they say will make them feel heard and could save you money in the long run.
The Cost Of Work-Related Stress
For those who think in numbers or wonder how stress impacts our businesses’ bottom line, we wanted to lay out some numbers for you. According to the same article by The American Institute of Stress, job stress is expensive. In the U.S. alone, it is estimated to cost 300 billion dollars annually. Not just from workers’ compensation and less productivity either. Accidents, absentees, employee turnover, less productivity, and medical, legal, and insurance costs are outlined. So, it makes sense not only for our teams that we care so deeply about but also from a business perspective to be proactive about stress reduction and the overall positive work culture.
How To Recover From Work-Related Stress
The good news in all of this is that stress doesn’t have to lead to that 300 billion dollar price tag or for your whole team to feel a level of burnout. You can work proactively to encourage self-care and build a happy and resilient team.
We all can see burnout creeping in. Whether you feel it as a leader (“I”), you start to see your team showing some symptoms (“We”), or you start to see stress cracks in your systems (“It”). This is when it is time to take action. On an individual level, you can give your employees resources to work on their stress-levels. Fitness and mindfulness apps, time for reflection or rest, and healthy foods in the breakroom can help. For each of us, coping with stress may look a little different, but by providing the resources someone might need, you can help them get through the moments we all experience.
Another thing to help is to think proactively. If there is something big coming up like a deadline, annual sale, a shift in the marketplace, or a shift in your team, it is essential to sit down with your HR professional and think of proactive ways to maintain your healthy workplace. Though we can’t always be proactive, it is best to get ahead of any arising issues than fight them when they are already festering. This can help keep stress within your team (“We”), and within your systems (“It”) at bay.
Wholeness At Work
This all may sound a little daunting, so having a coach or consultant come in to give some outside perspective is one great way to help. Erin has almost 15 years of experience helping leaders and teams work through burnout. Through her passion for the scientific reasons burnout persists and how to combat it, she has also created a self-guided coaching program that you can do with your entire team called Wholeness At Work. This program is meant to help you get straight to the source of your burnout and find lasting ways to the feeling of wholeness.
As you move through your professional career as a leader or an integral team member, you will feel stress. By knowing what it is and its causes, you can equip yourself with the knowledge to make you a stronger and happier colleague for your entire career. So, let’s take a moment to imagine your lasting happiness and success and celebrate it. To your future!