Workplace Stress and Work-Life Balance

Let’s face it. Stress is a killer. And stress is everywhere. Almost everyone you talk to today will tell you how much stress they feel—at work, at home, and in their personal lives. It’s a social and cultural phenomenon. That is, stress is an ever-present reality, somehow part of our type of culture. Experts say that stress is simply a by-product of our hyper-industrialized Western societies, so everyone, or almost everyone, has it, or feels it, or is under it. Whatever you want to call it—it’s there; but hopefully after you read this article it is not there to stay. Our particular topic here is workplace stress. First, we will look at the facts and statistics about workplace stress. Then we will see why they are so alarming. Then we will talk about some of the best, easiest, and smartest ways to relieve workplace stress.

The Facts about Workplace Stress
A core of scientific studies and poles were recently canvassed by The American Institute of Stress (AIS) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, which are very revealing. The studies report that, out of all major causes of stress, workplace stress is in first place. A good 78% of the stress you feel on a daily basis is somehow related to your work or occupation—what you do for a living and spend 8-10+ hours a day doing! Those surveyed said that direct workplace stress accounts for a solid 46% of our total daily stress. Another 25% of our total stress comes from dealing and juggling with life-workplace balance, and 6% of our stress comes from fear of losing our jobs. All together that equals 78% of all of our stress coming from, or related to, work. Only 28% of our total stress comes from non-related, personal life issues.
Let’s look closer at some facts on workplace stress from the AIS list:
• 40% of workers reported that their job was very or extremely stressful.
• 29% of workers said that they felt quite a bit or a lot stressed out from their work.
• 25% view their jobs as the number one stressor in their lives.
• 1 out of every 4 employees believes that workers today have more on-the-job stress than a generation ago.
• 26% of employees, both in small businesses and in the corporate world, reported that they felt very, or often, that their stress level intensified so much that it lead them to burnout.

So, this is the psychological make-up of your average business – over 60% of the workers there—employees and managers alike—are stressed out. That is an alarming statistic in anybody’s book! One quarter of the employees feel that work is the number one cause of stress in their lives. In other words, that means 3 out every 12 workers see their jobs as the number one stressor in their lives. The stress is sometimes so overwhelming, that it spills out over into their personal lives. Finally, one in four workers feel that they way society is made up, our modern-day society and culture, is much more stressful than even just a generation ago. A quarter of the employees have experienced burnout. It seems like social, workplace and business, and personal stress, multiplies each generation.

Why These Facts Are Alarming
(Or Why They Should Be)

For one thing, the American Heart Association reports say that stress is one of the leading causes of all forms of cardiovascular disease—heart attacks, hypertension, etc. And, what is more, cardiovascular disease is one of the number one killers in the United States (and almost every other Western nation). What does that mean? It means that stress is one of the leading causes of death in our society. And guess what the biggest cause of stress in our lives is? It is our job, our workplace, our business! Could it really be that tens of thousands of people die (or are slowly killed) by their jobs?
The American Psychological Association sees stress as one of the leading causes of psychological disorders—like depression, for example. According to the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health (PWMH) (an arm of the American Psychiatric Society), workplace depression is a real problem, but there is a stigma attached to it so no one ever wants to talk about, especially business owners and managers. The PWMH began their Right Direction initiative to address this important problem.
In other words, stress is one of the leading causes of both physical as well as mental health depletion and damage. What else more do you have but your health and mental well-being? It is you! Now that is a heavy does to swallow. Everyone’s essence, our very make-up, is body, mind, and spirit—and (workplace) stress seriously affects them all; it is threatening to the proper equilibrium of your body-mind-spirit balance.
Burnout is a clinically-identified malady. According to the Mayo Clinic, the following are some of the important signs of workplace stress:

• Have you become cynical or critical at work?
• Do you drag yourself to work and have trouble getting started once you arrive?
• Have you become irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers or clients?
• Do you lack the energy to be consistently productive?
• Do you lack satisfaction from your achievements?
• Do you feel disillusioned about your job?
• Are you using food, drugs or alcohol to feel better or to simply not feel?
• Have your sleep habits or appetite changed?
• Are you troubled by unexplained headaches, backaches or other physical complaints?

The Mayo Clinic diagnoses burnout as a special type of job stress “a state of physical, emotional or mental exhaustion combined with doubts about your competence and the value of your work.”
Alleviating Workplace Stress and Avoiding Workplace Burnout
For all of its seriousness and harmfulness, everything I have to say about alleviating stress is expressed in simple, but very effective steps, you can take to create and maintain the proper life-work balance. Proper life-work balance is the key to a properly balanced body-mind-spirit equilibrium. The studies show that an overwhelming percent of employees and employers surveyed feel that work-life balance is the key. According to the surveys, some of the more important steps that employees would like their employer to take to help reduce their workplace stress, boost their happiness and decrease their feeling of being overworked include the following:

• Friendlier workplace environment. Nothing is more stressful than hating to come to work, not enjoying what you are doing, not feeling any sense of togetherness or personal accomplishment. Just being able to get along with everyone is a giant first step. You don’t have to go to happy-hour every week. Just establishing that everyone is courteous, civil and friendly to one another.

• A climate of collective teamwork. Everyone, from owners, to managers, to employees are all aware of the main goals and mission of the company, are focused on them, and everyone is striving for the same goals—everyone is on same page as they say. This is very important. The owners and managers want profits; the employees want a fair wage and a fair workplace atmosphere, surroundings that are not unpleasant.

• Managers that have great people skills—they are encouraging, uplifting, empowering and foster a sense of mentoring and educational guidance, as well as being critical and disciplined when need be. This is simply a matter of workplace psychology. Unless an employee feels supported, respected, cared for, and encouraged—in other words their psychological needs are not being met—they won’t and can’t give it their all. People are people. Yes, the goal is money for both parties. But, it is important to keep in mind that people come first. This is smart business sense. The better people feel, the more productive, useful, helpful, hard-working, conscientious, diligent, and creative they will be. Isn’t that what every business owner wants from their employees?

• Being a concerned company that cares for their employees, values them, and gives back to the community and is eco-friendly. In other words, a company with a heart and not just a brain and a bank account.

• A place to work that recognizes the importance of work-life balance. Almost everyone has a family—managers and employees alike of course. Some of the most successful business owners I have ever talked to says that one of the keys to their success is to take seriously the analogy—treat everyone like family; instill in your company culture a feeling of togetherness, oneness, caring, and understanding. Plus, a great de-stressor is to spend some quality time with family and friends. Employees must feel that they always set some time set aside per week—one night even—to decompress and give their brain and nerves a break and a good rest. When work starts to become so intense that employees feel they have no time for friends and family, they are surly on the road to too much workplace stress and possibly burnout.
Surveys report that it is the lack of all of these points that accounts for a substantial drop in productivity, low morale, lack of loyalty, employee absenteeism, bad attitude, and many other problems and headaches for business owners and managers.
The funny thing is, productivity, high moral, employee loyalty, and committed workers are all the things that business owners and managers want, really want. So, there is a deep connection between what employers most want, and what employees most want. It is simply a matter of realizing, again as I said above, about everyone being on the same page. This is the big picture, yes, but the most important picture. In other words, both sides, managers and workers, need to come to a mutual understanding about what each side wants, and how the other side can provide it. It is a given that once employees’ needs as presented in the bullet points above satisfied, they will naturally become more productive, hard-working, conscientious, and loyal.
Looking at it from these perspectives, the real onus of creating a work environment where stress is kept at a minimum falls on the shoulders of management. Why? It is management who has to set the pace, create the environment, and structure and organize things in the best way possible. Let’s look at it from a cost-benefit analysis. Neither side gets what they want until one side, management, takes the initiative. Yes, it may cost a business owner capital to encourage little employee breaks, employee get-togethers, provide benefits, and all (or at least most) of the other features mentioned in the bullet points above. But, if these expenses aren’t invested in the workforce guess what? The business owner actually could lose more money due to drops in productivity from their workers, absenteeism, uncaring customer service, and other negative results. So, by cost-benefit analysis alone a company functions best when its employees are well taken care of.
A piece of practical advice for alleviating stress or working in a stressful environment is, again, based on psychology. It is building resilience. The Business News Daily quotes Jan Bruce, CEO and co-founder of meQuilibrium, from an article she wrote. Bruce had some very interesting, revealing, and insightful things to say about resilience. “Resilience helps employees reframe a challenge, minimizing their stress-related effects and empowers them to ultimately improve performance and become more engaged in their work, creating the foundation of a better, more productive workplace. Part of being resilient is being totally focused on “elements that are within your control, and what your purpose is in the workplace. Becoming aware of your thoughts and managing them, allows yourself to neutralize stress, without needing to run from your problems.”
Doing one’s best to follow the guidelines provided above will go a long way to alleviating workplace stress, one of the most dangerous things but, also, one of the easiest to get rid of.

Story by Mark Joseph Manion


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