Workplace stress is a growing issue, with wide-reaching consequences. According to a report from Beyond Blue, one in five Australian workers admitted to taking time off because they felt stressed, anxious, depressed or mentally unhealthy. Workplace stress can be particularly overwhelming, as stability and financial security is tied to our employment. Fortunately, there are ways to manage stress at work.
It is often said that stress is a silent killer, taking its toll on our mental and physical wellbeing if not managed or alleviated in a healthy way. Workplace issues are widely reported as one of the most common contributors to stress. In fact, the United Nations has even gone so far as to suggest that occupational stress is a “global epidemic” affecting millions of employees around the world with corresponding social and economic costs.
Here in Australia, anxiety symptoms are at record highs, influenced in part by rising workplace stress. According to Safe Work Australia, the combined annual costs of work-related stress in terms of absenteeism, reduced productivity, employee turnover, mental health clinical bills and other social and economic expenditures are estimated at a staggering $10 billion. Beyond the monetary strains, workplace stress can be the culprit behind a wide range of other health conditions such as insomnia, anxiety attacks, back and neck injuries and a lower immune system.
So, how can workplace stress be minimised in a healthy way?
Managing stress with workplace counselling
One practical strategy for managing workplace stress is using professional workplace support services, such as confidential counselling for employees or stress-relief advice seminars through Employee Assistance Programs. Workplace stress can stem from a combination of both personal and professional issues. Personal matters and family issues can be exacerbated by toxic workplaces, long hours and large workloads.
In-house counselling services can help you develop the tools to manage both personal and professional stress and ultimately feel more capable and content at work.
This is mutually beneficial for companies too, with numerous employee engagement surveys and company culture research studies coming to the same conclusion: happy employees are more productive. One study found that happy employees were up to 20% more productive than unhappy ones.
Try relaxation techniques
In times of stress your body releases cortisol and adrenaline to help you respond to the situation. Unfortunately, if we are in constant or prolonged states of stress, we are left feeling burnt out and exhausted. Not only is ongoing stress linked to mental health issues, a person’s physical health also suffers – including high blood pressure and insomnia.
Relaxation techniques are excellent tools for managing stress. There are many effective relaxation practices but breathing techniques, mindfulness and meditation are popular options as they can be done quickly and easily.
Slow breathing can be as simple as counting to three as you inhale and exhale. You can practice mindfulness by counting ten green objects in your surroundings or paying attention to all the little details as you brush your teeth.
Meditation can be harder to learn, but there are countless apps to get you on your way – Smiling Mind is free and user-friendly. Mastering these techniques will help you manage stress in the moment and build resilience for overcoming stress in the future.
Coping with workplace stress together – lean on colleagues and non-professional networks for support
Most employee engagement experts agree that having a best friend at work or a trusting relationship with colleagues can be very valuable in managing workplace stress. A colleague is more likely to empathise with work pressures instead of just sympathise, but that’s not to say spouses, family members and other loved ones can’t be helpful.
The Australian Psychological Society agrees that spending time with friends and family is one of the most effective ways to relieve stress. They also suggest that you pair up with a workmate to monitor each other’s stress and watch for warning signs.
Prioritise a workplace balance
Creating a balance between your personal and professional life can be central to managing workplace stress. When surveying Australian workers, The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development found that we rated our work-life balance 4.4 out of 10. Those less than optimistic numbers put us 33rd out of 41 countries. The survey also revealed that 1 in 10 of us are working more than 50 hours a week, or “very long hours”.
Whether you fall into the “very long hours” category or not, creating a better work-life balance can be challenging. Managing your time more effectively using to-do lists and apps, setting firm boundaries with your boss or colleagues and devoting more time for relaxation and fun are some ways that could see you moving closer to a more balanced life.
If you have put these practices into places and are still suffering from workplace stress, you could benefit from seeking professional help. Be pro-active about addressing stress, because when left untreated it can lead to more severe mental health conditions.