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The Stress Mess. What You Can Do

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It's always something, isn't it? You hoped the level of stress among your workers would diminish after the almost endless elections. But, not surprisingly, it lasted through the holidays. Then there were the anxiety-producing news reports about the economy. The super cold snaps. The flu outbreak in your community. Fears of downsizing. Concerns about enraged employees. Will it ever end? Maybe not, but there's plenty you can do to help yourself, and your employees, learn about stress and fight against its negative effects.

Your employees face a stress double whammy. They suffer from on-the-job causes as well as those that come from home, like family, financial, legal, or substance abuse problems. Too much stress is bad for business, bad for workers' health, and bad for productivity. It can cause employee burnout, diminished health, and poor performance on the job. Some experts link stress to increases in ergonomic-related ailments.

Fight or Flight?

Stress is the body's nonspecific response to demands. Like our ancestors, we have the choice to run from a problem, or decide to fight. But in modern times, sometimes neither choice is possible. In those cases, the result can be distress -- the same feeling experienced by workers who report symptoms ranging from depression to back pain, stomach ailments, insomnia, and heartburn.

If your workers have access to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), you're already taking a step many experts consider among the most important in helping employees understand and manage stress. Employers are also looking at their own management styles and the degree of decision-making afforded to employees. Health risk screenings, stress reduction workshops, and on-site exercise opportunities are other beneficial strategies.
Organizational psychologist Dr. Stacey Kohler Moran favors conducting an employee survey to determine what the stress-related problems are and who needs help. She suggests the following steps:

1. Define your purpose. A clearly defined objective will determine the type of survey needed and helps keeps efforts goal-directed.
2. Establish trust. Employees must feel safe about disclosing information and must be assured that management will protect their confidentiality.
3. Be committed. Let employees know in advance how survey results will be used. Give the process the attention it deserves, and follow up with action.

You may wish to share the following list of stress reduction methods with your employees. It might make a good bulletin board posting or safety and health newsletter item. (A number of the tips have applicability both at home and at work.)

  • Get organized. Put things where they belong so you won't get panicked looking for them.
  • Live in the now. Try to take one day at a time and focus on what needs to be done at the moment. If your body is in the present, but your mind is in the past or future, the result can be hazardous.
  • Help others. Looking outside yourself to others and their problems tends to diminish your own concerns.
  • Laugh. Finding humor in a problem means you're on the road to solving it, the experts say.
  • Let others 'do their own thing.' Realize at home and at work that not everyone will see things your way. If you see someone doing something seriously wrong, unsafe, or unwise; however, help rather than condemn.
  • Monitor the inner dialogue that goes on in your head. If your mind runs away with you and you begin to feel panicky or anxious, stop yourself and substitute more positive thoughts.
  • Change your vocabulary. Instead of calling something a “problem,” consider it an “opportunity.” Create challenges out of hassles.
  • Practice responding calmly. When a potentially stressful situation comes up, you have a choice to respond in a stressful or a calm manner. Try to stay in control of your responses.
  • Treat yourself right. Eat well, exercise, get enough sleep, and carve out even a little bit of time each day for yourself and your interests.

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