Blog entry written for Stress-Free Living
If you have a rotten boss or irritating co-workers, beware. It may not be just your job that's on the line! A toxic work environment that includes back stabbing and insults can quickly take your morale and throw it out the window. But, what is it actually doing to your health?
The percentage of Americans who are stressed at work is already high, and it’s only getting worse. Studies at the CDC’s National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health have found the number of Americans who are “extremely stressed at work” range between 29 to 40 percent. That means that nearly half of us are feeling overwhelmed!
How many times have you watched someone get a promotion and your hard work goes unnoticed. Or, maybe you've tried to offer insight to management, but it falls on deaf ears. Working in that kind of environment can make you sick - really sick. While we often think of stress as something that's more mental, our body actually sends us warning signals when an environment becomes too much to handle.
Stress affects everyone differently. Some ways that chronic or long-term stress affects us include:
Sound familiar? If you're suffering from workplace stress, here are some good ideas that may help you feel calmer.
Start Your Day on a Relaxed (and Nutritious) Note
After scrambling to get your kids off to school, dealing with the inevitable traffic (not to mention a dose of road rage) and gulping down coffee instead of something healthy, many of us are stressed before we even hit the office. In fact, you may be even more reactive at work if you've already had a stressful morning! If you start off the day with good nutrition and some proper planning, you might find the stress of the workplace rolling off your back more easily.
Solve the morning dilemma by getting up 15 minutes earlier than you normally do. If you have school-aged kids, pack the non-refrigerated items the night before. Make sure the whole gang rounds up their homework, school books, field-trip forms, and lunch money so that they are "grab-n'-go" ready the next day. (Bonus points if your kids even find their shoes - both of them - the night before!)
Then, remember to treat yourself in the morning. Don't just grab a granola bar for the road. Make sure your first meal of the day contains a protein boost to get your brain ready for what lies ahead.
A Drama-Free Zone
Do you have a co-worker who loves to share the latest office gossip? Maybe you've inadvertently become the subject of the gossip yourself. Workplace conflict can take a toll on your physical and emotional health. You may feel tired or downright sick about heading into work when you know that something's brewing. Because conflict among co-workers is so difficult to escape, it’s a good idea to avoid it as much as possible.
While it can be tricky, it boils down to steering clear of "colorful" office humor and keeping your opinions on religion and politics to yourself. Don't advertise anything too personal on social media - especially if you're connected with your co-workers. (The photos of your "amazing night out with friends" may be easily misconstrued by those who are looking to stir the pot.)
Walk at Lunch
Do you find yourself sitting for hours behind a computer screen? Desk jockeys often deal with an unhealthy and sedentary lifestyle. One way to combat that and manage your work stress is to get some exercise during your breaks. Even taking a short walk around your office building can help put the day into perspective. Not only will exercise help blow off steam, but you may feel better physically after changing your environment.
But what if you don't have a good space to enjoy the outdoors? Why not bring your favorite book to work and force yourself to step away from your desk for 30 minutes each day. Find a quiet spot to read and simply focus on something beyond your computer screen.
Fix Your Work Environment
One surprising work stressor is physical discomfort. Is your office chair the worst one in the building? If you live in that chair when you’re at work, you can have a sore back and be more reactive to stress because of it. What about your keyboard? Does it drive you crazy with keys that are missing or simply don't work? Let your supervisor know that you could do with some new equipment. Or, do I what I did, and simply purchase your own! (Make sure you take it with you if you decide to leave your employer.)
A Difficult Boss
Do you have a boss who makes unreasonable requests? Many supervisors aren't very well tuned in when it comes to understanding what's happening beyond their office door.
Keep the line of communication open with your boss. Don't let a closed door stop you from making an appointment to see him or her. When you're able to meet, tell your boss how many projects you have on your plate. Next, express your opinion without emotion. For example, you might say, "I love working on these projects, but I'm feeling a little overwhelmed. I want to make sure I'm doing a good job, but I'm not sure that it's possible for me to work faster to get it all done. Right now, I'm concerned that I won't meet your deadline."
This does two things. First, it tells your boss that you're overloaded. It also says that you care about your work - and getting it done properly. Unless he or she is an ogre, they'll realize that this a good moment to re-evaluate your workload.
Do you have a suggestion on how it might be managed? Provide your professional opinion without adding any drama. You might say something along the lines of, "I'd be happy to tackle ABC, and Co-worker Joe might be a good fit to assist with XYZ since he's done it in the past." Your boss may be able to extend the deadline or assign it to another employee. (DON'T say, "I had to take the project from Co-worker Joe because he didn't do it right last time.")
Finally, leave the conversation on a positive note. Show appreciation for the support you get from your boss. He or she will be glad to stay in the loop and may even be more cognizant of what's happening with your workload in the future.
We saved the best for last. There's nothing more frustrating than working alongside someone who makes it clear that you're on their hit list. The fact of the matter is that you probably won't click with everyone in your office. There are always people who are disgruntled with their work - or their personal lives. They bottle up all of their negativity and spew it on those who cross their paths.
"If you don't have a natural rapport with someone, you've got to create it," says Karen Leland, president of Sterling Consulting Group and author of Watercooler Wisdom: How Smart People Prosper in the Face of Conflict, Pressure, and Change. Learn to understand and evaluate a co-worker's style," she says. Once you do that, you can be "in step" with just about everyone you work with.
We've all known individuals who create "workplace cancer" - a poisonous atmosphere for those around them. If you find yourself working side-by-side with that personality type, keep it professional. Alert your human resources department if he or she is intentionally unfair or nasty toward you. You don't deserve to be in an unhealthy environment, and your employer should become involved if things go sour.
Sometimes, you may need to walk away from a job to save your health. If your stress level is building and you discover that there's no good solution to be had, it's time to start looking at your options. Check out your alternatives and begin putting feelers into the marketplace. If you have a trusted friend, seek them out and ask for advice. It never hurts to dust off your resume and update your profile on LinkedIn. Let others know that you are open to new opportunities and see what's available. Best of all, you may land yourself a new job that allows you to feel more relaxed and free!
Hi! I'm Barbara, and I'm a copywriter and designer for a variety of industries