to Reduce Stress at Work
working only four hours a day, nine months a
year and earning all the money you need to do exactly
what you want with all your free time. Does that sound
like your life?
That's the life a futurist
of the early 20th Century predicted the average worker
would be living by the 21st century.
Yet despite the introduction
of many labour-saving devices in the workplace and home,
Harvard University Economist Juliet Schor found by the
1990s people were working the equivalent of one month
a year more than they did at the end of World War II.
As an example, Schor
explained in her book Overworked American: The Unexpected
Decline of Leisure how the introduction of automatic
washers and dryers resulted in an increase in time spent
doing laundry. Laundry that had previously been sent
out now stayed home, and standards of cleanliness went
Laundry isn't the only
task that has grown over the last century. It seems
that whenever a significant new "labour saving" product
or service is developed we use it so much our workload
After all, wasn't our
work supposed to be made easier by voice mail, fax machines,
cell phones and email? On the contrary, many of us find
we are constantly on-call, frequently interrupted, and
overwhelmed with communications that people expect to
receive immediate responses to.
That's on top of the
already heavy workload existing in most organizations.
For an employee, the consequences of this overload can
be stress, burnout, and illness. For an employer, it
can result in high turnover and poor performance.
Addressing the problem
of overwork can help companies keep good employees.
A recent study by AON Consulting found that management
recognition of an employee's need to balance work with
personal life is one of the top five drivers of employee
commitment to a company.
To help overworked employees,
managers should be trained to notice signs that employees
are overburdened. Such signs include consistently working
late, working through lunch, coming to work even when
sick, taking work home, rushing to meet very tight deadlines,
expressing frustration, and not taking vacations.
Employees who are overwhelmed
with work may not always tell you how they feel so make
the effort to ask how they are doing. For some employees,
having the opportunity to express their concerns and
hearing appreciation for their extra effort may help
alleviate stress during a temporarily busy period.
If an employee's heavy
workload is more than temporary, you can assist them
in brainstorming solutions to relieve their situation.
And if you are the one who is overworked, you can try
some of these solutions yourself. Here are some steps
you can take to get your workload under control:
Spend your time working
on things that are important. This may sound obvious,
but many of us are tempted to work on easy tasks first
so we can have a sense of accomplishment. Time spent
on those "easy" tasks can quickly add up, creating even
more stress when there does not appear to be enough
time left for the important work.
To find out what your
time is being spent on, start keeping an "activity log".
Every time you start and end a new activity, including
taking a break, make note of the time. Most workers
who charge by the hour have learned to do this automatically.
If you are not used to tracking your time it may be
a bit of an adjustment, but within a few days you should
be able to notice any time-wasters you might not have
been aware of.
Set daily goals. When
scheduling your time, assume that something unexpected
will come up and build in a cushion of time to deal
with it. To minimize the stress of meeting self-imposed
deadlines, avoid making promises about when tasks will
be completed. If you must commit to a date, be conservative.
If you consistently underpromise and overdeliver you
could earn a great reputation while reducing your stress.
Aim to meet or even
exceed expectations, but don't try to achieve perfection.
Wherever possible, delegate routine tasks even if you
think you can do them better than someone else.
Unless you are expected
to be on call, work on eliminating interruptions. Select
a time of day when you will return phone calls and emails.
During other times, let your voice mail take messages
for you. You can also create an autoreply for your email
to let people know their message has been received.
If your email says you will respond within 24 hours
if a reply is required, it may deter someone from repeatedly
trying to contact you in the meantime.
Avoid letting other
people's problems become yours. As Richard Carlson,
author of Don't Sweat the Small Stuff at Work,
says "If someone throws you the ball you don't have
to catch it." Some managers find themselves solving
their employees' problems instead of empowering employees
to find solutions themselves. When someone comes to
you with a problem that isn't yours, try limiting your
contribution to advice instead of taking on the task
When you are feeling
overwhelmed, say so. Companies want to keep good employees
so most bosses will want to know when you are having
difficulty. However, instead of saying "I can't do it,"
offer some possible solutions.
For example, if you
won't be able to get a major report completed by a particular
deadline, perhaps you could tell the boss you can either
complete a condensed version of the report by the deadline,
complete the entire report by a later date, or meet
the deadline if you get some help from co-workers or
These techniques probably
won't help you enjoy the life of leisure envisioned
by those early futurists. But they can cut down on your
stress and may make your work both more manageable and
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