Coping With Today's Work Climate

Not all stress is bad. In fact, some level of stress at the workplace is normal—even productive. Feeling stressed means you care and that can actually be motivating. Too much stress, however, can be counterproductive and have a negative impact on your emotional and physical well-being.

Each year, the American Psychological Association (APA) conducts a large, annual survey of stress in society. According to David Ballard, PsyD/MBA, assistant executive director of marketing and business development for the APA, the survey is a representative sample of the U.S. and the most recent survey results point to a serious problem in the workplace.

"70 percent of those surveyed claim work is a significant source of stress," reports Ballard citing low salaries; lack of opportunity for growth and advancement; long hours and too much work for too few employees as the reasons. Work has been a source of stress in the past, but the economy seems to be compounding the problem and driving the survey numbers higher."

Signs of workplace stress include:

  • Feeling anxious or irritable
  • Aa loss of interest in work
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Muscle tension
  • Headaches
  • Digestive issues
  • Loss of sex drive
  • And using alcohol or drugs as coping mechanisms

Another major stressor is something called qualitative underload. "In plain English it means that workers are bored," Ballard explains. "People aren't engaged or challenged by their work." According to the expert, many people define themselves by the work they do. "When work is your identity and you don't feel like what you do matters, it affects how you see yourself."

Clinical psychologist Ron May, PhD agrees. He says  that in our culture, men are socialized to feel inadequate when they aren't achieving more. "The male culture is oriented around a hierarchy of competitiveness. From day one, young men are conditioned to believe that success is making more sales, getting more girls, and scoring more touchdowns."

As a result, men typically fall into a self-destructive pattern of working harder and pushing themselves more because that's what they've been trained to do. "They start putting in longer hours but it's less efficient and on top of that they are becoming more disconnected to their families," May explains.

Helping Yourself

In today's climate of downsizing, layoffs, and budget cuts, it's important to learn effective ways of coping with stress. While it's true you can't control the amount of stress that's doled out, you can control your reaction to it as well as how you deal with it. May and Ballard suggest the following tips to help you manage stress:

First, let go and accept that you can't control all of it. Then, get more balance in your life.

Set boundaries and expectations with others. "Technology was supposed to make our lives easier. It was going to increase our leisure time," says Ballard admitting that hasn't been the case. "Instead there is an always on mentality. We're expected to do more in less time." If you let technology eat your down time, it will. "You can't get away from email when you're attached to it at the hip with your smartphone."

Be disciplined. "It's important to disengage. Put the phone on the counter when you get home. Have an uninterrupted meal with your family," Ballard advises. "When you are face to face with someone, be present with that person. A one-on-one connection should be valued."

Establish certain times when you will return calls and stick to them. "When you start responding to emails in the middle of a Sunday afternoon, that behavior will become expected," Ballard explains.

Know how you experience stress. Many people have physical manifestations including trouble concentrating. Others eat too much junk food; zone out in front of the TV; over indulge in alcohol; and smoke too many cigarettes.

Recharge yourself by doing things you enjoy: listen to music; go for a walk outside; share a meal with a friend. "Take better care of yourself," says May. "Eating better and getting a full night's sleep can make a tremendous difference." For more ideas, Ballard suggests visiting the website of Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program.

Finally, share your predicament with someone. "For men, it's not acceptable to admit they need help and aren't in control of the situation. There is a sense of shame in being vulnerable," says May. If this sounds familiar, May and Ballard suggest finding a therapist. "If you don't have a close friend to talk to, a good therapist may be the solution."




Interview with Ron May, Ph.D and David Ballard, PsyD/MBS

The American Psychological Association (APA)

The Psychologically Health Workplace