The psychological and social demands upon workers in high-stress work environments always causes a degree of stress. Some stress is necessary, driving performance as per the Yerkes-Dodson Law. But beyond a limit, excessive stress results in psychological exhaustion and burnout.
Given the costs of this to organisations, stress management is an important tool in the inventory of human resource management. Stress is perennial and the only meaningful approach is to develop resilience to stress, coping with stress in a beneficial manner or otherwise manage the symptoms.
Eustress & Distress
There are two types of stress encountered by people. Eustress is positive stress that motivates people to continue working. Stress can be a motivater, providing incentive to get tasks done. People enjoy it, achieving catharsis upon completing work. Everyone needs some stress in their lives to be happy, motivated, challenged and productive. It is when this stress is no longer tolerable and/or manageable that distress occurs.
Distress, or negative stress, is when eustress transcends the tolerance limits of an individual, resulting in performance dropping. Tension develops, as no meaningful engagement or outcomes results. This is the stress most people are familiar with, often leading to poor judgement.
Physiological symptoms of distress include increased blood pressure, rapid breathing and generalised tension. Behavioural symptoms include overeating, loss of appetite, drinking, smoking and counter-productive coping mechanisms aimed at achieving relief, rather than solving the problem.
Stress tolerance is the power to endure stress. Personal tolerance to stress is differs across individuals and is also influenced by the environment. So stress tolerance differ within the same person according to the context. Personality, physique, environment and conditions change the threshold of tolerance.
Stress Management Techniques at Work
There are multiple techniques to manage stress, and amongst the most effective is meditation. However, given the limitations of an office environment, as well as job demands, any techniques used need to be simple, effective and brief, with little in the way of complexity or philosophical insight.
The easiest methods of stress management lie in prevention, and in learning how to manage your energy or managing your time. Time management is the simplest. There are practical methods to achieving this, but essentially it boils down to prioritisation and productivity. In time management, spreadsheets are extremely useful tools that enable you to do more. The four points underlying personal time management, aligned with prioritisation, are:
focus on core competencies
outsource or minimise non-core elemts in your lifestyle (i.e. housekeeping)
spending time on meaningful activities requiring 30 minutes or less
revising schedule regulrly
It is also crucial to understand the difference between concern and worry.Worrying is an attempt to exert control over the future by thinking about it, where caring is action-based, doing activities that support or advance the best interests of the person, object or cause that is cared for.
Preserving boundaries between work and persona lives is another skill that manages stress. Be able to refuse co-workers and employers reasonably and courteously, as this prevents stress and professional relationships from impacting on your personal life.
Another common element is the use of reframing, a counselling technique used to shift perspectives and reassess a situation from different angles. These are some of the the methods used in developing stress management skills by workers.
Something that a small number of companies do is to provide prayer/meditation rooms for their staff. There are compelling benefits for a company, in terms of improving morale and reducing stress at work, as well as meeting the diverse spiritual needs of staff. Research shows the benefits of meditation at work, with businesses standing to gain by adopting a prosocial, productive approach at a strategic level, rather than maintaining traditional perspectives.
Aside from productivity benefits, at a strategic level there are competitive advantages to be found in ensuring staff commitment and reducing your firm’s attrition rate. In the process of maintaining staff, you not only grow your business but your staff’s experience and commitment.
Resources & Further Reading