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Managing Job Stress


Job stress comes in different forms. Small stressors are things like a copy machine that never seems to work or phones that won't quit ringing. Major stress comes from having too much or not enough work or doing work that doesn't satisfy you. Conflicts with your boss, co-workers, or customers are also major stressors.

Here are some common sources of major job stress:

Lack of control.
Feeling as if you have no control over your job duties is one cause of job stress.
More responsibility.
You can feel stress if you have too much work to do and you can't say no to new tasks.
Job satisfaction and performance.
If your job isn't meaningful, it can be stressful. And feeling insecure about job performance can be a major source of stress.
Uncertain work roles.
Being unsure about your duties or how your job might be changing can lead to stress. So can juggling the demands of different managers.
Poor communication.
Being unable to talk about your needs, concerns, and frustrations can create stress.
Lack of support.
It can be stressful to work with little or no support from your boss or co-workers.
Poor working conditions.
Unpleasant or dangerous conditions, such as crowding or ergonomic problems, can cause stress.

How to get started

Any job can have stress, even if you love what you do. A lot may be expected of you, and you want to do your best. And some jobs may be more stressful than others. You might even notice work stress spilling into your personal life.

What kinds of events cause stress for you at work? Focus on one or two things you can do to help reduce stress the most. Here are some ideas.

  • Balance work and personal life.

    Unplug from work when you're home. For example, try not to check company email when you're off work or spending time with friends and family. You can do this by turning off email and text alerts when you leave work. Or set your phone to "do not disturb" during certain times.

  • Stay organized.
    • Break a large project into small steps. Then create a daily to-do list from these steps. Start with what's most important, and do one thing at a time. Just focus on today's list.
    • Use an online calendar to plan your week. It can usually be shared with many people and devices. These calendars may remind you of upcoming project deadlines and events.
  • Get support.

    Find out if your company offers resources to help manage stress. Some companies have an employee assistance program (EAP). Use these resources if your company offers them. If your company doesn't, ask if they could. You may also want to talk with a counsellor. A counsellor can help you change the way you respond to stress.

  • Learn to relax.

    Try deep breathing exercises and meditation. You can do them in just a few minutes. If you can, take a walk at lunch or during breaks. Even just looking away from your work or chatting with co-workers can help.

  • Consider changing jobs, if you can.

    If you are truly miserable because of a stressful job, it may be time to think about changing jobs.

Setting goals to reduce job stress

You may be able to reduce some job stress by identifying what is causing the stress and then setting specific goals. Here's how.

  • Identify what's creating the job stress.

    Maybe it's lack of control over your job. Or maybe it's worry about losing your job or how you are doing at work. You might feel stress because you're unable to express your thoughts and ideas to your boss and co-workers.

  • Have a reason to reduce the stress.

    You might want to protect your heart and your health by reducing stress. Or maybe you simply want to enjoy your life more and not let work stress control how you feel. Your reason for wanting to change is important. If your reason comes from you—and not someone else—it will be easier for you to make a healthy change for good.

  • Set a goal for dealing with the stress level.

    Think about both a long-term and a short-term goal. Here are a few examples:

    • Shelly's long-term goal is to reduce stress by managing her frustration over things she can't control at work. Her short-term goal is to learn to do deep breathing and relaxation exercises when she gets stressed. She'll try it the next time her boss hands her a last-minute project.
    • Jill's long-term goal is to reduce stress by speaking up at work and expressing her interests and ideas more effectively. Her short-term goal is to practice being more assertive. When she's ready, she'll contribute an idea at a department meeting.
    • Raoul's long-term goal is to reduce stress by having a better understanding of what's expected of him at work. His short-term goal is to find out how he is doing now. He plans to schedule a meeting with his boss to talk about his performance and how he can improve.
    • John's long-term goal is to reduce stress by learning to say "no" to projects he doesn't have time to handle. His short-term goal is to get organized and prioritize the projects he has now. He is going to make a list of all of his work and then prioritize the tasks that are most important.
  • Identify what might stop you from meeting your goals.

    Use a personal action plan to write down your goals, the possible barriers, and your ideas for getting past them. By thinking about these barriers now, you can plan ahead for how to deal with them if they happen.

  • Ask for help.

    Make sure you get support from friends and family in your efforts to reduce job stress. If your company has an employee assistance program, you could use it to talk with a counsellor. A counsellor can help you set goals and provide support in dealing with setbacks.

  • Pat yourself on the back.

    Don't forget to give yourself some positive feedback. If you slip up, don't waste energy feeling bad about yourself. Instead, think about all the times you've avoided getting stressed by making changes.

  • Know when to quit.

    If you are truly miserable because of a stressful job, it may be time to think about changing jobs. Make sure you know whether it is you or the job that's the problem.

    Before you quit, spend time thinking about other job options. Not having a job will probably also lead to stress. Getting another job before you quit is best, but sometimes that isn't possible. Decide what is less stressful for you—unemployment or being miserable in your current job. It might help to talk with a counsellor about your choices.

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