Managing Workplace Stress
By Michael Grant
As a health care professional, your days are spent ensuring the health of others. But, is your job a danger to your health?
The health care field can be a stressful environment. Not only is stress detrimental to your overall health, it can affect the ability to do your job.
For this reason, workplace stress can be managed effectively by each employee with the support of employers. This dual responsibility is the focus of Dr. David Posen’s book, Is Work Killing You?: A Doctor’s Prescription for Treating Workplace Stress.
Dr. Posen, a physician specializing in stress management gives his advice for both individual employees and for employers or managers to help manage stress in a healthful way.
Dr. Posen suggests the following tips to help individuals manage stress levels:
- Decreasing or discontinuing caffeine
Most people do not realize that caffeine (from coffee, chocolate and cola beverages) acts as a stimulant, making us jittery, nervous and interrupts sleep patterns.
- Exercising regularly
Adrenaline and other stress hormones cause physiologic changes such as increased heart rate and blood pressure, faster breathing, muscle tension and increased blood sugar.
With no place for this excess energy to go, our bodies can stay in a state of arousal for several hours. Exercise dissipates this excess energy. Regular exercise can provide an outlet for the stress in our daily lives.
- Getting more sleep
Sleep is an important way of reducing stress. People dealing with unhealthy levels of stress often suffer from fatigue and, ironically, people who are tired do not cope well with stressful situations. These dynamics can create a vicious cycle.
Getting more sleep can make you feel better and improve your ability to cope with the stress you encounter during the day. Most people require seven to eight hours of sleep per night, although an individual’s requirement can vary.
- Taking time-outs
Your brain needs to take breaks from mentally or intellectually challenging roles, much like your muscles need breaks from physically demanding work.
Here are Dr. Posen’s tips for how employers can help manage stress in their workforce:
- Acknowledge the problem
Stress is a real issue in today’s work environment and acknowledging that the problem exists is a necessary first step towards change.
- Monitor stress levels
Employers need to watch how their staff function and intervene when they need help. Key areas to look at are the volume and velocity of their work and how they are coping with it.
- Encourage time-outs/breaks
Workplace culture has shifted over the years and now breaks are seen as luxuries that sometimes only exist on paper. Employer attitudes are partly to blame for creating such a culture. This can be changed by leading by example, taking short breaks yourself or encouraging employees to take breaks when you see they need to refocus.
- Be approachable
Let people know that if they are struggling, they can come and talk to you. Managers also need to ask questions to encourage employees to share how they are feeling about their work.
- Identify problem people and act
Managers need to be vigilant when confronted with the issue of abusive colleagues. This type of behaviour cannot be tolerated and while it may be easier to turn a blind eye in the short term, the situation will likely not correct itself. In fact, it typically gets worse.
By working together, both employees and employers can help mitigate the negative effects of a stressful work environment. Stress at work, especially working in the health care field, is never going to go away. Employers, managers and those in senior roles, should be looking at ways to help their staff manage that stress in the most positive way possible. Knowing how to do so will result in a more productive and healthier workforce.
Michael Grant is the Director of Marketing and Communications at the Canadian Society for Medical Laboratory Science (CSMLS). The full version of this article was originally published in the Canadian Journal of Medical Laboratory Science, Vol. 75, no. 2 (2013). It has been republished here with permission.