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How to manage stress at work

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Stress. It’s ever-present—and practically unavoidable—in today’s hustle culture. In fact, stress is so prevalent there’s an entire institution dedicated to it: The American Institute of Stress. While stress can stem from a variety of sources, research shows job stress is hands down the most common cause of stress.

During a crisis like a pandemic or a recession, everyday workplace stress only intensifies.

What causes stress at work? And how can you combat it?

Causes of stress in the workplace:

To effectively address any problem, you first need to find the root of the problem. Here are five causes of work stress:

1. Poor job fit

Poor job fit occurs when a person works in a role that doesn’t match their natural strengths or doesn’t fit their personal and professional needs. For example, if someone who’s wired to be creative and think big picture is asked to reconcile financial records, they might not enjoy their work too much. This mismatch of personality and position can cause job burnout, as the individual stretches their natural behaviors to fit the needs of the role.

John looking concerned

2. Poor work-life balance

Everyone’s experienced it—those days when your to-do list only seems to grow longer as the day goes on. When work becomes demanding and bleeds into your personal life, stress can result. No matter how much you love your job, if you can’t leave work in the office or on the worksite, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. And now, with COVID-19 and its resulting school closures, many employees are working from home while watching their children. 

3. Poor manager fit

A great manager can change your work experience. But if your personality and that of your manager clash … well… chances are good that work is more than a little stressful. 

4. Poor team fit

A sense of belonging is necessary to operate at full capacity. Without it, you’ll struggle to trust your team, integrate, and produce. Over time, this misfit will cause frustration, leading to stress.

5. Poor org fit

At the end of the day, you need to work for an organization where you feel like you can be yourself. Where your values are appreciated and respected, where the work you do is meaningful, and where the mission and vision inspire you on a daily basis. If the job is just about a paycheck, everything extra—every long day, extra assignment, or inconvenient change—will increase stress.

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5 ways to manage stress at work

Here are 5 ways to manage workplace stress:

Make sure you’re a good fit for your position.

While there are many tips and tricks you can implement to reduce stress at work, the best way is to address the cause. If your job isn’t a good fit—whether you’re in the wrong role, have the wrong manager or team, or the company doesn’t inspire you—stress is inevitable. Ask yourself:

  • Does my job allow me to use my natural strengths, gifts, and abilities, or do I have to stretch daily to perform my job responsibilities?
  • Does my manager tailor their management style and communications to how I work best?
  • Am I a good fit for the current team dynamic, or am I clashing with other team members’ personalities?
  • Am I inspired by the mission and vision of my company? Do I believe my senior leadership team has my best interests in mind?

If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” explore further. Is there anything you can do to improve the situation? In an economic downturn, you might not be able to up and leave your company. But you could do work outside your normal position if that’s what the company needs. It’s a perfect time to shine and show your capacity for leadership during uncertain times.

Adam laughing

Ask for flexibility.

Perhaps an open office environment is distracting you from a project you need to wrap up. Or maybe your morning commute is cutting into the time you’d rather spend with your family. If you’re working from home while schools are closed, you might need to work outside your normal 9-5 hours to get your work done. Ask your boss if there’s flexibility in your working hours to accommodate your needs and preferences.

Seek support.

If work is causing stress, it can take a serious toll on your mental health. Workplace stress is considered an often neglected aspect of mental health and well-being. It’s important to seek support to deal with stress. Coaching and counseling can be effective in helping you learn new ways of coping with stress at work—and many insurance companies offer telehealth so you can get the help you need from home.

One in five adults lives with mental illness.

Learn how you can promote employee mental wellness.

Take time to recharge.

While taking time off might seem counterintuitive (“I’m going to fall further behind, creating more stress.”), taking time to recharge can help lower your level of stress. The American Psychology Association’s 2018 Work and Well-Being Survey found the majority of U.S. workers reported better moods, more energy and motivation, and lower stress as a result of taking time off. If you can’t take an actual vacation, reconnect with your immediate family, read some books, or try a new hobby like painting or guitar (check out YouTube for free online classes). 

Establish boundaries.

If your stress stems from a heavy workload or working off-hours, consider setting boundaries. Let your colleagues know when you’ll be available for meetings or to correspond—and when you won’t. Enforce that message by only making yourself available during those times. This is important! If you say you’ll only respond to work emails during the hours of 9-5, then reply at 8 p.m., you’re setting a precedent that after-hours communications are OK. 

Stress doesn’t have to get the best of you.

Stressful situations will come up. By establishing healthy habits, developing coping mechanisms, and being proactive in your approach, you can more successfully deal with stress when it arises. Try these tips on for size, and see how they work for you.

John looking concerned


Shannon is a product manager at PI. She has a mirror-image twin sister—but they didn't discover this until they were 26.

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