I think we can all agree that workplace stress is real. If you can’t agree, please, please let me know what you do for a living so I can make the switch. Somehow I’m not expecting to get too many DMs about your stress-free job, but a girl can dream.
Between deadlines, job insecurity, demanding bosses, and a smartphone that subjects us to emails 24/7, there are so many causes of our workplace stress. There are some things you can’t change at work to alleviate your stress: There are always going to be deadlines. There’s probably always going to be more you could be doing. Or at least more money you could be making.
But then there are other things you may be doing at work that are causing you unnecessary stress. To help you thrive during Stress Awareness Month, April, we spoke to two stress experts who shared 11 things we do at work that causes us stress we don’t need (and most importantly, how to change!).
1. Feeling uncertain
According to Kelly Resendez, best-selling author of Big Voices: Increase Joy, Reduce Suffering, Think Different, uncertainty is a top cause of workplace stress.
“Uncertainty that you’re doing a good job, being fairly compensated, being valued by your employer, are on a path for growth or a promotion or are uncertain that you’re fulfilling your purpose” all cause stress, she says.
“Be honest and vulnerable with your superiors about what you are feeling insecure about,” Resendez says. “Often it is just your own imagination that is causing the stress and they may think you are doing a great job. Worst case, they also feel your performance can improve and give you a plan that you can improve on.”
2. Not having a purpose
“Many companies are not clear about what results they are expecting,” Resendez says. “They don’t provide a clear vision for what needs to be accomplished. Many employees are left feeling hopeless or uncertain about what they need to do.”
Her advice for reining in this stressor? “Seek clear expectations or standards that you can aim to achieve weekly.”
3. Working in a messy space
A messy desk is not a recipe for success, according to The Stress Therapist, Cheri Augustine Flake. “A messy space is a messy mind,” she says. Calm your brain by giving yourself a visual cue that you have control.
4. Having poor time management
Think about it like this: If you can’t manage your time, you can’t get everything done. And if you can’t get everything done, you’re going to be stressed.
5. Putting in too many hours
With smartphones and WiFi everywhere, it’s harder than ever to limit your work week to 40 hours. But it may be important to do so.
“We tend to lose productivity if we work too much,” Resendez explains. “Some employees will eventually burn out, and their physical health will suffer. Ultimately, the employer ends up spending more money if employees have to take sick time or disability to recover.”
One solution is setting boundaries with your employer: “Being clear about how long it will take to complete certain tasks and giving them a realistic timeline for completion should help. Many employees are afraid to have this conversation in fear they will not be looked upon favorably,” Resendez admits. “You have to have a healthy work-life balance, and finding an employer that understands this should be a top priority.”
6. Never disconnecting
If you don’t disconnect from work when you should, then this is definitely going to stress you out in the long run. “You need to [assess] how you are functioning when you are NOT at work,” Flake explains.
She adds, “Your brain doesn’t know the difference between thinking about doing something or actually doing something. If you’re stressing about work when you aren’t there, you might as well be [at work] because your brain thinks you are. Therefore, no matter what your official hours are, you’re never leaving work. Eek. So leave. Go. Be. Watch the sunset and laugh with your friends. Be silly. Be quiet. Then, go back to work.”
Listen, it feels good to complain. Sometimes a rant can make things feel temporarily better, but Flake warns against incessant complaining. “Discounting the positives and making mountains out of molehills is also going to make the environment more stressful,” she says. “This is why getting a handle on our cognitive distortions, that is, thoughts that we have that simply aren’t true and making us miserable, is so important.”
8. Always saying yes
This is seemingly a good thing for your employer. You’re ready, you’re willing, and you’re reliable. But if you say yes to every request, you will burn out.
“I always suggest answering, ‘Let me check my schedule and capacity and get back to you’ rather than saying yes to everything,” Resendez advises. She believes that it is more important to be honest about your capacity and deliver excellent results on what you can handle than trying to take on everything to get ahead.
9. Feeling disappointed in your coworkers
Applying high standards to your coworkers can leave you stressed when those expectations are not met. “Accept that people do the best they can do,” Resendez says.
10. Taking on your coworker’s problem
If your work spouse is always complaining, it’s hard to not to take on their stress. However, it is extremely important not to.
“Choose to not take on other people’s problems or complaints as your own,” Resendez says. “Although we want to be compassionate, taking on negativity will not help you reduce stress. I recommend stopping someone that is complaining and ask what they want from you. Do they need your help, feedback, or just want to share what happened?”
She suggests setting boundaries for your time, and being frank about the tasks you have to complete. Your coworker will understand!
Ah, this again. Our old friend, procrastinator. You probably remember him well from those nights spent writing papers four hours before they were due in college. It was an issue then, and it can be an issue now.
“Spending too much time doing non-productive things, like checking social media, socializing, or replying to personal texts, will create challenges in getting their work done. Many people procrastinate and leave high-priority projects to be completed last minute,” Resendez explains. “This will cause massive stress in trying to complete something that needed more time, research, or attention.”
Moral of the story? Get organized, keep your head up, and don’t forget enjoy that after-work ice cream with your friends.