Workplace stress has reached near-epidemic levels. These 4 tips can keep you sane

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Workplace stress — having little control but lots of demands — has reached near-epidemic levels. According to The American Institute of Stress, until around 1995, Japan held the record for the number of hours employees work each week. Today Americans work almost a month more than the Japanese and three months more than Germans. We are also working harder. This not only wreaks havoc on an employee’s mental and physical state but on the overall economy.

According to some estimates, the financial impact on our economy may be as high as $300 billion a year when accounting for diminished productivity, absence from work, employee turnover, and health-care costs associated with treating and managing the debilitating effects of workplace stress.

Nearly all of us have experienced feeling stressed or burnt out at work and are well aware of how paralyzing it can be at its worst.

Making these challenges worse is the fact that many employers may not be as focused on support for employees’ mental health as they need to be.

The ever-increasing demands of the modern workplace have proved to be a major pain point that ratchets up the pressure on employees. Survey data from employee development solution Bridge by Instructure, a national survey of more than 1,000 office employees, sheds some light on some of the biggest stressors. For example, 78% of respondents said that working longer hours was an important factor in being promoted. Meanwhile, 53% said engaging in workplace politics played a part in advancing their careers, and 50% said that socializing outside of work figured into the mix as well.

Making these challenges worse is the fact that many employers may not be as focused on support for
employees’ mental health as they need to be. Only a third of employees reported being encouraged by their employers to use their paid time off, and a mere 11% said that they are encouraged to take mental health days. All this stress has led many to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, with 34% of saying their job has increased reliance on caffeine, 9% saying they had increased their sugar intake, and 7% stating they rely on antianxiety medication.

THE EFFECT OF STRESS IN THE WORKPLACE

Source: Bridge by Instructure national “habits in the workplace” survey of more than 1,000 office employees

But fear not, chronically stressed employees — there are steps you can take to help push back against this trend. Keep these simple tips in mind, and always remember that your mental health and wellness should be a priority.

Be proactive about your career path. Take the initiative to talk to your manager about your
career goals. Making sure you and your manager are on the same page about your future will make it easier moving forward to have conversations about priorities and the big picture, which will help to limit your future stress.

Get moving. The science is clear: Moving, standing and exercising are beneficial for physical and mental health. Regular standing, moving, and light aerobic exercise throughout the day will reduce stress. Take a walk, or better yet, have a walking meeting and get your colleagues involved! Putting it in your calendar as a reminder can help.

Make use of your paid time off and sick days. Don’t hesitate to actually use your paid time off and sick days—you’ve earned that time and it’s yours to enjoy. Work absences can boost productivity and engagement once you return. Your employer will benefit from your productivity boost, and you will benefit from taking a well-deserved break.

Don’t skimp on the Zzzzs. Missing out on getting enough sleep interferes with focus and creativity, reduces problem-solving skills, and brings down overall productivity. It may be tempting after a long day at work to try and squeeze as much leisure as you can out of the late hours of the evening, but you’ll pay a price the next day and in the long term. Good sleep habits will help you deal with workplace stress and keep you engaged throughout the day.

By Peter Brussard, VP of product management at Bridge by Instructure

For more on tech, transformation and the future of work, join CNBC at @ Work: Human Capital + Finance Summit in Chicago on July 19.

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