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50 Things You Can Do Today to Manage Stress at Work

50 Things You Can Do Today to Manage Stress at Work

by Cary Cooper, Howard Kahn

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Learning how to manage stress in the workplace

In this easy-to-follow book, the authors guide readers through the steps to manage and control stress at work. Readers will understand what stress is and identify how and why it occurs at work, and receive practical advice to help make positive changes. Some of the 50 ways to


Learning how to manage stress in the workplace

In this easy-to-follow book, the authors guide readers through the steps to manage and control stress at work. Readers will understand what stress is and identify how and why it occurs at work, and receive practical advice to help make positive changes. Some of the 50 ways to manage workplace stress include identifying developing skills to manage time more effectively, improving one's spoken and written communication skills, learning to deal with conflict at work calmly and confidently, and discovering how one's employer can assist in reducing stress.

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Publication date:
Personal Health Guides Series
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5.10(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.60(d)

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50 Things You Can Do Today to Manage Stress at Work

By Cary Cooper, Howard Kahn

Summersdale Publishers Ltd

Copyright © 2013 Cary Cooper and Howard Kahn
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-85765-845-6


About Stress at Work

Do you suffer from stress at work? Don't worry - you're not alone. The International Labour Organization, based in Geneva, Switzerland, has been concerned about work-related stress for many years and claims it is one of the most important issues in many countries and in different kinds of workplaces. The outcomes of stress can include circulatory and gastrointestinal diseases, other physical problems, psychosomatic and psychosocial problems, and low productivity. At an organisational level, the UK Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development estimates stress costs industry £601 per employee.

The purpose of this book is to help you realise the actions you can take to manage and control stress at work, both from an individual and management point of view. The book will also explain the methods you can use to cope with stress at work - such as deep breathing or exercise - and will show you how to change the circumstances (whether at work or not) that may be causing your stress.

The first thing we will do is show what stress is and the major causes of stress at work. We will then suggest what you can do - as an individual, supervisor or manager - to deal with these issues. In some cases we will also show how the stress can arise.

What is stress?

What happens when you are under stress at work (for instance when you have too much work to do, a difficult boss, unpleasant coworkers, no prospects for promotion, fear of losing your job, etc.)?

· The blood in your body is redirected from your skin (which is why your face may appear pale) and your organs, and sent to the muscles and brain.

· The glucose and fatty acids you naturally have stored in your body are transferred into your bloodstream so you will have energy to deal with the threat you are under.

· You become much more alert - your hearing and vision are greatly improved.

· Your immune system is weakened.

Overall, chemicals such as adrenaline are produced, your heart rate goes up, your blood vessels dilate, your breathing becomes faster, you sweat more, your metabolism slows down, and the production of oestrogen, androgen and other sex hormones are reduced.

This is all done to prepare the body for 'fight or flight', that is, to get ready to cope with the problem causing your stress, by either dealing with it or running away from it. Once you have dealt with the problem, your body will return to normal. But what if you can't deal with the problem? What if the problem continues day after day? The many changes in your body continue and you can end up with the problems outlined above - and more.

The short-term outcomes of stress

Mind, the UK mental health charity, has listed the signs associated with experiencing too much stress and has divided them into three groups - how your body may react, how you may feel and how you may behave.

How your body may react:

· Fast shallow breathing

· Headaches

· Constant tiredness

· Restlessness

· Sleeping problems

· Tendency to sweat

· Nervous twitches

· Craving for food

· Cramps or muscle spasms

· Pins and needles

· High blood pressure

· Feeling sick or dizzy

· Constipation or diarrhoea

· Indigestion or heartburn

· Lack of appetite

· Sexual difficulties

· Fainting

· Chest pains

· Grinding your teeth at night

How you may feel:

· Irritable

· Aggressive

· Depressed

· Fearing failure

· Dreading the future

· A loss of interest in others

· Taking no interest in life

· Neglected

· That there's no one to confide in

· A loss of sense of humour

· Bad or ugly

· Fearful that you are seriously ill

How you may behave:

· Finding it difficult to make decisions

· Finding it difficult to concentrate

· Denying there's a problem

· Avoiding difficult situations

· Frequently crying

· Biting your nails

· Unable to show your true feelings

· Being very snappy or aggressive

· Finding it difficult to talk to others

Mind suggests that the more of these you experience, the more stressed you are.

What are the organisational outcomes of stress at work?

We have described how stress can affect you as an individual, but what happens to an organisation when its staff are suffering from too much stress? It can suffer reduced productivity caused by, among other things:

· A higher turnover of staff

· Staff coming to work late and leaving early

· Staff sitting about doing nothing

· A poor reputation (because the organisation is known as one that causes stress for their employees)

· Higher levels of staff absenteeism

· Poorer quality of work

· More workplace accidents

· More strikes

· Law cases brought against the organisation by those suffering from stress.

What are the sources of stress at work?

Of course, almost anything at work can cause stress to someone. Some people are in a permanent state of anxiety and the smallest thing might stress them out. You might spot them in your workplace, but their problems are beyond the scope of this book. They need help to change the way they think and behave. What we are concerned with here are the major sources of stress at work, the things that cause you stress, and what you can do about them.

How do we know what causes stress at work?

A large number of studies of different workplaces have been carried out over the past 50 years to determine the major sources of stress at work. For instance, studies have focused on NHS employees and other medical staff, City of London dealers, teachers and university lecturers, bus drivers, office workers, company directors, middle managers, public and private employees, etc.

There has been general agreement about the sources of stress: no matter what the organisation, the major causes are similar. There appear to be five major sources of stress at work:

1. The stressors that come with the job, such as your working conditions, the technology you have to work with, the work itself - sometimes an overload of work, sometimes an underload - or working long hours.

2. The role of the individual - whether this involves role conflict or role ambiguity - and the responsibility you have for others.

3. Your career development. Perhaps you feel you are not being challenged in your current role, or you consider yourself worthy of a promotion due to a large workload. Perhaps you are worried about your job security in relation to mergers and acquisitions that could affect your organisation. The relationships you have with others at work - with your boss, colleagues, clients and customers.

4. The organisational climate and culture - what it's like to work for the organisation, the office politics, communication, the participation you have in the decision-making process, any restrictions on your behaviour (dress code, no smoking allowed, etc.), performance appraisals, and so on.

5. Your work-life balance. This category of potential stressors consists of events outside work that affect you at work. These include life events (moving house, getting married, deaths and illnesses in the family, etc.), and dual-career families (where both partners are working).

These seem to be the factors that cause the most stress at work. Don't forget that everyone is different and some people have personalities that deflect or attract stress. These characteristics include anxiety (a tendency to worry about events and people, and the strength of that worry); neuroticism (that is, the tendency to experience negative emotional states such as anger, envy, guilt and depression); a tolerance for ambiguity (an ability to cope with things that are uncertain and unpredictable); and whether you are a Type A person (ambitious, organised, taking on too much work, obsessed with time management, etc.).

The level of stress you experience is also determined by the strategies you use to cope with stress. These can be personal strategies or the organisation you work for may help you to deal with any stress you encounter.

If we put together all the points raised above, we can show you a model of stress at work (see the diagram below). This is based on the model developed by Cary Cooper and Judi Marshall.

The 50 most-quoted causes of stress at work

1. Too much work

2. Too little work

3. The pace of work

4. Shift work

5. Time rigidity (lack of flexitime)

6. Emotionally demanding work

7. Deadlines

8. Lack of control over work

9. Poor interpersonal support

10. Poor working relationships

11. Lack of experience

12. Lack of training

13. Coping with promotion

14. Job insecurity

15. Lack of career opportunities

16. Poor pay

17. Bullying and harassment

18. A blame culture within the organisation

19. Poor management

20. Too many managers

21. Lack of information about what's happening within the organisation

22. Poor working environment - too hot/cold an environment, too much noise, poor lighting, incorrect seating, etc.

23. Continuous lifting and vibration

24. Malfunctioning equipment

25. Conflict

26. Constant change

27. Role ambiguity

28. Role conflict

29. Personal life affecting work

30. Work affecting personal life

31. Unreliable performance reviews (and positive reviews that do not lead to a pay rise)

32. Lack of money

33. Overtime (especially at the weekends)

34. Little or no time to rest and recover

35. Commuting

36. Organisational culture

37. Lack of power and influence

38. Doing a job that you are over-qualified or under-qualified for

39. Supervising other people

40. Depending on other team members/colleagues

41. Office politics

42. Personal beliefs conflicting with those of the organisation

43. Doing a job others disapprove of

44. Keeping up with new technology

45. Attending meetings

46. Covert discrimination and favouritism

47. Inability to delegate

48. Too little or too much variety in the job

49. Organisational commitment

50. Sacking others

The remainder of this book is concerned with how to deal with these sources of stress at work. In some cases we indicate why the stressor arises in some organisations, what the typical effects of the stress are and what you can do about it. We will suggest the most important things you can do to manage the sources of stress at work - today.

For further reading about stress, see 50 Things You Can Do Today To Manage Stress by Wendy Green, which explains the psychological and lifestyle factors that can contribute to stress, and offers practical advice and a holistic approach to help you deal with its symptoms, as well as dietary and lifestyle changes and complementary therapies.


The Job Itself

1. How to cope when you have too much work to do

There can be no doubt that constantly having too much work to do will cause stress - various studies have shown this. For instance, an investigation into members of a white-collar union employed in drafting, mechanical and technical-clerical jobs in a manufacturing company showed that having too much work resulted in job dissatisfaction, fatigue and tension. A study into nurses and nursing assistants found that among the main source of stress for nurses was having too much work to do. Too much work can also result in interference with personal life. An examination of managers concluded that a large proportion of those in a typical production environment appeared at risk of developing psychological illness because they took on so much work.

A study in the American Sociological Review found that mothers spend ten more hours a week multitasking compared with fathers. These additional hours are mainly related to time spent on housework and childcare, and this can result in an increase in negative emotions, stress, psychological distress and work-family conflict. (By contrast, fathers' multitasking at home was not a negative experience!) Community and hospital pharmacists in Northern Ireland found an excessive workload to be among the most stressful aspects of their employment.

How does it happen?

· Your boss can't say 'no' to their boss.

· Your organisation is short-staffed.

· Deadlines are shifted.

· You feel you have to work harder and longer to keep your job.

· Your manager has no idea how much work you have to do.

How do you know when you have too much work to do?

· You make more mistakes.

· You become short-tempered with other people at work and at home.

· You become less efficient at work.

· You work late in an effort to keep up with the work.

· You bring work home with you.

What can you do about it?

· Ask your boss what your priorities are and reschedule your work accordingly. The less important elements of your work can wait or be given to someone else. The best way to prioritise your work is to divide your tasks into four categories: first, important and urgent tasks, which MUST be done; second, tasks that are important but not urgent (make sure you allocate enough time to do these because they are often left to one side); third, tasks that are urgent but not important (these are often tasks that are given to you by your boss - you know they are not important but you still have to complete them); fourth, tasks that are not important and not urgent (such as people interrupting you).

· Approach other people, especially if you work in a team, and ask if they can take on some of your work (don't forget you'll probably have to pay back the debt in the future).

· Recruit other people and/or outsource (if you can).

· Say no to requests to do additional work. Very often the inability to say no causes stress. The best way to say no is to say something like 'Sorry, I can't do it at this moment'. Or you might say you'll get back to them and, when you do, say you've looked at your schedule and you can't find time to fit in the extra work. Or, if you want, you can tell them you're able to take on part of the extra work, but not all of it, as you're so busy.

· Avoid interruptions - lock your door. Return phone calls, emails and text messages at specific times. At other times, let your voicemail take messages for you and set up an email auto- reply letting people know when you will respond.

· Do the difficult jobs first. If you do the easy ones first you may spend more time than you think getting them right.

· Set goals for the day. Schedule your time to include interruptions.

· Delegate (if you can).

· Do not try to achieve perfection. If you do, you'll find you spend far more time than the work requires, and the task you're doing becomes much bigger and more important than it deserves. Of course, some jobs DO require perfection - like a surgeon or an accountant.

2. How to cope when you have too little work to do

You might think having too little work to do would be great, but not having enough to do can affect your psychological well-being. Quantitative underload (having too little work to do) leads to what has been called 'rust out', and to boredom and apathy. This can lead to inattentiveness, which ultimately can be dangerous. For example, work underload in crane drivers has been found to be a significant source of stress. These drivers can get bored and inattentive, and do not follow the operations manual relating to the crane. They take chances. Qualitative underload (when you're not given an opportunity to use your skills and abilities or you have a routine, repetitive job that results in lack of mental stimulation) also leads to 'rust out', and is very obvious in new graduate recruits, who start their first full-time job and find their high expectations are not met. This leads to job dissatisfaction and lower motivation. In a study of male and female blue-collar workers it has been found that that work underload resulted in men having an increased systolic blood pressure (when the heart is contracting). For women, however, work underload resulted in higher cholesterol.

How does it happen?

· You do not have the skills needed to do the work, so it is not given to you.

· There are peaks and troughs when it comes to work volume - now is a trough.

· Work has been outsourced (and this may result in you having insufficient work to fill your time).

· Your reputation for completing the work is poor, so you are not given any.

· Your boss or colleagues cannot delegate - they do the work themselves.

· There are no new projects or business to be dealt with.

· You are in the wrong job.

· You are underutilised.

What happens to you?

· You are bored and apathetic at work.

· The quality of your work is poor.

· You do your work half-heartedly.

· Although you are efficient, you do your work in a manner that is just OK.

· You do your work, but you do not feel you have ownership of the final product - this may result in you feeling dissatisfied.

What can you do about it?

· If you know that the work you are required to do is too demanding for you, or you need more training to complete it, you should consider either going on a training course (if one is available), or opting to self-educate yourself to have the opportunity to realise new possibilities.

· Offer to mentor other employees - especially new ones. This will show your organisation you care about the progress of individuals and that you care about the company's future. Studies have shown that mentors and those mentored achieve a higher job satisfaction, which in turn leads to increased productivity and reduced staff turnover.

· Talk to your boss/colleagues and tell them you can take on some of their work. This will show you are able to do more than your current workload.

· Do work that has been lying about for some time and no one has tackled.

· Become a union representative. You will learn a great deal about the company you are working for and the people employed there. But remember, a recent survey showed that almost all union representatives think their career prospects have been damaged by their personal involvement with unions.

· Ask for a transfer to another group/department.


Excerpted from 50 Things You Can Do Today to Manage Stress at Work by Cary Cooper, Howard Kahn. Copyright © 2013 Cary Cooper and Howard Kahn. Excerpted by permission of Summersdale Publishers Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Cary Cooper is the author of many books, including Stress: A Brief History. Howard Kahn is a member of the British Academy of Management and the British Psychological Society.

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