Ask HR: How Can I Manage Stress in the Workplace?

SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA Today.

Do you have an HR or work-related question you’d like him to answer? Submit it here. 

 

Over the past few years, my work life has become considerably more stressful. It is to the point where my work has become less productive, and I seem to be more exhausted at the end of the day. Can you recommend any practical methods for managing stress at work? —Troy

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: Let me first say, you are not alone. According to an American Psychological Association study, nearly 60 percent of those surveyed reported work-related stress marked by lack of motivation or energy and lack of effort at work. No sector, industry or vocation is immune from work-related stress. Fortunately, there are some practical steps you can take to preserve your well-being.

Give yourself permission to prioritize your self-care and well-being. Maintain a healthy diet, exercise regularly, seek professional support when needed and take mental health days as you can. Look into your company’s employee assistance program (EAP) or seek out options through your health insurance. There are also several mental health apps available to help you relax and manage your day-to-day concerns. Self-care and well-being are key factors in decreasing stress.

The last few years have been challenging for us all, but you have survived. Give yourself some credit. Play to your strengths and don’t forget your accomplishments. 

Find ways to manage workplace expectations. Try some time management exercises like developing a list of priorities each day, then checking them off as you complete them. When you have conflicting priorities, work with your supervisor to determine a plan of action.

Try not to project too far into the future. Stay in the moment. You can’t control the future.  Planning can be helpful—even therapeutic for some—but even the best-laid plans need to have some flexibility built in.

I’ll add this: Remember that it’s OK to ask for help. As humans, we aren’t meant to operate in isolation. Connecting and collaborating with others is how we survive and thrive. It’s OK to admit when you need assistance with a project or task. It’s perfectly acceptable to respectfully decline to take on another project at work that would affect the deliverables of projects you are currently working on.

By using these methods, you can reduce your stress. Reducing your stress will give you your confidence and energy back and allow you to be more productive.

After two years of working remotely, my company will be requiring a return to working in the office three days per week, with the potential for five days in the future. I have grown to prefer working from home. Should I make the case to my supervisor for continuing a portion of remote work, or would I be better off finding a new full-time remote position? —Marcella

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: The level of remote work we’ve seen in response to the pandemic isn’t likely to last, especially as we inch toward an economic downturn. While some industries, businesses and positions thrive with remote work, most operations are more productive, efficient and innovative with fully in-person or hybrid work. This means remote work may not be as prevalent as it once was. In this light, if your preference is to stay in your current position, be prepared to make your case for continuing remote work.

Demonstrate why continuing remote work will be beneficial to both you and your employer. Are you more productive and engaged when you can work remotely? Are you able to build and sustain working relationships both virtually and in person? Can you be more productive because you are no longer commuting? Provide a detailed assessment of what work can be done at home and what work is best accomplished at the office. 

Before making your decision, consider some of the struggles employees face when working from home, such as feeling isolated, difficulty remaining in front of leadership and any long-term effects it may have on their career. How do you plan to handle those challenges?

I encourage you to see the situation from your employer’s perspective. With remote work, employers are often concerned about the loss of collective productivity and morale, which can be strengthened and improved through interacting in person, developing co-worker relationships and collaborating regularly. Understanding your supervisors’ concerns will help you build a compelling case.

In your justification to your supervisor, cover how you’ll set goals with your supervisor, communicate progress, measure outcomes, and schedule changes with your team and the others with whom you interact. Highlight how you will contribute to the overall productivity of your workgroup, not just your individual performance.

If you don’t get the outcome you were hoping for, remain flexible and prepared to compromise or continue negotiations. Business is always changing, and your supervisor may be more open to the possibility of working from home at a later point in time. Determine what the barriers were in the decision to decline remote work and address them, if possible.

If continuing the conversation is not possible, consider other options such as revisiting the idea within a certain time frame. If your job is not conducive to permanent remote work, assess what is best for your career and personal needs and whether you should seek another job to meet your preferences.  

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