Medically Reviewed By: Morgan Blair, MA, LPCC, NCC
Knowing how to reduce stress at work can seem tough. When you have to see people on a daily basis, or you have to fall in line with the company hierarchy, it can be tough. Luckily, there are some great strategies and proven techniques you can employ to better reduce, relieve, and cope with your stress at work. Find the strategies listed below that you like and build out a plan forward to make your job somewhere you truly enjoy being at.
- Set and Convey Effective Boundaries
- Leverage Clear Communication
- Don’t Let Addressable Issues Compound
- Build Balance Outside of the Office
- Properly Classify the Severity of Issues
- Be Good at Your Job
Set and Convey Effective Boundaries
Stress is a silent beast that is masterful at sneaking into our lives through the smallest nooks and crannies. One of the most effective ways to reduce stress at work is to set roadblocks to the stress. We’re talking about boundaries.
And while most people you ask will tell you they have boundaries in place, these boundaries often only exist in their minds. It’s important that you come up with the right boundaries, but it’s more important that you properly convey these boundaries to your boss, your coworkers, and yourself.
Boundaries with Your Boss
Sadly, one of the biggest causes of work-related stress for people is their boss. Where you should be getting the fuel, encouragement, and excitement to master your job, you may be getting stress that comes from poor leadership.
Start by realizing that you’re not going to be able to change who your boss is unless you want to get a new job. Unless you buy the company, your boss is someone you’re going to have to learn to work with.
Generally, people’s stress comes from their boss overstepping lines where boundaries should be in place. Often, this is small things like pushing too much work your way, requiring unfair expectations, or speaking and interacting with you in an unprofessional manner.
Tread lightly here, but you need to set boundaries with your boss on what is okay and what isn’t. Consult with outside sources like friends, therapists, and family members to get some insight into what they think is okay and what is over the line.
Asking you to work an extra day every month or two? Probably within the boundaries of okay. Asking you to work seven days a week when that’s not how the job was initially portrayed? Probably over the line.
Getting upset with you when you make a mistake and having a stern conversation? Probably fine. Screaming at you in the middle of the office in front of your coworkers on a daily basis? Abusive and not okay.
Try and handle this all tactfully, as a bad relationship with your boss can make things worse. However, a boss should be able to respect reasonable requests. And often, the only reason they’re pushing and stepping over these lines is because you’re allowing it or they’re not aware of it.
- Have a plan of action of what you’re going to say the next time something over the line happens. Planning ahead helps you to say what you want and not get heated in the moment.
- In more severe cases, sit down and have a meeting with your boss. Let them know you want to produce the best results for them, but it’s tough for these reasons. If they feel you’re just trying to be a good worker, it should go over well. Also, they might not be aware of what they’re doing.
- Develop processes you can recommend that can alleviate some of the issues. If you’re getting last-minute work every Friday that’s causing you stress and there’s a way to get that work earlier in the week, be a solution creator. Often, solutions that lower your stress also increase productivity for the company—a win-win.
- If it’s really bad and your boss is crossing legal and ethical lines with no signs of caring, you may need to reach out to human resources. This is probably a last-step effort, but the reason the department exist is to protect the worker and the company.
Boundaries with Your Coworkers
The next area you need to set boundaries to help lower your stress at work is with your coworkers. When you’re on a near-peer level, you have a lot more resources than when you’re dealing with a boss and subordinate relationship.
Here’s what’s important to remember first. Your boss, HR, and the company want what’s best for the company. The good news, though, is that happy and productive employees are what’s best for the company. So, if another coworker is doing something to impede that, the company is on your side.
The best place to start with coworker conflicts that are driving stress is at the root of the problem. Try and change the circumstances of the stressful situation to make improvements. Often, this can be as simple as a conversation or a comment when something is occurring.
Set the boundaries that you need in place that are fair to everyone. The last part there is critical. If you’re stressed because someone is blaring music all day long, that’s a fair concern where boundaries can be set. If you’re upset because someone wears red ties and you don’t like red, that’s an area where you’re going to need to learn and adapt as an individual.
When all of this doesn’t work, start going through your chain of command. Don’t start talking to everyone in the office and gossiping. Go to your direct supervisor when you’re calm and lay out the situation.
Boundaries with Yourself
Often, work-induced stress is a fault of our own. Yes, in the prior examples, it’s also our fault when we don’t set boundaries. However, what we’re talking about now are the things we do to ourselves that make our job more stressful.
- Are you overworking yourself by your own choice?
- Are you too much of a perfectionist with your work?
- Are you setting unrealistic expectations for yourself?
- Are you choosing to allow certain distractions to affect the quality of your work?
Setting reasonable boundaries with yourself is a great first-step for lowering your work stress.
Leverage Clear Communication
One of the best answers to the question of how to reduce stress at work is to communicate clearly. Often, stress is unnecessarily introduced into situations because two people aren’t on the same page. For example, if your boss gives you a task that you don’t understand and you fail to communicate that by asking for clarification, you’re setting yourself up for stress. When you turn in the work and it’s wrong, cue the stress.
Another example is when you’re setting your boundaries as we’ve previously discussed and you don’t do it clearly and in a tactful manner, you can create bigger issues. Or when you’re talking with a coworker about how something makes you feel and you aren’t clear, it can breed issues you never saw coming.
Effective communication isn’t learned overnight. However, if you start by keeping it simple, knowing your audience, and focusing on auditing whether your intent was conveyed properly—you’ll see success. And in all situations, when something is unclear, ask.
Don’t Let Addressable Issues Compound
Another chief cause of stress in the workplace and also outside of work is letting addressable issues compound over time. Bad news does not get better with time. Hard situations and challenges are not going to magically correct themselves.
When you have something come up that is going to be a tough conversation or a tough situation, address it immediately. Make a plan of action and execute. When you wait, you leave the door open for the problem to get worse or for more problems to come in. Often, a simple conversation early on in the process can stop something from turning into an out of proportion stressful event.
Be tactful, but address issues that you have control over as soon as possible. It may take a lot of work at the beginning, but it will eventually morph into the way that you regularly do business—and that’s a good thing.
Build Balance Outside of the Office
When work is all that you do and is the only barometer you use to measure the success of your life, you’re poised for failure. When work goes well, you feel great. When there’s an issue in the office, you feel stressed.
You have got to separate your work life from your at-home life. This becomes a lot easier when you have other things going on in your life. It almost forces you to shut off the work when you leave the office for the day. This can be as simple as working out (another proven stress reducer), finding someone special to spend time with, picking up a hobby, reading, or anything else that gives you that balance.
Properly Classify the Severity of Issues
If we were only allowed to give one answer to the question of how to cope with stress at work, it would be this. Properly classify the severity of issues. Look, it’s awesome that you care about your job and want to do a great job. Never lose that. However, your job is not you.
If the inventory is a day late outside of your control, that’s not the end of the world. If you made a small mistake on a report, realize that not everyone is perfect. If you lost a client because they went with another option, that was their choice.
We’re not saying not to care about these things. What we are saying, though, is that “bad” things that happen at work are hardly as bad as people make them out to be. Is this really going to be a big issue six months from now? Will it be anything anyone remembers a year from now? The chances are high that most “major” issues you have at work would be a ‘no’ on these questions—which means they’re really not that major of issues.
Care about your work, but don’t make issues into bigger problems than they really are. Also, be careful about who you surround yourself with at work in relation to this. There are some people that are so negative with everything that they can get anyone around them to believe that a small issue is truly the end of the world.
Be Good at Your Job
The number one way to lower stress at your work is to be good at your job. Take the time to learn about your profession and master your craft. The better you are at your job, the more efficient you’ll be, the fewer issues you’ll have with management, the more you’ll be successful, and the less stress you’ll run into.
If you’re just clocking in and clocking out and not really applying yourself, then you’re doing yourself a disservice. No matter what your job is, do it to a level that you’re proud of. If you’re a dishwasher, be the best dishwasher. If you’re a cook, make the tastiest food. Even if your bosses don’t realize it, you can rest easy at night with minimal stress knowing that you’re a master of your craft.