“The pandemic has worsened stress, as boundaries between home and work have been blurred,” says Dr. Alex Dimitriu, founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine in Menlo Park, California. “Kids, pets, home life and other distractions now interfere with people’s attempts to work. The lack of social contacts or vacations to punctuate our lives have also added stress during COVID. Working remotely, through video visits and little in-person interaction has also significantly limited the multimodal ways we used to work — when we worked in person. For many, COVID had become Groundhog Day, with each day melting into the next, and this is hard.”
When work stress becomes chronic, it can be harmful and overwhelming to physical and emotional health. Although the tensions that happen on the job can’t always be avoided, adequate steps to manage work-related stress can be taken.
Understanding stress on the job
Stress can come from a multitude of sources — all of which can be improved upon, Dimitriu says. Poor communication and unclear direction are two examples, which can be fixed with improved communication and delineation of details and requirements.
“Ego can also get in the way of communication, and I cannot underscore enough the importance of observing without judging — providing answers and interacting with more fact and less personality — especially judgment or appraisal,” he says. “Empathy goes a long way, and empathy begins with care for one’s self. Being well rested, with time for some exercise, and eating healthy are some of the most basic ways to take care of our own selves.”
Other common sources of work stress include low salaries, excessive workloads, few opportunities for growth or advancement, work that isn’t engaging or challenging, a lack of social support, not having enough control over job-related decisions, and conflicting demands or unclear performance expectations, according to the American Psychological Association.
From an employer’s standpoint, much of the solution requires developing the leaders, whether it’s at the managerial levels or higher, says Ted Sun, who has a doctorate in psychology and is the president of Transcontinental University in Dublin, Ohio. Employers should be training their employees to communicate in an effective and emotionally intelligent way. Employees should also take initiative and develop these skills.
It’s important to show care by asking people how they’re feeling from an emotional perspective, Sun says.
“Let people vent as needed, and make no judgments about how people feel. Provide practical training to employees based on their interest. This gives them hope and optimism which is needed to balance the negative stressors,” he says.
Restoring civility in the workplace
Unity and togetherness are rooted in the sense that people have common goals that may be deeper than politics, Dimitriu says.
“I think a lot of pain and anxiety are also being transmuted from COVID and the personal and financial stresses of it into the political scene — everyone is hurting more these days. I recommend my patients to watch less TV, and not follow every political step, as this too can be a source of stress and certainly drama,” he says.
To build unity and togetherness despite differences, the key is to focus on common values that people share within the workplace, according to Sun.
“I’ve taken many leadership teams through a values exploration activity, where they state their top five core values and then define what it means to each other. Afterwards, a unique voting process gets the team/organization to a truly shared value set,” Sun says.
A much more challenging topic, Sun says, is how to have a civil conversation.
“The basis of a civil conversation requires people to be confident in who they are first,” he says. “For civil conversations to happen, organizations should have strategies in place to continually develop confidence with humility.”
To avoid being flustered and remain cool, Sun says, state or write down what is being felt: “I feel angry” or “I feel flustered.”
“Keeping it simple without blame is the key,” he says. “Once recognition and expression is done, focus on slowing down one’s breathing. This is the key path to getting the human brain to get out of the primal thinking state.”