How to manage stress at work?

SHRM President and CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, answers questions from HR as part of a series for USA today.

Do you have an HR or professional question that you would like answered? Submit it here.

Over the past few years, my professional life has become much more stressful. It’s to the point where my work has become less productive, and I feel more exhausted at the end of the day. Can you recommend practical methods to manage stress at work? — Troy

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: First let me say that you are not alone. According to a study by the American Psychological Association, almost 60% of respondents reported work-related stress marked by a lack of motivation or energy and lack of effort at work. No sector, industry or profession is immune to work-related stress. Fortunately, there are practical steps you can take to safeguard 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 whenever possible. Ask about your company’s employee assistance program (EAP) or research options with your health insurance. There are also several mental health apps available to help you relax and deal with day-to-day concerns. Self-care and well-being are key factors in reducing stress.

The past few years have been difficult for all of us, but you survived. Give yourself credit. Play to your strengths and remember your accomplishments.

Find ways to manage expectations in the workplace. Try time management exercises like making a list of priorities each day, then ticking them off as you complete them. When you have conflicting priorities, work with your supervisor to determine a course of action.

Try not to project yourself too far into the future. Stay in the moment. You cannot control the future. Planning can be helpful, even therapeutic for some, but even the best-laid plans should incorporate some flexibility.

I will add this: don’t forget that you can ask for help. As humans, we are not meant to operate in isolation. It is by connecting and collaborating with others that we survive and thrive. There’s nothing wrong with admitting you need help with a project or task. It is perfectly acceptable to respectfully decline to take on another project at work that will affect the deliverables of the projects you are currently working on.

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

After two years of working remotely, my company will require a return to work in the office three days a week, with a potential of five days in the future. I learned to prefer working from home. Should I do the case to my supervisor to continue some of the work remotely, or would I be better off finding a new full-time position remotely? —Marcelle

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: The level of remote working we have seen in response to the pandemic is unlikely to last, especially as we head into an economic downturn. While some industries, businesses, and positions thrive on remote working, 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. With that in mind, if you’d rather stay in your current role, be prepared to advocate for continued remote work.

Demonstrate why continuing to work remotely will benefit both you and your employer. Are you more productive and engaged when you can work remotely? Are you able to establish and maintain working relationships both virtually and in person? Can you be more productive because you’re not commuting anymore? Provide a detailed assessment of what work can be done at home and what work is best done in the office.

Before making your decision, consider some of the challenges employees face when working from home, such as feelings of isolation, difficulty staying in front of management, and the long-term effects this may have on their career. How do you plan to meet these challenges?

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

In your justification to your supervisor, explain how you will set goals with your supervisor, communicate progress, measure results, and plan changes with your team and 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 result you hoped for, stay flexible and ready to compromise or continue negotiations. Business changes constantly and your supervisor may be more open to the possibility of working from home in the future. Determine what the barriers were to the decision to refuse remote work and address them, if possible.

If it’s not possible to continue the conversation, consider other options such as revisiting the idea in a certain amount of time. If your job is not conducive to permanent remote work, assess what best suits your career and personal needs and whether you should look for another job to meet your preferences.

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