How to Conquer Workplace Stress
A successful IT manager was promoted to director of technology for a large manufacturing firm. For a while, he seemed able to handle the added responsibility, even enrolling in a weekend business class. But six months into his new position, he was working late nights and weekends to keep up. His stress was at an all-time high.
You may not experience this level of anxiety at work, but even lower levels over the long term can take a toll on your job performance and your physical and mental health. While some degree of stress is inevitable, it’s important to implement solid coping strategies to maintain a feeling of excitement and purpose in your professional life.
Rx for Beating Stress
Workplace stress arises from a variety of situations, so the first step is to figure out what the triggers are for you. It could be one or a combination of the following things: too much work, insufficient autonomy or authority to make decisions, frustrated ambitions, unrealistic expectations (your own or another’s), interpersonal conflicts, office politics, ambiguity about your role or responsibilities and ineffective management styles.
Many IT professionals succumb to stress because they feel they have little or no control over what happens in the workplace. The first step, then, is to better manage the factors that are within your control.
Prioritize your work, scheduling “must do” tasks for a time of day when you’re most productive. Be realistic in estimating the amount of time it will take to complete a certain project, and plan your time accordingly. If you’re struggling with a complex assignment, try breaking it down into smaller tasks and steps to make it less overwhelming.
Before you embark on a project, make sure you understand the objectives. If you’re uncertain, ask the supervisor to clarify her expectations and your responsibilities. As the project progresses, seek guidance if you encounter unforeseen difficulties.
If your relationship with your manager is a source of stress, consider what you can do to improve the situation. Figure out how your boss prefers to communicate, and offer regular status reports on your projects. Also, the more you know about your manager’s job and its inherent responsibilities, the more you can ease those pressures—and the more valuable you become. Even small adjustments can make a big difference in your relationship with her.
Stress can often result from feeling that your career is stuck in a holding pattern. If you’re feeling frustrated about your professional life, review your long-term goals and ambitions. Consider positive steps you can take to change the situation. You may decide, for example, to make yourself more marketable by continuing your education or by seeking advanced certifications.
Whatever your source of stress, try to get adequate sleep and exercise—both will refresh and calm you. Use humor to defuse tense situations and reduce tension. Throughout your workday, take short breaks to stretch, go for a quick walk or just breathe slowly and deeply. If possible, take a “personal day” or a vacation if you need a longer respite.
Keep in mind that people respond to high-pressure situations in various ways. For some, a tight deadline is positive and stimulating. They feel a surge of energy as they rise to the challenge and tackle a particular project. On the flip side, others may view the same tight time frame as very stressful. Most of us fall somewhere between these two extremes.
By its nature, IT demands constant learning. It’s expected that you’ll keep on top of new developments—carving out time to take courses, read trade journals or study a new programming language. If you love what you do and just want to contend with work pressures better—similar to the director of technology at the beginning of this article—prioritizing your projects each day, taking breaks and keeping your long-term career goals in mind can help keep stress under control. Maintaining a positive attitude in a deadline-driven job takes practice, but it’s an essential strategy for you to be at your best for your colleagues and clients.
Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals for initiatives ranging from e-business development and multi-platform systems integration to network engineering and technical support. Robert Half Technology has more than 100 locations in the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia and offers online job-search services at www.roberthalftechnology.com.