Don’t let climbing the corporate ladder lead to stress and poor health. Best bet: Make sure you’re in the right job in the first place.

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THE ticking of the clock on my office wall sounds like a hammer pounding a nail. I sit slumped over my laptop, strained eyes staring blankly at the screen. It’s 5:15 p.m. and I still do not have the report, due at 6:00, completed. I glance up and look rapidly around, like a kidnapped victim searching for potential rescuers. But the office is deserted. It’s just me and the stress.

Stress and anxiety were present from my first day in that job and most days felt exactly like that one. The stress affected my mental health, sparked bouts of insomnia and eventually led me to resign. The experience left me drained and wondering: What causes stress at work and can it be resolved?

Stress is the leading cause of dissatisfaction and turnover in the work place, according to Dr. Arla Day, Professor and Canada Research Chair, Industrial/Organizational Psychology at Saint Mary’s University. She cites three main reasons why employees experience stress at work: A conflict in the workplace; having too much to do or not enough resources to com- plete the work required; and working for a disengaged and unsupportive boss.

Day believes employers could minimize stress in their organization if they simply asked their employees what they needed to reduce their stress.
“Employees are the experts in what makes a job work successfully,” she says. “Employers need to create new processes, such as making workloads more manageable or providing extra resources and staff as needed.”

It’s not just the employee who experiences the negative effects of workplace stress. The employer and organization can also suffer. “If employees are stressed out, their productivity is generally lower,” says Lizz Pellet, Vice-President, Felix Global Corp., US Group and author of “The Cultural Fit Factor, Creating an Employment Brand that Attracts, and Repels the Right Employees.” Pellet says stressed-out and over- worked employee can become disengaged, bored and unsatisfied at work. This causes poor performance, which ultimately eaffects the bottom line.

If an organization’s employees feel stress so acutely, why isn’t management doing more to help? Pellet believes lack of communication between management and employees causes a failure to respond. Like Dr. Day, Pellet says management has to ask their employees how they are thinking and feeling. She recommends issuing a cultural health audit—a quantitative and qualitative assessment to be completed every 12 to 18 months.

“A cultural health audit will determine what motivates, supports and excites their staff and determine if there are any dis- crepancies between company policies and procedures that may be affecting the staff’s work experience in a negative way,” she says. The audit needs to be comprehensive. The key is to collect data that will show you why they feel one way or another—the factors that cause them to be engaged, disengaged, satisfied or unsatisfied.

The best way to deal with workplace stress is to avoid it altogether. How? By ensuring you’re in the right job in the first place. “It’s about understanding the culture of an organisation and figuring out whether or not you are aligned with that culture” says Pellet. “For example, if you work better in an environment of autonomy, working for a company where your compensation is tied to team goes does not align with your personal goals and will stress you out.”

Pellet suggests playing detective when you job search, carefully researching the company before applying for a job. The best way to determine whether or not the company is a fit for you is to focus on what Pellet calls “value system/value alignment,” determining whether or not the company’s values align with your own. “This empowers people to recognize that they have a say and a choice when it comes to where they work.”

Employees are in a better position than ever to read, research and investigate a job to ensure they get the best fit, she says. Some tips for researching an organization’s culture:

SCOPE OUT THE EMPLOYER: Visit the company career page, read the mission state- ment and any other corporate statements. Do the company’s key messages resonate with you? Search YouTube or Google for videos and company testimonials.

READ: Review media statements or news items to understand what Pellet calls “cultural indicators.” What is the company saying about itself? Does the company use stock images on their website or photos of real people?

DO SOME DIGGING: Searching for former employees on LinkedIn and check length of service. If you note a pattern of quick turnover, it might indicate a toxic work environment. Don’t just leave it there. Search for current employees and email them to ask simple questions about the company culture and whether or not they enjoy working there.

Despite the leg work, Pellet says value alignment research is critical. Doing your homework is the only way to see if you fit with a prospective employer. If you don’t, a disconnect between you and the organization can lead to stress and dissatisfaction down the road.

Survival tips: Combating stress at work

If you didn’t do a values alignment search, or are feeling completely stressed at work with no option to change jobs right now, try these survival tips.

GET OUT OF THERE: Take scheduled breaks and remove yourself from the office. Go to a coffee shop and read a magazine or do some journaling. Go for a walk or to the gym. Removing yourself from the office will help you re-energize.

MOVE OUTSIDE YOUR WORK PERSONA: 

During your off time, engage in an activity that is completely separate from your work. Sign up for a course, learn to sing, or brush up on your cooking skills. Do something that involves using different skills from your day job.

WHEN GONE FROM WORK, BE GONE:

Don’t give your evenings and weekends away to work. When you are away, you are away. Enjoy, rejuvenate and make the most of your time off. Make your time off count and resist the urge to collapse in front of the TV.

COMMUNICATE: Even if you don’t have a supportive boss, you can still talk to someone. Human resources departments usually have advisors who can suggest solutions to help you minimize stress, such as changing your work schedule to help you achieve better work-life balance.

Whether you investigate more carefully on the job hunt or try to lessen the impact of stress during the day, do whatever it takes to minimize stress at work.

After all, life’s too short.

More Insight: Check out this insightful article on dealing with procrastination.

Author: Jennifer Kelly is a fitness guru and occasional writer for Optimyz Magazine.

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