5 ways to reduce stress at work

Making the office a place you want go to every day is a team effort, says UAlberta expert.


Like it or not, we spend most of our waking hours in the office, so creating a positive workplace matters—and it’s up to everyone on the floor to make it happen, says a University of Alberta expert.

“Canadians spend 60 per cent of their time at work, so why not make that a healthy place to be?” said Thomas Barker, a communications professor in the Faculty of Extension who researches workplace wellness. “If you’re spending 60 per cent of your time in a place where you are being bullied, or not being rewarded, or where you don’t feel you are achieving anything, then you are not going to have a happy life.”

But making the office a place you want to be day in and day out is a team effort, suggested Barker, who heads the Healthy Workplaces for Helping Professions project exploring wellness for workers in the social services sector.

Recommendations from the project indicate that it’s not only up to managers, human resource officers or the office’s wellness committee to create a good working environment.

“Being a leader means that employees have to speak up and express their awareness of the dangers that different workplace hazards pose,” he said. “They have to adopt ways of coping not just for themselves, but also talk to others and to their employer.

“Not hearing from employees means a workplace lacks awareness of unproductive and psychologically dangerous hazards—and more importantly, of ways to mitigate that hazard.”

There are five ways everyone can build a more harmonious workplace, said Barker:

1. Understand your stressors

Common stressors include lack of resources, high workloads or unco-operative colleagues.

“It’s important to understand that stress is a response to a hazard. If workers are well equipped to do their job and have a good relationship with co-workers, they can overcome stressful challenges,” said Barker, who added that experiencing stress in your job is not inevitable.

2. Look after yourself

“Follow the basics of proactive self-care by tending to your physical, spiritual, emotional and social needs to create life balance,” Barker advised.

That includes eating well, getting enough rest, exercising and spending time with friends and family. Avoid “escapist behaviour” like self-medicating with alcohol or drugs.

“Our research shows that if people have good self-care at work, they feel less stressed,” Barker said.

3. Build good relationships

“Be mindful of other people. If you have a bad relationship with someone, try to understand what the other person’s interests are and think about what greater good can be accomplished if you work with that person,” Barker said.

This means being empathetic and respectful towards others, building trust and being committed to working on a team.

4. Tap into workplace resources

Take advantage of employee assistance plans, which usually offer go-to services like counselling, classes and, in extreme cases, disability leave that can help workers address their wellness issues.

There tends to be a stigma about taking part in workplace programs, Barker said. “People see that stigma and it makes them shy away from programs that could really be healthy, so it’s important to be proactive in taking advantage of those kinds of resources.”

5. Communicate some caring

Offer to lend an ear to co-workers who seem down.

“If you see a colleague who is having a bad day, stop and say, ‘You know what, I’ve been there.’ Don’t try to problem-solve for them, but do let them know they’re not alone, that they have resources, they have a team.

“That kind of encouragement needs to happen—and the more communication there is around health issues and wellness in the workplace, the better things are going to be.”