Dealing With Workplace Stress

Knowledge workers often think they don’t face health and safety issues, says one expert, but when you make your living with your brain, you have to take care of it. Unmanaged stress can lead to physical and mental malaise, decreased productivity and worse. Occupational health professionals detail how to stay your happiest and healthiest

Between dealing with machines and dealing with people, being an IT manager can sometimes feel like the most stressful job in the world. But letting that stress get to you can cause a lot of harm, from physical problems and mental anguish to decreased productivity. Occupational health experts detail how to stay your happiest and healthiest (yes, even in this economy).

The silent killer

“Stress is like blood pressure — it’s the silent killer,” said Kevin Kelloway, a Canada research chair and director of the CN Centre for Occupational Health and Safety at Halifax’s St. Mary’s University. “A lot of people don’t even realize they’re under that much stress, whether it’s not getting enough sleep or getting a few drinks after work. People are often just not aware.”

He said that becoming more aware of your triggers and working on them is the best way to de-stress.

“Be alert,” said Kelloway. “Knowledge workers think they have no health and safety issues in the workplace. It’s not like they’re going to fall off their chair or something. But when you make your living with your brain, you have to take care of it.” Feeling blue?A guide to depression and seasonal affective disorder

IT does often have to deal with it from both ends, whether it’s executive demands or users clamoring for help. “When it comes to expectations of IT, it’s always people wanting more for less, and, ‘Oh, we want it faster and better,’” said Nora Spinks, president of the wellness consultancy Work-Life Harmony Enterprises. “It’s on 24/7 and never slows down, making IT unique in that way because the elements often aren’t predictable.”

Then there are the users. “You’re often dealing with people who don’t have a clue what they’re talking about,” Spinks laughed. “You actually have to be really good at managing other people’s stress. And trying not to make them look stupid.”

She recommends that IT staff make sure to try to lead a healthy lifestyle to offset these challenges. This means eating well, sleeping enough, making time for friends and family … and keeping workplace stress to a minimum. Easier said than done, right? There are, however, ways to do it.

Finding the balance

First of all, companies and managers should take a proactive role in letting their employees know that a healthy workplace is important. “We need to set aside the assumption that work-life balance is just a North American or women’s issue,” Spinks said. “Everyone has a life outside of work.”

From the business’ side, “a company’s most important resource is its people. Most people don’t see it like that…or the value of preventive maintenance,” said Zorianna Hyworon, president of the software-as-a-service company Info Tech Inc., which does online lifestyle assessments via its Wellness Checkpoint tool.

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