Your workload has increased, so have your boss's expectations. But scaling back could mean losing a job.
Paul Baard, an organizational and motivational psychologist at Fordham University's graduate business school in New York, knows just how stressful a work environment can get. He has consulted with athletes in the high-stakes, high-pressure world of professional sports.
What secret has he passed along to those clients? When you are in a slump, you can still contribute by encouraging your teammates.
Rather than burdening a team with distracting self-doubt and pity, try to help others, he advises. 'In order to remain self-motivated, research has found that the innate psychological need for competence must be satisfied,' Mr. Baard says. 'This drive pertains not only to the ability to do a job but to achieve something through it─to have impact, to contribute. A way an employee can expand opportunities to satisfy this need is to help her team succeed by encouraging others, even if her direct contributions are limited.'
Age, occupation and family circumstances, among other factors, can all play a part in how workers respond to different stressors. But experts say there are steps that can help you take control of your happiness at work this year.
Find meaning in your tasks. Commitment to a goal beyond self-promotion can help a worker manage stress levels, says John Weaver, a psychologist at Psychology For Business, a Brookfield, Wis.-based employment consultancy.
Several years ago, Mr. Weaver consulted for a long-term-care facility in Wisconsin that had flooded. Because of the water damage, the residents and employees had been forced to move into an already occupied facility. Employees felt cramped and annoyed, he says, and pettiness abounded.
To help the workers regain a positive attitude, Mr. Weaver asked each person this question: Why do you do this work?
'People don't work in nursing because it pays so much or it's glamorous or it's easy,' he says. 'As they heard the question you could see their attitude change. They could see the reasons why they needed to work together, to put aside difficulties and compromise, and residents were treated better.'
Remembering why you are in a business can help you manage stress, Mr. Weaver says.
While working on his dissertation, Rick Best, now a health-services scientist for Lockheed Martin, researched stress among nurses who work with veterans, a group that faces high demands with low resources. One might have expected elevated levels of burnout. But there were high levels of satisfaction.
'The meaning they got from their job was high,' says Mr. Best. 'They went into the profession of nursing to help people. As a consequence, they derived much meaning from what they were doing, and they were better able to handle stress.'
Reduce your expectations. Given how much energy employees devote to their job, there can be quite a few expectations wrapped up in work. Workers often look to employers for career, socialization, and personal and intellectual growth opportunities.
'With so many expectations, it's no wonder that work can't meet all of that. So we get disappointed, but I don't know that work could fulfill all those things,' says Ken Pinnock, associate director of employee relations and services at the University of Denver.
Due to so many layoffs in the last few years, many have lost friends and colleagues, and have realized that job security, taken for granted at times, is gone. There have also been cuts when it comes to extras, such as educational opportunities, celebrations and room for career advancement.
There can be an element of loss when employees realize that the workplace has changed. However, personal and professional goals can still be pursued without an employer's support.
'The way back from this is to try to gain perspective about work, realizing that we are still ultimately in charge of our careers and work, and we don't have to turn to our employers to develop ourselves, or look to them to be responsible for us,' Mr. Pinnock says.
Look at 'challenges,' not 'problems ore beneficiation.' Rather than perceiving problems at work, look at them as challenges.
'The people who approach work as an opportunity to learn are much more satisfied with their jobs and performance, and find themselves eager to take on new challenges,' Mr. Weaver says dryer machine. 'They aren't trying to prove that they are the smartest. They are more likely to learn from their own experiences and mistakes.'
Setting intermediate goals can also help workers derive a sense of accomplishment, and keep pace with longer-term targets, Mr. Best says.