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How to Deal With a Stressful Office Environment

Updated on August 30, 2016
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Dixie has been both an employer and employee, so her insights of getting hired as well as what employers are looking for are relevant.

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What is Stress in the Office?

Stress is basically doing or going through something that we don't like, but that we may not have a choice in having to go through it.

An office that has a stressful environment is one where there being in the office is an event that you want to avoid. Where the thought of going to work can make you feel ill, a tightness in your throat or stomach, or have other actual physical signs of discomfort.

Stress can be amplified by the need to have the job, the need to have the money from the job, and the need to be productive. In a tender economy, the thought of not being able to find a replacement job can add to the stress of being miserable in the current job.


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Stress Factors in the Workplace

Here are some common perceptions of what adds to stress in the workplace:

  • Job definitions that are not clear
  • Work not evenly distributed among people in same group
  • Clear favoritism
  • Clear dislike of one person/group of people
  • Equipment not current
  • Supplies inadequate
  • Deadlines that are not realistic
  • Lack of professionalism
  • Abuse of meal and break schedule
  • Verbal abuse
  • Rules not enforced
  • Lack of resources to complete tasks
  • Removal or reduction of time for breaks and meals
  • Not allowing allotted days to be taken off


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Be More Professional and Productive to Reduce the Stress Levels of Others

There are many ways to deal with workplace stress. The first is to make your personal workplace area, yourself, and your assigned work as stress free as you can make it. Here are some great tips:

  1. Remove all clutter from your work area. Make sure that your trash is emptied and your personal things are put in an appropriate place. Don't have so many personal things in your area that it affects your ability to do your job. A great rule of thumb is to have one personal item for every hour you work per day max. So if you work an 8 hour day, that is 8 things in your work space.
  2. Get caught up on your work load. This means complete everything in all of your projects that are in the back log files, get all of the items in your "in-box" out or complete, and remove yourself from being seen as a source of stress by others.
  3. Delete all emails that you no longer need. Ask friends and family to not use your work email or phone for contacting you if they have been doing this up until now. Remind them of your personal contact information and ask that they use that instead.
  4. Don't use the internet during work time for your personal use. You are there for the company, and your use of the computer to surf the internet could be contributing to other people in your office feeling stress from seeing you waste company resources. Additionally, using the internet for personal use could be a violation. If you have to use the internet, make sure that it is on breaks and lunch only.
  5. Dress professionally. Review your company policies for clothing/attire and make sure that you stick to those guidelines. If in doubt, be more covered instead of less.
  6. Don't gossip. Ever. If people are gossiping, walk away.
  7. Practice Good Hygiene. Shower every day. Wash with soap every day. Wear clean clothes. Brush your teeth after every meal. If you have bad odors no matter what, see a dentist or a doctor.


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Address Stress Issues With Someone

In a stress filled workplace, sometimes other coworkers may not be feeling the same stress that you are feeling. When I worked in a large call center, I was a quality assurance auditor. It was a thankless task, because no one wanted to befriend the people that could get them fired for having numerous negative reviews. There was only one auditor per shift, so making friends with others in my department was not something that was going to happen.

When my supervisor asked me how I liked the job, I explained that I loved the job, but I hated the isolation and the negativity that others on the floor treated me with. He had a meeting with everyone and explained what each job was for, and how it was important for all of us to get along with one another. I did not know it, but others before me had left because of the same feelings of negativity and isolation. By addressing the situation and getting help, the problem was solved and I made friends in my workplace.

Sometimes, if a supervisor is the problem, it can be scary and hard to reach out and get help. I would say to do it, especially if you are feeling stressed about your job. This may mean going over the person that you are having a problem with, but it is important to be able to work in a place where you are happy and productive. When I worked for someone that had a drinking problem, I went straight to human resources with the issue. The person got help, they never knew it came from me, and they are still a great person to know. Getting help is helpful.

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Have Defined Boundaries

Coming out of the quiet office on a Saturday, I went to the vending machine to get a candy bar. A man who I worked with came into the small room and pressed his mouth against mine, attempting to kiss me. I pushed away and he said "Oh, I thought you wanted to be kissed." I said "NO!" and went to my desk, where I called my boss. The man followed me and asked me to not make the phone call, but it was too late. He was called into the office and fired on the spot.

Have defined boundaries and don't allow them to be compromised. Don't contribute to a stressful workplace yourself though. Here are some ideas of what NOT to do in the workplace, no matter what your gender:

  1. Don't dress in a way not appropriate for work.
  2. Don't dress in a way that shows off your genitals, buttocks, cleavage and groin area.
  3. Don't wear too much cologne, perfume, makeup or other styling and grooming products.
  4. Don't take part in listening or telling off color jokes or stories.
  5. Don't take part in or make sexual comments or observations.
  6. Don't allow others to take part in these behaviors around you. Saying nothing is the same as advocating it.
  7. Don't use profanity, vulgarity, or speak frequently about your personal life and problems.


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Your Options For Reducing Stress In Your Workplace

There are things to do once you have done everything that you can do to reduce stress yourself. Here are some ideas:

  • Arrange a meeting with your supervisor to discuss the issues
  • Ask to be seated in a different part of the office
  • Ask to be transferred to a different group
  • Look for a different job

Of course, if your supervisor is the one that is causing you a problem, you will want to go to human resources. When you do go to speak to someone, have the list of problems that you see, the causes if there are any, and the solutions if you have some.

If you are unable to find resolution, then perhaps the only realistic thing that you may be able to do is to find work elsewhere.

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