Welles: Decompress your stress

IT problem-solving creates on-the-job stress that a few mind exercises can help relieve

Many people have written about ways to reduce stress on the job. What should feds with information technology jobs do to handle their stress? Mike Staver, an executive coach who has led sessions with systems employees at the Mayo Clinic in Florida and elsewhere, has some tips.

“Stress has nothing to do with how hard you work or how many hours you spend at work,” he said. “Stress comes from the amount of energy you invest vs. the return you get on that energy.”

For example, people in IT often face competing priorities at work. They must solve a variety of internal user problems. Users think those requests are simple. In reality, each technology solution may be extremely complex and time-consuming. Feeling put-upon and unable to meet expectations causes stress.

Although no single solution exists, Staver had suggestions for increasing positive energy at work and reducing feelings of stress.

He said employees should:

  • Focus on clarity and effective communication with the customer. Become more of an educator, mentor or consultant — not simply a task-doer. Begin by asking more questions so you can understand a request better and respond more effectively when you find out what the solution entails. “You are working in a world where people know what they want you to do but not how hard it is to do it,” Staver said. “To reduce stress, the focus has to be on placing energy where you get greatest return — in other words, in education.”

  • Practice saying no and setting limits, on and off the job. Saying no to your boss means giving choices. If you are dealing with multiple assignments and requests, present the demands and ask your boss which is the most important. Outline the challenges and look to your boss to tell you which one would give the greatest gain.

  • Identify an area that causes stress or difficulty and then change, influence or avoid it. You can change things you control. If you aren’t the one in control, you need to influence people who have the power to make a change. Where you can’t make or influence change, you need to develop strategies to go around or build a bridge over the difficulty to avoid it.

  • Be mindful of how you expend energy and focus on high-gain activities. You may not like aspects of your job, but other activities at work may give you a positive return and energize you. If you can’t find that activity, consider investing energy in nonwork areas, such as volunteering or community work, in which you can have high gain.

  • Walk it off — exercise. Even if you do not have time to go to the gym, you can walk around the block a few times at work when stress builds. Exercise makes you feel good about yourself and helps dissipate stress.

  • Try some of these tips or others you find. If you are still stressing out, it may be time for a mental-health day!

    Welles is a retired federal employee who has worked in the public and private sectors. She lives in Bethesda, Md., and writes about work life topics for Federal Computer Week. She can be reached at judy welles@fcw.com.

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