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Help for job stress
It’s no secret that there is stress at Stanford.
While helping employees deal with that stress is central to the university’s commitment to wellness, as seen in the existence of many programs and departments (the Help Center, BeWell and WorkLife, as examples), the ways in which we collectively harness and manage stress continue to be a work in progress. BeWell spoke with Rosan Gomperts, LCSW, Director of Stanford’s Faculty Staff Help Center, about how we can all be a part of the solution.
What else can be done to reduce stress on campus?
The university is doing a great job providing individuals with courses and skills to manage stress. However, there’s another piece: We need to look at the other ways to manage stress — from the top down. Understanding that different departments embrace different work schedules, it would seem generally beneficial if departments and supervisors looked at ways to support boundaries around work. One idea would be to make it clear that employees are not expected to respond to emails received after 7 p.m. (until 7 a.m. the following day). This altered expectation would not prevent employees from reading emails, but they would not be expected to do so in their off-hours.
Another example: Encourage employees to take breaks and vacations. We know it is hard for people to leave; they often have to prepare their work before departing and then may receive a flood of work upon returning. However, research indicates that taking breaks from work can greatly reduce overall stress and increase creativity and productivity. In a small group study which assessed the effectiveness of placing boundaries around a group’s work time, researchers found that the group worked 11 fewer hours (collectively) per week and yet were more productive. Explains Deborah Mulhern, PhD (and clinical psychologist), “Without time and opportunity to relax, the neural connections that produce feelings of calm and peacefulness become weaker, making it actually more difficult to shift into less stressed modes.”
Are there ways that managers or department heads could actively support these ideas?
Yes. If a manager sees a person working long hours, coming in early or leaving very late, the manager could talk to the employee about this pattern. Managers can support their employees in participating fully in the BeWell program and all the terrific benefits that Stanford offers to its community. Generally, I believe it is part of a manager’s responsibility to monitor the health and well-being of their group. If they sense there might be a problem, managers ought to reach out to campus resources and encourage employees to do so as well.
Should we take work relationships into consideration?
Difficult work relationships can be very stressful, but we can try to shift our attitudes and manage those relationships with more equanimity. We can recognize and accept that we get along better with some people than with others. When we pay undue attention to difficult relationships, it often just magnifies an already awkward or uncomfortable situation. We can start to make negative assumptions and build evidence against those whom we find difficult. Fortunately, learning to manage difficult relationships and situations is a skillset that can be developed and practiced.
How can employees take more control of a difficult work situation?
They can decide to do something about it. Options include having a facilitated conversation at the Help Center or the Ombuds office, or taking a communications class. Also, this is a situation where a manager can reach out for help — either with a whole group or an individual. The Help Center can address a group on the topic of managing stress, or can help evaluate what is creating the stress and then suggest solutions. Help Center staff also can come to a department and teach “Communicating with Tact and Skill” — which can create a shared understanding of how to manage difficult conversations. Also, an entire department can now receive BeWell Berries for having Help Center staff come and deliver any of these services. Objectivity is also important. Find someone to talk with who is objective and can give you some ideas.
… any final thoughts?
Manage what you can manage and do what you can to take care of yourself. When you can’t do it alone, seek help and discussion.
The Center is staffed by licensed clinical social workers, marriage and family therapists, psychologists, and experienced interns. We are a diverse group from the standpoint of age, sex, ethnicity, foreign-language ability, and special skills. We encourage people to seek help from the counselor with whom they are most comfortable.
Interview conducted by Julie Croteau and edited by Lane McKenna.