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Holidays At Work: Reduce Stress, Increase Joy

Posted Dec 06 2009 12:07pm

If you are experiencing stress at the very time you are expecting joy, you aren't alone.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reports that:

  • 40% of workers report their job is "very or extremely stressful".
  • 26% of workers report they are "often or very often burned out or stressed" by their work.
  • 29% of workers report they feel "quite a bit or extremely stressed at work".

Stress Levels Rise During the Holidays

Why do stress levels rise?

Joy The statistics show that 40% are already stressed out before the holidays arrive. In a poll of 600 full-time employees, Accenture’s HR Services found that 66% of the respondents reported additional stress at work during the holidays.

Let's face it. During the holidays you're faced with gift-buying in the midst of an already-stretched financial life; trying to shop while meeting job deadlines and other responsibilities; and thinking about the family dynamics that get played out each year.

I think there's one more big reason as well:

Unrealistic Expectations

For some reason, year after year, we cling to the hope of a perfect holiday, a perfectly loving family, and the perfect balance of work and life during the season. We're surrounded by images of happy families, ads that tell us how much we should be giving, and that joy will reign.

Yet the reality is that work and its deadlines remain (and are often shortened due to the holiday schedule); families continue to be families with all of their inherent challenges; our bank accounts don't allow us to give our spouses new cars or diamonds; and the gap between what we're told to expect and what is actually happening drains the joy from our hearts.

What Can You Do?

Individually:

1. Know that your family and friends don't care if everything is perfect. What they want is a relaxed atmosphere, according to the Harvard Medical School.

2. Money --and therefore, gifts--don't buy happiness. Yeah, I know you've heard that before.  Different studies suggest that, although poverty and low pay can cause unhappiness, once a certain level of compensation is reached, there is not a “significant relationship between how much money a person earns and whether he or she feels good about life” (Easterbrook 2005).

3. Supportive family and friends, on the other hand, appear to be crucial. This comes from Drs. Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania and his colleague Martin Diener at the University of Illinois. Both are heavily involved in the study of happiness.. When Seligman and Diener studied a group of students, they found that the happier ones tended to socialize more. “It is important to work on. . .close interpersonal ties and social support in order to be happy,” says Diener. It's all about relationships.

Organizationally:

1. Provide employees with a more flexible schedule to accommodate added demands outside the office. The Accenture study found that 54% of the surveyed workers said that flexible hours during the holidays would help reduce workplace stress. Twenty-six percent said they would like to telecommute once in a while until the seasonal rush is finished.

2. How about a shopping day? Some employers provide one day between Thanksgiving and Christmas to give people a chance to do just that. And they say it reduces angst and is appreciated by the employees.

3. Provide an online shopping catalog and allow online shopping. Plenty of companies offer hard-copy versions produced by firms who specialize in such programs. Why not do it online and save people time?

A Final Thought

Dr. Seligman, arguably the premier researcher and proponent of the psychology of happiness, says that happiness has three essential components:

First: the ability to savor life’s pleasures.

Second: there’s a true engagement with one’s work, avocations, and loved ones.

Third: the sense that one is serving a larger purpose beyond one’s self (“Reflective,” 2005; Wallis 2005).

I think it's the third that we need to attend to.

Whenever we focus on something greater than ourselves--especially the well-being of others--our sense of satisfaction and peace grows exponentially.

So give yourself this year. Your stress and anxiety will begin to melt away. And for once, the people around you will actually get what they want.

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