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Stress in the Workplace
Whatever your work demands, there are steps you can take to protect yourself from the damaging effects of stress, improve your job satisfaction, and bolster your well-being on and off the job.
When is workplace stress too much?
Stress isn’t always bad. A little bit of stress can help you stay focused, energetic, and able to meet new challenges in the workplace. It’s what keeps you on your toes during a presentation or alert to prevent accidents or costly mistakes. But in today’s hectic world, the workplace too often seems like an emotional roller coaster. Long hours, tight deadlines, and ever-increasing demands can leave you feeling worried, drained, and overwhelmed. And when stress exceeds your ability to cope, it stops being helpful and starts causing damage to your mind and body—as well as to your job satisfaction.
You can’t control everything in your work environment, but that doesn’t mean you’re powerless, even when you’re stuck in a difficult situation. If stress on the job is interfering with your work performance, health, or personal life, it’s time to take action. No matter what you do for a living, what your ambitions are, or how stressful your job is, there are plenty of things you can do to reduce your overall stress levels and regain a sense of control at work.
Common causes of workplace stress include:
- Fear of being laid off
- More overtime due to staff cutbacks
- Pressure to perform to meet rising expectations but with no increase in job satisfaction
- Pressure to work at optimum levels—all the time!
- Lack of control over how you do your work
Stress at work warning signs
When you feel overwhelmed at work, you lose confidence and may become angry, irritable, or withdrawn. Other signs and symptoms of excessive stress at work include:
- Feeling anxious, irritable, or depressed
- Apathy, loss of interest in work
- Problems sleeping
- Trouble concentrating
- Muscle tension or headaches
- Stomach problems
- Social withdrawal
- Loss of sex drive
- Using alcohol or drugs to cope
Tip 1: Beat workplace stress by reaching out
Sometimes the best stress-reducer is simply sharing your stress with someone close to you. The act of talking it out and getting support and sympathy—especially face-to-face—can be a highly-effective way of blowing off steam and regaining your sense of calm. The other person doesn’t have to “fix” your problems; they just need to be a good listener.
Turn to co-workers for support. Having a solid support system at work can help buffer you from the negative effects of job stress. Just remember to listen to them and offer support when they are in need as well. If you don’t have a close friend at work, you can take steps to be more social with your coworkers. When you take a break, for example, instead of directing your attention to your smartphone, try engaging your colleagues.
Lean on your friends and family members. As well as increasing social contact at work, having a strong network of supportive friends and family members is extremely important to managing stress in all areas of your life. On the flip side, the lonelier and more isolated you are, the greater your vulnerability to stress.
Build new satisfying friendships. If you don’t feel that you have anyone to turn to—at work or in your free time—it’s never too late to build new friendships. Meet new people with common interests by taking a class or joining a club, or by volunteering your time. As well as expanding your social network, helping others—especially those who are appreciative—delivers immense pleasure and can help significantly reduce stress.
Tip 2: Support your health with exercise and nutrition
When you’re overly focused on work, it’s easy to neglect your physical health. But when you’re supporting your health with good nutrition and exercise, you’re stronger and more resilient to stress.
Taking care of yourself doesn’t require a total lifestyle overhaul. Even small things can lift your mood, increase your energy, and make you feel like you’re back in the driver’s seat.
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Make time for regular exercise
Aerobic exercise—activity that raises your heart rate and makes you sweat—is a hugely effective way to lift your mood, increase energy, sharpen focus, and relax both the mind and body. Rhythmic movement—such as walking, running, dancing, drumming, etc.—is especially soothing for the nervous system. For maximum stress relief, try to get at least 30 minutes of activity on most days. If it’s easier to fit into your schedule, break up the activity into two or three shorter segments.
And when stress is mounting at work, try to take a quick break and move away from the stressful situation. Take a stroll outside the workplace if possible. Physical movement can help you regain your balance.
Make smart, stress-busting food choices
Your food choices can have a huge impact on how you feel during the work day. Eating small, frequent and healthy meals, for example, can help your body maintain an even level of blood sugar. This maintains your energy and focus, and prevents mood swings. Low blood sugar, on the other hand, can make you feel anxious and irritable, while eating too much can make you lethargic.
Minimize sugar and refined carbs. When you’re stressed, you may crave sugary snacks, baked goods, or comfort foods such as pasta or French fries. But these “feel-good” foods quickly lead to a crash in mood and energy, making symptoms of stress worse, not better.
Reduce your intake of foods that can adversely affect your mood, such as caffeine, trans fats, and foods with high levels of chemical preservatives or hormones.
Eat more Omega-3 fatty acids to give your mood a boost. The best sources are fatty fish (salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, sardines), seaweed, flaxseed, and walnuts.
Avoid nicotine. Smoking when you’re feeling stressed may seem calming, but nicotine is a powerful stimulant, leading to higher, not lower, levels of anxiety.
Drink alcohol in moderation. Alcohol may seem like it’s temporarily reducing your worries, but too much can cause anxiety as it wears off and adversely affect your mood.
Tip 3: Don’t skimp on sleep
You may feel like you just don’t have the time get a full night’s sleep. But skimping on sleep interferes with your daytime productivity, creativity, problem-solving skills, and ability to focus. The better rested you are, the better equipped you’ll be to tackle your job responsibilities and cope with workplace stress.
Improve the quality of your sleep by making healthy changes to your daytime and nightly routines. For example, go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends, be smart about what you eat and drink during the day, and make adjustments to your sleep environment. Aim for 8 hours a night—the amount of sleep most adults need to operate at their best.
Turn off screens one hour before bedtime. The light emitted from TV, tablets, smartphones, and computers suppresses your body’s production of melatonin and can severely disrupt your sleep.
Avoid stimulating activity and stressful situations before bedtime such as catching up on work. Instead, focus on quiet, soothing activities, such as reading or listening to soft music, while keeping lights low.
Stress and shift work
Working night, early morning, or rotating shifts can impact your sleep quality, which in turn may affect productivity and performance, leaving you more vulnerable to stress.
- Adjust your sleep-wake cycle by exposing yourself to bright light when you wake up at night and using bright lamps or daylight-simulation bulbs in your workplace. Then, wear dark glasses on your journey home to block out sunlight and encourage sleepiness.
- Limit the number of night or irregular shifts you work in a row to prevent sleep deprivation from mounting up.
- Avoid frequently rotating shifts so you can maintain the same sleep schedule.
- Eliminate noise and light from your bedroom during the day. Use blackout curtains or a sleep mask, turn off the phone, and use ear plugs or a soothing sound machine to block out daytime noise.
Tip 4: Prioritize and organize
When job and workplace stress threatens to overwhelm you, there are simple, practical steps you can take to regain control.
Time management tips for reducing job stress
Create a balanced schedule. All work and no play is a recipe for burnout. Try to find a balance between work and family life, social activities and solitary pursuits, daily responsibilities and downtime.
Leave earlier in the morning. Even 10-15 minutes can make the difference between frantically rushing and having time to ease into your day. If you’re always running late, set your clocks and watches fast to give yourself extra time and decrease your stress levels.
Plan regular breaks. Make sure to take short breaks throughout the day to take a walk, chat with a friendly face, or practice a relaxation technique. Also try to get away from your desk or work station for lunch. It will help you relax and recharge and be more, not less, productive.
Establish healthy boundaries. Many of us feel pressured to be available 24 hours a day or obliged to
keep checking our smartphones for work-related messages and updates. But it’s important to maintain periods where you’re not working or thinking about work. That may mean not checking emails or taking work calls at home in the evening or at weekends.
Don’t over-commit yourself. Avoid scheduling things back-to-back or trying to fit too much into one day. If you’ve got too much on your plate, distinguish between the “shoulds” and the “musts.” Drop tasks that aren’t truly necessary to the bottom of the list or eliminate them entirely.
Task management tips for reducing job stress
Prioritize tasks. Tackle high-priority tasks first. If you have something particularly unpleasant to do, get it over with early. The rest of your day will be more pleasant as a result.
Break projects into small steps. If a large project seems overwhelming, focus on one manageable step at a time, rather than taking on everything at once.
Delegate responsibility. You don’t have to do it all yourself. Let go of the desire to control every little step. You’ll be letting go of unnecessary stress in the process.
Be willing to compromise. Sometimes, if you and a co-worker or boss can both adjust your expectations a little, you’ll be able to find a happy middle ground that reduces the stress levels for everyone.
Tip 5: Break bad habits that contribute to workplace stress
Many of us make job stress worse with negative thoughts and behavior. If you can turn these self-defeating habits around, you’ll find employer-imposed stress easier to handle.
Resist perfectionism. When you set unrealistic goals for yourself, you’re setting yourself up to fall short. Aim to do your best; no one can ask for more than that.
Flip your negative thinking. If you focus on the downside of every situation and interaction, you’ll find yourself drained of energy and motivation. Try to think positively about your work, avoid negative co-workers, and pat yourself on the back about small accomplishments, even if no one else does.
Don’t try to control the uncontrollable. Many things at work are beyond our control, particularly the behavior of other people. Rather than stressing out over them, focus on the things you can control, such as the way you choose to react to problems.
Look for humor in the situation. When used appropriately, humor is a great way to relieve stress in the workplace. When you or those around you start taking work too seriously, find a way to lighten the mood by sharing a joke or funny story.
Clean up your act. If your desk or work space is a mess, file and throw away the clutter; just knowing where everything is can save time and cut stress.
Be proactive about your job and your workplace duties
When we feel uncertain, helpless, or out of control, our stress levels are the highest. Here are some things you can do to regain a sense of control over your job and career.
Talk to your employer about workplace stressors. Healthy and happy employees are more productive, so your employer has an incentive to tackle workplace stress whenever possible. Rather than rattling off a list of complaints, let your employer know about specific conditions that are impacting your work performance.
Clarify your job description. Ask your supervisor for an updated description of your job duties and responsibilities. You may find that some of the tasks that have piled up are not included in your job description, and you can gain a little leverage by pointing out that you’ve been putting in work over and above the parameters of your job.
Request a transfer. If your workplace is large enough, you might be able to escape a toxic environment by transferring to another department.
Ask for new duties. If you’ve been doing the exact same work for a long time, ask to try something new: a different grade level, a different sales territory, a different machine.
Take time off. If burnout seems inevitable, take a complete break from work. Go on vacation, use up your sick days, ask for a temporary leave-of-absence—anything to remove yourself from the situation. Use the time away to recharge your batteries and gain perspective.
Look for satisfaction and meaning in your work
Feeling bored or unsatisfied with how you spend most of the workday can cause high levels of stress and take a serious toll on your physical and mental health. But for many of us, having a dream job that we find meaningful and rewarding is just that: a dream. Even if you’re not in a position to look for another career that you love and are passionate about—and most of us aren’t—you can still find purpose and joy in a job that you don’t love.
Even in some mundane jobs, you can often focus on how your contributions help others, for example, or provide a much-needed product or service. Focus on aspects of the job that you do enjoy, even if it’s just chatting with your coworkers at lunch. Changing your attitude towards your job can also help you regain a sense of purpose and control.
How managers or employers can reduce stress at work
Employees who are suffering from work-related stress can lead to lower productivity, lost workdays, and a higher turnover of staff. As a manager, supervisor, or employer, though, you can help lower workplace stress. The first step is to act as a positive role model. If you can remain calm in stressful situations, it’s much easier for your employees to follow suit.
Consult your employees. Talk to them about the specific factors that make their jobs stressful. Some things, such as failing equipment, understaffing, or a lack of supervisor feedback may be relatively straightforward to address. Sharing information with employees can also reduce uncertainty about their jobs and futures.
Communicate with your employees one-on-one. Listening attentively face-to-face will make an employee feel heard and understood. This will help lower their stress and yours, even if you’re unable to change the situation.
Deal with workplace conflicts in a positive way. Respect the dignity of each employee; establish a zero-tolerance policy for harassment.
Give workers opportunities to participate in decisions that affect their jobs. Get employee input on work rules, for example. If they’re involved in the process, they’ll be more committed.
Avoid unrealistic deadlines. Make sure the workload is suitable to your employees’ abilities and resources.
Clarify your expectations. Clearly define employees’ roles, responsibilities, and goals. Make sure management actions are fair and consistent with organizational values.
Offer rewards and incentives. Praise work accomplishments verbally and organization-wide. Schedule potentially stressful periods followed by periods of fewer tight deadlines. Provide opportunities for social interaction among employees.
Get more help
STRESS… At Work – Causes of stress at work and how to prevent it. (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health)
Stress at Work (PDF) – Help and advice for dealing with job and workplace stress. (Acas)
Coping with Stress at Work – Common sources and the steps you can take. (American Psychological Association)
Workplace stress management strategies for business managers – Actions you can take to relieve stress for your staff. (Bupa)
12 Tips for Asking for (and Getting) Time Off From Work
It can be hard to ask for time off from your job even when you’re entitled to vacation or other leave. What’s the best way to ask for time off from work, and when should you ask? What should you do if you need time off from work at short notice? There are strategies you can use to ask your manager for time off in ways that will make it more likely you’ll get it approved.
Check Your Company’s Vacation Policy
Many organizations have a lean staffing plan, and that means that every worker is missed when they take time away from the job. That may make it tougher to get time off, especially if you try to ask at the last moment.
On average, employees are typically provided with 2-4 weeks of paid vacation.
It can be more – some employers even offer unlimited vacation as a company benefit, or it could be less, or you could get no paid vacation time at all.
Some employers have a system where vacation is accrued based on time worked. Others provide a certain number of weeks, which can vary based on years of service. If you’re eligible for paid vacation, you may have to wait until after you’ve been on the job for a certain length of time to be eligible to use it. For example, some companies provide paid vacation after a year, while others offer time off you can take immediately.
Paid and Unpaid Time Off
Organizations are not legally required to provide vacation, paid or unpaid, for employees. However, some companies are legally obligated to provide time off from work for family leave.
If you’re not sure what vacation time you’re entitled to, check with your employee manual, manager, or Human Resources department.
If your company doesn’t offer vacation pay as a benefit, or if you have used all your paid vacation, you can still ask for time off. You most likely won’t be paid for the days you take off if you don’t have vacation leave to cover them, but your manager may be agreeable to letting you miss work.
If you need more than a few days off owing to illness, injury, or family issues, consider asking for a leave of absence or family and medical leave.
12 Tips to Ask for Time Off From Work
It can be challenging to secure time off and remain in good standing with your supervisor when each worker is important to operations. It can also be tricky if you have used your allotted vacation and you want to take more time, or work at a job which doesn’t offer vacation as an employee benefit. Before you go and talk to your boss, look to these tips for inspiration:
1. Plan the best time to ask your boss. Timing is everything. Don’t ask for time off during a crisis at work or during a high-volume business cycle. Plan your requests for time off when your boss will be most receptive. Avoid stressful times of the day, week, or month.
If you know you’re going to need time off, giving as much notice as you can will make it easier for your manager to approve it:
- If you work in a casual setting, you can just ask your boss or email your request.
- You may want to schedule a brief meeting to discuss your request, if you work in a more formal workplace.
There may also be company policy guidelines for requesting time off. Be sure to follow the rules, if there is a system in place.
2. Ask at a good time for the company. Make sure your work is under control and well managed at the time of your request. If possible, ask for time off after the successful completion of a project or event. If you’re employed in a role, for example, where you have busy times, such as year-end or tax deadlines, try to work around the busiest dates. If you have plans that conflict with your work schedule, explain why you’re asking when you put in your request. For example, you could say:
- “I know June is year-end, but my sister is getting married on June 15
and I’d really appreciate being able to take some vacation days around the
3. Schedule your time in advance whenever possible. Having a yearly plan can help ensure that you utilize your allotted time and integrate vacation into your project planning. If you want time off at short notice, be sure to let your boss know that you’re caught up. It will be easier to make a case if you’re ahead at work, and if you don’t have any pressing projects in your calendar. That’s especially important if you’re requesting time off around the holidays, which is a peak time for vacation.
4. Use it or lose it. Letting your employer know that you need to use a certain amount of vacation time or stand to lose it per company policy can help smooth the way to approval. Employers in most states can set a date by which employees must use vacation or lose it. However, they are required to make a good faith effort to accommodate employee requests for time off.
5. Don’t ask at a peak time. Consider the ebbs and flows of activity in your department as you plan the timing of vacation requests. Steer away from peak times when your supervisor needs all-hands-on-deck to meet demand or adhere to a deadline. If your annual report is due on June 1, then it certainly wouldn’t be advisable to request time off in the weeks immediately prior to that deadline.
6. Request time off in writing. Make sure you put your request in writing, so there is documentation when the time comes around to take the time off. An email to your manager should suffice, with a copy to anyone else at the organization who should be aware of the request.
Subject: Katherine Ryan – Vacation Request
I’d appreciate being able to take a week’s vacation during my children’s spring break. The dates are April 15 – 19.
If it’s approved, I’ll be able to be caught up with the projects I’m currently working on, and I can get a head start on any time sensitive work due after my return. Thanks very much for your consideration.
7. Ask, don’t tell. Requests for time off should be just that – a request, and not a demand. Avoid stating your vacation plans as a done deal prior to getting approval from your supervisors.
- Do say, “I would like to spend the last two weeks of August in Cape Cod. Do you think that would be workable?”
- Don’t say, “I’ve booked a trip to Cancun for the last week in June and need to take vacation days.”
8. Help plan the workflow. Present a plan for how your responsibilities might be handled in your absence. For example, you could say:
- “Steve and Sadie will be here the week I’d like to be away and have agreed to handle anything that might come up with my customers.”
9. Get caught up before you go. If you need to, put in some extra hours leading up to your time off to make sure your area of responsibility is under control. It’s never a good idea to leave your colleagues with a ton of work because you weren’t up to date with it when you left.
10. Share your work. Meet with co-workers with whom you collaborate and discuss how joint or overlapping responsibilities might be handled. You don’t want to go on vacation, if you can help it, and come back to a mess at work. Talk to your manager about how your work will be covered in your absence once your request is approved.
11. Inform everyone who needs to know. Make sure your bosses don’t get any complaints while you are gone. Inform key constituents such as customers and clients that you will be away, and let them know who will accommodate their needs in your absence. Planning well for your absence and making sure everything is covered will make it easier to get time off next time around.
12. Play fair with co-workers. Discuss ways to divvy up the most popular periods of time for vacations, so relationships with co-workers remain positive, and your boss is spared any complaints. Everyone has different personal and family obligations, so it may be easy to work out a schedule where everyone gets the time off they’d like.
When You Need Time Off From a New Job
But what if you’re a new hire? It’s tougher to get paid vacation right away, but even if you’ve just started a new job you may be able to get a few days off. Take another look at the previous tips, and review this guide to how to ask for time off at
a new job
before you talk to your boss.
If you are considering a job offer and have a vacation planned or know you might need other leave from work, you may be able to negotiate it as part of the compensation package.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask
Regardless of the circumstances, don’t be afraid to ask for time off. Everyone needs a break from work, and going on vacation can be a terrific way to rejuvenate and refresh your brain.
IELTS Mentor “IELTS Sample Answer & IELTS Preparation”
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GT Writing Task 1: Sample 91 – You need to take some time off work
IELTS Letter Writing / GT Writing Task 1:
You should spend about 20 minutes on this task.
You are working for a company. You need to take some time off work and want to ask your manager about this.
Write a letter to your manager. In your letter:
- explain why you want to take time off work
- give details of the amount of time you need
- suggest how your work could be covered while you are away
Write at least 150 words.
You do NOT need to write any addresses.
Begin your letter as follows:
Model Answer 1:
I am writing to you about the possibility of taking 12 days off work in order to complete my thesis and final exams for my Master’s degree in Finance from the University of Manchester. I am hoping that you would grant me leave from 17th July to 28th July 2020.
I have almost finished my thesis, which I must submit to my teacher by July 24th. I need some time to completely finish it and to prepare for the upcoming exams. Hence I am asking for your permission to take time off work.
I can assure you that I would check my emails daily, perhaps reply to some of them and be available for emergency phone calls from the office. Once I complete my exams and get back to the office, I would endeavour to come into the office earlier than usual and work Sundays in order to catch up on anything I had missed. I have already talked to Ethan and he is ready to share some of the responsibilities during my absence.
I realise my temporary absence could be an inconvenience to you and the rest of the team, but I really need to take the leave to complete my Master’s degree qualification.
I am looking forward to hearing from you and expecting your kind cooperation.
Sample Answer 2:
Dear Mr Mclaren,
I am writing to ask your permission to take a week’s leave from work starting from 07th November 2020. As you know, I am doing my PhD at Monash University and I am in my final term. A week’s leave would allow me to complete my exams and I am hoping that you would grant me the leave.
The reason for taking time off work is to prepare and set for my final exams which will begin on November 08th. I understand the inconvenience this might cause to you but I have already talked to Jack and he is ready to share some of my responsibilities during my absence. Moreover, I will be available to receive emergency calls from the office and would check my emails and perhaps reply to the important ones during the interim.
I would really appreciate your permission to grant me the unpaid leave from 07th November to 13th November 2020. I will join the office the next day.
Thank you in advance for your kind cooperation.
[ Written by – Naji Lichaa ]
Model Answer 3:
Dear Mr Pattison,
My parents are going to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary on 14th December and I would request some unpaid leave from office next month to prepare for the party and enjoy the occasion.
The 50th wedding anniversary is a significant occasion both for our parents and us and we want to make it distinctive. We will celebrate the occasion on 14th December and have already booked a large party hall for that. The whole family, including my nephews and nieces, and almost 50 other guests are expected to be present and it demands a huge preparation.
To participate in this occasion, I would need to be away from work for three days, considering the travel time and some preparation works that I am expected to finish before the party. I would, hence, be absent from work from 13th December to 15th December. I do not have any urgent work commitment at that time and Tania has agreed to look after my tasks while I would be away. She had done that before and after I return, I would be ready to work some extra hours to cover any of my pending tasks.
I would be very grateful if you could allow me the time off. The occasion is very special to me and my family and I want to make it memorable by attending it.
Thank you in advance.
Model Answer 4:
I am writing to request some unpaid leave next month and I am hoping you would permit me to take the leave.
My parents’ 50th wedding anniversary is on November 21st, and they are planning to celebrate this significant achievement with all their children and grandchildren. To do this, they have rented a house big enough to accommodate the whole family.
To participate in this special occasion, I would need to be away from work for four days, from Monday, 19th to Thursday 23rd. My schedule for that week is relatively light, apart from two meetings with clients. Netta would be able to attend these in my place, as she has had previous dealings with both companies and knows the relevant staff there. I have no other urgent work commitments at that time.
I would be very grateful if you could allow me this time. These few days are very important to my parents and the whole family, and it would be a way to thank them for all the support they have given me.
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