Balancing Act: Tips for managing workplace stress

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There are year-end deals to close, budgets to meet and gifts to buy, and just thinking about it has your stress level rising. But when does stress turn into distress, and at what point should your employer intervene?

For American workers, coping with workplace stress is a year-round concern that employers are beginning to see as partly their responsibility. Three-fourths of employees believe that workers have more on-the-job stress than a generation ago and nearly half say they need help in learning how to manage it, according to the American Institute of Stress.

Most harried workers struggle with the daily pressure of time demands, but some cross over into the danger zone. The telltale sign that a breakdown is near is a complete lack of work-life balance.

"Often these are the people working 14 hours a day and expecting others to do it, too," said Charles Nemeroff, chairman of the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. "I'll ask them, 'When is the last time you had fun?' and they look at me like, 'Are you kidding?' "

Service professionals such as lawyers, financial advisers, accountants and doctors particularly are susceptible with increased client demands and technology making it more difficult to shut off job stress. Often they push themselves harder and harder to achieve.

Attorney Harley Tropin, a shareholder at Kozyak Tropin & Throckmorton, just doesn't see that formula leading to a long career. He wants to help his lawyers strive for balance and change the way their brains and bodies react to stressors. Last month, he brought in medical experts to help them identify stressors and learn coping skills such as breathing and meditation.

"It's important to deal with stress the right way, to make a conscious effort to do something about it and not assume it will take care of itself," Mr. Tropin said.

Outside of meditation, some employers are turning to on-site yoga, or just simply workload management to help employees better manage stress. At Kane & Co., a South Florida CPA firm, employees recently learned from a psychologist how to become more effective controlling their job-related stress. Suggestions included breathing exercises, exercise in general and focusing on relaxation techniques.

Monte Kane, the firm's managing director, said the workshops help his staff with everyday stress, but he makes it his responsibility to know when they have entered the burnout zone.

At its extreme, job stress can ruin marriages, lead to severe depression, unhealthy weight gain, alcohol addiction, sleep interruption and major health problems. Mr. Nemeroff at the University of Miami usually gets called in when the situation reaches a crisis stage.

"People burn out in all kinds of destructive ways," he said.

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Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal LLC; balancegal@gmail.com.


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