Workplace stress: Tips for managing stress and stress leave

Almost anyone who lives in today’s fast-paced world will tell you that a certain amount of stress is an inevitable part of life.

It’s unfortunate, but as we have to balance increasingly demanding work schedules with extra curricular activities and family life, sometimes it just becomes overwhelming.

One of the most common sources of stress is the workplace – our jobs just get busier and busier and it is hard to keep up with the demands placed upon us on a daily basis. Studies show that workplace stress is on the rise in Canada.

One study by WarrenShepell noted 51 percent of the 41,000 people who sought assistance from them in 2003 cited stress as a reason compared with only 41 percent in 2000. Employee assistance programs also reported a 220 percent increase in cases involving stress between 1990 and 1999 and it is estimated half of all disability claims are stress-related.

Further, Health Canada suggests that stressed employees are six times more likely than others to be absent from work for six or more days in a year.

Clearly, workplace stress is on the rise and is affecting the bottom line as well as the health and productivity of employees.

Below are some tips for minimizing workplace stress and avoiding the need for an eventual stress leave as well as some guidelines for when a stress leave may be appropriate.

Some issues that can occur in the workplace to cause stress include constant change, too many demands and too little time, lack of security or interpersonal conflict between coworkers.

When attempting to minimize these stressors, it is best to deal directly with the source of the stress whenever possible. If there is an interpersonal conflict, take steps to resolve this conflict either directly with the other involved individual(s) or through third party mediated resolution.

Likewise, if the stress is occurring because of problems with time management or too many tasks, work to better arrange your schedule or talk with your employer when possible.

In general, set realistic goals and time frames for work projects that can help structure your day. Make time for the most important tasks and don’t over book your schedule. If you book more than you can handle, this will cause stress.

Work meetings should serve a purpose and should only be held when it is important to have personal interaction. If a meeting is necessary, work with an agenda and set start and finish times.

Deal with the temptation to procrastinate. Break large projects into manageable smaller tasks and work on them one at a time. If you keep putting something off until you are working with a very tight deadline, you will likely feel stress.

When stress does become overwhelming and affects your ability to work, a stress leave may be appropriate. Before taking one, it is important to weigh several considerations. First, some industries and employers are more understanding than others. Consider your situation – discuss options with your employer and bring medical documentation if possible.

Also, consider whether it is really stress that is causing your workplace dissatisfaction or simply a dislike of your job. If you are working in a job you are not suited for, the situation will likely not improve after a stress leave. You may want to consider changing occupations. Try to come to a mutual agreement about the terms of your stress leave such as its duration and changes to your job that will help you upon your return.

Stress is not a diagnosable disorder and there are no Canadian rules governing stress leave. If your stress is the result of a diagnosed anxiety disorder or other mental health condition, this would be covered under a disability leave and may provide coverage of your salary while you are away.

Employers should have a protocol in place for dealing with employees who request stress leave and include criteria for such requests. Also, it helps to set up a way to bring the employee back to work as smoothly as possible after the leave by phasing in the work load and modifying the job duties where necessary.


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