Tom Britt Tom Britt recommends occasional breaks, like on a park bench, to ease stress.Photo Credit: Patrick WrightTom Britt of Clemson University and Steve Jex of Bowling Green (Ohio) State University say some workplace stress can be leveraged as a career enhancer, if managed properly.

“Stress on the job can produce some positive outcomes when employees, first of all, identify the stressors, and proactively take steps to not continually take it on the chin,” said Britt, a professor of psychology at Clemson. “Not only can stress benefit one’s career, if managed properly, it can result in a healthier and more productive work environment.”

Britt and Jex suggest that eliminating work demands can potentially stunt a worker’s personal development and sometimes results in boredom. They recommend harnessing those demands and turning them into catalysts for growth. 

By identifying the stressors as challenges and responding to them with a full level of energy, the authors say addressing the demands provides an opportunity for employees to showcase their self-confidence, perseverance and competence at their job.

“A key to having the energy to thrive under difficult work conditions is detaching yourself from the stress at the end of the day. Not only is it healthy but also, employees need recovery time to restore personal energy for the next day,” Britt said. “That re-generation is important psychologically and physiologically so one can engage in energy-restoring activities to regain motivation.”

Britt said people are often pressured not to detach from work because they don’t want to be seen as slackers within their organization. He said an example is many people try to avoid being the first person to leave the office at the end of the day.

“When people do not regularly detach from work, there is a very real cost in terms of the depletion of mental and physical energy. And in the long run, there is a more important cost,” Britt added.” When we are constantly checking e-mail and taking work-related phone calls during off hours, we are essentially disconnecting from what’s really important – family and friends.”

Britt and Jex also recommend detachment as an opportunity to discover new experiences, such as finding things to do outside of work, so when the time comes that work is over, such as retirement, a person can still find meaning and fulfillment.

Another approach Britt and Jex recommend in coping with the stress of job demands is to use exercises from the field of positive psychology. “Think about the things you’re grateful for at work. For instance, your job provides for the well-being of your loved ones. By looking at some of the positives your job brings, you’re less likely to respond negatively to the stress you’re under.”

Positive thinking can be influenced by others in the workplace, the authors say. “Sometimes employees fail to appreciate how other people can influence whether we feel energetic and optimistic, versus depleted and pessimistic. One way to increase feelings of thriving is to spend more time with people who energize us, and minimize our contact with those who sap our energy,” Britt said.