RECENT research is confirming what most people believe to be true from anecdotal evidence: Workplace stress is on the rise. In the United States, experts at the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health have found that:

* Stress is linked to physical and mental health, as well as decreased willingness to take on new and creative endeavours;

* Job burnout experienced by 25 per cent to 40 per cent of US workers is blamed on stress;

* More than ever before, employee stress is being recognised as a major drain on corporate productivity and competitiveness;

* Depression, which is predicted to be the leading occupational disease of the 21st century, is also responsible for more days lost than any other single factor; and

* Some US$300 billion (S$436 billion), or US$7,500 per employee, is spent annually in the US on stress-related compensation claims, reduced productivity, absenteeism, health insurance costs, direct medical expenses (nearly 50 per cent higher for workers who report stress), and employee turnover.

The bad news is: workplace stress a worldwide phenomenon. Statistics from a recent global stress research study show that stress is increasing worldwide. In 1999, a consumer health survey found that among various Asian societies, Singaporeans are most likely to suffer from depression, stress and fatigue.

Less stress, more productivity

There are many obvious benefits to reducing stress in the corporate workplace: reduced medical expenses and downtime caused by absenteeism. There are also many hidden benefits to developing a happy, healthy, stress-free work environment: a more motivated workforce, higher creativity and innovativeness, higher productivity and so on.

It’s impossible to escape pressure at work altogether, so you need to learn how to manage stress effectively. There are a number of ways you can reduce the negative impacts of stress.

Most of these involve taking a good look at how you function at work. So what can you do to reduce workplace stress? Here are some simple suggestions:

* Find a more efficient way to carry out the tasks you do to achieve the same outcome;

* Learn to manage your time more effectively. Prioritise tasks, delegate where you can and make sure you don’t take on more work than you can handle;

* Take regular breaks at work and try to finish one task before you begin another;

* Make sure your work environment is comfortable and ergonomical. If it isn’t, ask for help from your organisation’s health and safety officer;

* Where possible, get between six to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep regularly. Sometimes, projects need extra time, but working long hours over many weeks or months will only lead to diminishing performance, fatigue and insomnia; and

* Take a look at your relationships with your colleagues — do you treat each other with respect and consideration? We spend long hours at work; it’s important that we build good relationships and enjoy our time at work.

Most importantly, find a purpose to the work you do. As John D. Rockefeller II once said: “The road to happiness lies in two simple principles: find what it is that interests you and that you can do well, and when you find it, put your whole soul into it — every bit of energy and ambition and natural ability you have.”

Other ideas to help reduce your stress levels are:

* Start exercising regularly: this is known to reduce stress and can help you feel better. Do at least 30 minutes of exercise each day. Choose an activity you enjoy — a brisk walk or a swim is ideal.

* Learn relaxation technique: this can help you sleep better and relieve stress-related physical pains such as stomach pains and headaches.

* Share your problems: Get your worries off your chest by confiding in a trusted friend or member of the family. It can give you a fresh perspective and help to make stressful situations more manageable. You can also consult a health or life coach.

* Control bad habits: Don’t drink excessive amounts of alcohol or caffeine, and cut down on smoking. Instead of helping you, these stimulants will increase your stress levels.

* Watch what you eat: Eat regular meals and a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.

* Count the positives: At the end of each day, reflect on what you have achieved rather than worry about unfinished work. Don’t be too hard on yourself and take each day as it comes.