The economy has still not recovered, and as a result people are still worried about being laid off or fired. Those who are employed may be overqualified for their jobs and getting paid a lot less than they were in the past. Those looking for a job may be so worried about finding one that they will take almost anything, just to get by, but that can end up causing its own stress.
Constant worry about job stability can wear on mental health. When compounded by working at a job that you are overqualified and underpaid for, the effect is significantly greater. Experts have tips on how to overcome these stressors at the workplace.
Kim Herrera, a former human resources professional who now works as a certified career coach, has several suggestions for people who are struggling with stress related to job stability. A major way to eliminate stress is to give yourself more of a sense of power over your situation. Herrera said in an email that feeling empowered is the best way to cope with stress. She offered three other tips for people in potentially unstable jobs:
- Stay prepared. Keep a log of current job responsibilities, projects, and accomplishments. Use that information to keep an updated resume.
- While employed, use the time to actively build a network of solid contacts; this is also an ideal time to focus on relationship building and assisting others.
- Contribute to a special career “nest egg.” Saving even a small amount each month can help you feel more prepared financially should you experience a sudden job change.
For employees who are currently being paid less than they should be and who are overqualified for their jobs , it can help to focus on both short-term and long-term goals in order to eliminate stress. “I help clients/employees identify what their ideal situation/long-term goal is,” Herrera said. “From there, we work to identify what aspects of the current job can be applied to reaching that goal—such as an opportunity to learn more about a specific division of the business or gaining exposure to certain aspects of operational procedures that may be of benefit down the road.”
She said employees can also talk to managers about creating a career development plan, including specific steps that employees need to take to achieve goals. “I also suggest that clients/employees work to identify the ‘hidden’ short-term gains that may be part of their role, such an increase in free time through less overtime, a shorter commute, an increase in benefit plans, and so on,” Herrera said.
Currently she believes that an uncertain job market is a common stressor for employees, but there are other issues at work as well. “The job-related stressors I see most are individuals who are being given more work with fewer resources, as well as individuals who have wanted to leave their companies for years, but feel trapped in a bad situation,” Herrera said. The previous tips can help employees cope with these stressful situations as well.
“Building a network and keeping job search materials up to date while keeping an ear to the ground for other opportunities is a solid strategy,” Herrera said. “As for the stress of individuals needing to do more with less, the best tip I can offer to is to be proactive and work with one’s manager to develop an effective system for managing up. Keeping one’s manager and other key stakeholders updated and apprised of workloads and updates on deliverables is critical so there are no surprises if additional time or resources are needed.”
St. Luke’s Behavioral Health Center has tips located on their website for employees who are dealing with stress at work due to the recession. These tips include talking with a supervisor, having an open mind and willingness to learn new skills, prioritizing tasks, taking breaks, delegating tasks whenever possible, not overcommitting, and arriving at work early. If these tips don’t work, experts at St. Luke’s advise employees to think about changing jobs or careers and to talk to a counselor.
Karen Hylen, a primary therapist at Summit Malibu, a treatment center for addiction and other habitual issues, said in an email that worrying about losing your job is one of the most stressful situations you can deal with, since in some cases you don’t have any backup options and have bills to pay. It can even lead to a mental breakdown if you aren’t able to cope with the situation. Luckily, she says, there are many coping methods available:
- See a therapist. Simple suggestions alone are not enough to steer you back from the edge of the “mental cliff.”
- Talk openly about your feelings with another person—whether it be your partner, family, or friends. Keeping emotions bottled up is the very worst thing you can do in this situation. By openly discussing your problems or thoughts with someone, you are able to receive positive encouragement from the person you chose to confide in. Do not underestimate the value of support from people who care about you.
- Practice breathing exercises when you feel anxiety or stress creeping up. The relaxing power of concentrated breathing should be used regularly.
- Take action! Your stress, fears, and anxieties will only worsen if you do not take steps to secure another position soon. If it seems daunting, start by taking simple steps such as researching positions available in your field. Once you get your feet wet, you can begin the application and interview process.
- Exercise. Another great way to cope with stress is by getting exercise—your energy levels will increase, and you will reduce the impact of stress and be happier in general.
For people who are overqualified and underpaid in their current jobs, Hylen suggests looking at the situation in a different light because ego might be getting in the way. “Many feel that they have earned the position or salary that they currently have, and they are ‘too good’ to take a job of lesser prestige or income,” Hylen said. “Acceptance is the only way to cope with this. You must accept that that economy is in the state it’s in. You must accept that companies are looking to hire younger people for less money. You must accept that your only alternative to being unemployed is to take a job with lesser pay.”
However, current acceptance does not mean that you need to suffer in a low-paying job the rest of your life. “Yes, you may have to work in a lower position for a while,” Hylen said. “But, when the economy picks back up, you have not lost your qualifications or experience. In fact, some future employers may see that you were willing to do what it takes to remain employed, and that could influence their opinions of you as a potential employee. Hope is a powerful thing, and when it is combined with acceptance, things have a way of working themselves out, too.”
She suggests learning and implementing coping strategies to deal with stress now, because it most likely will lead to improvements in productivity and happiness, which could even prevent you from being let go in some cases. “Talk about your problems, be open and honest with someone outside the workplace, exercise, employ breathing techniques, meditate, and accept the things you cannot change about other people,” Hylen said. “You will find yourself feeling much better, and in turn a better employee.”
Tom Von Deck, a corporate meditation trainer, speaker, and author of Oceanic Mind – The Deeper Meditation Training Course, has some tips for employees to overcome stress as well:
- Make a list of activities that are grounding, balancing and centering, even if they calm you just a little bit. Think back. Perhaps when you silently offer gratitude for the blessings in your life, you feel a little more grounded and calm. Stretching generates feeling in the body and boosts resilience. Prayer, breathing breaks, and meditation often do the trick. Visualizing a calm scene such as a childhood nature spot also may have this effect. Think of things you can do in 30 seconds as well as things you can do in 5 minutes.
- Everyone has some brief down times in the day. You have down times in the elevator, at traffic lights, and in grocery store lines. Slip in some of these activities during those times. Take that stretch break. Do a few head rolls. Pray for the happiness of everyone in your life. Give thanks for everyone in your life. Meditate. Find at least 30 seconds out of each hour to do this.
- By default, you accumulate stress as you both resist and cling to the experiences that life offers you. This is your chance to accumulate peace. When you do these little acts, they work below the level of consciousness through a cumulative effect and add up to huge results. Give it a month or two, and your ability to roll with life’s experiences and see them from a centered space will skyrocket. It may happen in a “quantum leap” of sorts, all of a sudden.
- Combine all this with a solid meditation practice that fits you as a person and that fits your belief system as well. You can begin by learning a basic mindfulness meditation practice in which you focus on the breath or on a word. Learn the art of “taking note” of distracting thoughts that make you stray from the breath or the word you were focusing on. Then keep in mind that the object that you focus on can be anything. It is usually something either constant, like a visualization of a waterfall, or a body sensation or something repetitive like the breath. Choose an object that invites a state of deep loving absorption. Devote anywhere between 5 minutes and one hour for this every day, preferably at the same time and in the same place. This builds momentum and habit.
He also suggests looking into “wellness hours” at work. He said in an email that some companies do offer 2.5 to 3 hours a week for employees to engage in wellness activities, such as meditation or physical activity, in order to boost positivity and productivity among employees. This could help employees cope with stress associated with an economic recession.
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