It’s not sex. It’s not drinking. It’s stress and it’s soaring.

(headline source: Fortune Magazine, October 28, 2002)

A recent study shows that six in ten workers in major global economies are experiencing increased workplace stress. China (86%) has the highest rise in workplace stress (source: The Regus Group). The American Institute of Stress reports that 80% of workers feel stress on the job and nearly half say they need help in learning how to manage stress. And 42% say their co-workers need such help.

What is causing all this stress?

One of the main causes of stress is complexity as can be found in faster-better-more technology. With the faster-better-more comes an inherent risk of inefficiency and ineffectiveness for those on the managing end. I submit that most companies have done a poor job of helping their staff manage technology.

Think about something as innocuous as email. How much stress do you incur as a direct result of too much email? Does your company provide you with resources, training, and guidance to help you manage your email so that it is not a source of stress for you (and those who attempt to communicate with you via email)?

Consider this: There were 3.3 billion email accounts in 2012 (source: Radacati Group). This is expected to increase to 4.3 billion by 2016. Of these amounts, corporate email makes up 25%, yet accounts for most of the world’s email traffic. In 2012, the number of business emails sent and received per day totaled 89 billion. And this number is expected to reach over 143 billion by year-end 2016. Consumer email, on the other hand, is expected to decrease, but this is partly due to increased use of texting and other social media such as Facebook and Twitter. And mobile email is also increasing.

It’s no wonder that stress is soaring. Juggling the ineffectiveness and inefficiencies imposed by technology at work only to come home to even more of the same can increase stress. So how does one cope with this bombardment? Here are some suggestions to help you stop stress from soaring in your life:

  1. Prepare for work by not rushing to work. Give yourself lots of time to get there. Studies show that if you start your day rushing, you will feel more stressed and be less productive at work.
  2. Keep your email inbox clear. Zero items at the end of the day is the rule, not a suggestion (for work and home email accounts). Immediately move all read items out of your inbox into appropriate storage locations (i.e., personal folders, shared drive folders, delete, print and file, etc.). By doing this, you will reduce your visual clutter and also be able to search for email items more efficiently.
  3. Set priorities for your day and stick to those priorities. Unless there’s an emergency, there’s no reason to shift priorities. Shifting will only pull you behind schedule. You want to be ahead, since by doing so, you will experience less stress.
  4. Go home on time whenever you can. Sometimes you may need to do overtime, but this should be the exception rather than the rule. Going home on time means you are sticking to a schedule. And this means that both you and your family will be relaxed about schedules.
  5. When at home, don’t use your mobile devices or your desktop computer until you’ve had a chance to unwind. This means spend time with your family and enjoy dinner before checking your mobile devices. I check my mobile device only if I am expecting to hear from a friend or family member, or if I want to get in touch with them. Otherwise, work can wait until the morning.
  6. Get enough sleep. Sleep and efficiency go hand in hand. Decreasing sleep by as little as 1.5 hours for just one night reduces daytime alertness by 32 percent. This means your ability to function is about as good as someone who is inebriated. Get at least 7.5-8.0 hours of sleep each and every night. Use time management planning and plan your bedtime, sticking to your normal bedtime routine every night. On time.

Practice the above six steps and you will be helping yourself reduce your stress. You will experience better mood, better sleep, less tension and anxiety; you will make less mistakes at work, gain better concentration, and will be a much happier person all around.

Taming the Workaholic

Hi. My name is Mary and I used to be a workaholic.

Ever since I can remember, I would spend endless hours “doing.” First it was school projects, then work projects for my employer, and then in the 1980s when I started my own business, I spent endless hours working in, on, and for my business. And somewhere in between, I also spent countless hours volunteering for various associations, this on top of my already full work and family schedules. Why am I telling you this? Because along the way, I learned from experience and research that being a workaholic is not only counterproductive, but it can ultimately kill you or, at the very least, make you very tired and maybe even very sick. Here’s what else I learned.

Working more than 35 to 40 hours a week does not contribute proportionally to your productivity. In fact, studies have shown that industrial workers that worked eight-hour days produced the same amount of widgets as those that worked 10-hour days. However, occasional overtime can yield results, but the gains won’t be directly proportional to the time worked. For example, if the work week is extended by 50 percent, say from 40 to 60 hours, there would only be a 25-30 percent increase in productivity. This is because people typically do their best work between hours two and six of an eight-hour work day. After that, fatigue may affect productivity. In addition, if overtime is sustained over a long period of time, fewer productivity will result because of sustained mental exhaustion.

It turns out that factory workers may be able to turn out a fairly productive eight-hour day; whereas, knowledge workers are not as productive. Productivity for knowledge workers maxes out at about six hours a day (not eight). On top of this, research by the US military has shown that cognitive decline is equivalent to a .10 blood alcohol level with even just one hour less sleep per night. What this means is that if you’re not getting enough sleep, regardless if you’re a factory or knowledge worker, you may be making the same quality decisions as a person who is inebriated. Think about that the next time you show up for a full day’s work when you didn’t get quality sleep the night before.

Workaholics be aware: you are doing yourself and your organization a disservice. You will be far more productive sticking to a 35-to-40 hour work week. If you’re having difficulty adjusting down, speak to a coach or therapist and get back on track to getting your life back. You’ll be glad you did.