Managing Stress in the Workplace: 3 Steps to Refill Your Resilience Tank


Stress in the workplace is always a hot topic. The normal day to day pressures of the job along with the new accepted norm of doing more with less has taken the expectation of performing under pressure to new levels.When I was looking for real solutions on how to handle stress in the workplace I turned to Brookings Executive Education (BEE) Instructor Dr. Andrew Shatté.

Shatté, author of The Resilience Factor (2003) and meQuilibrium (2015) teaches courses at BEE for government employees on how to increase their resilience factor. I’m personally excited about attending his presentation “Managing Stress in the Workplace” at the Brookings Institution on the 28th. When I reached out to Andrew he gave me 3 Steps to better manage my stress. Before our week gets too overwhelming I thought it would be great to share what he had to say on today’s blog.

  I’m the ‘Resilience Guy’ and I’ve been measuring resilience across the nation for almost twenty years. When the recession hit in 2009 we saw resilience scores in the private sector tumble while federal government levels remained robust. But as most Americans climbed out of the trough in 2013, government employees took their biggest resilience hit with a significant 4% drop in scores as you wrestled with fiscal cliffs, restricted spending, unfilled vacancies (meaning more work for all), and sequestration. Your resilience scores are yet to recover. You’re under attack and under stress. Here are three simple ideas to help you start to refill your resilience tank.

Resilience is the natural antidote to stress. To beat stress you have to understand it. My colleagues and I mapped out the 24 factors that are implicated in stress – either miring us in it or lifting us out of it – including the ability to control emotions, problem solving, social support, nutrition and exercise, positive focus, and the balance of good versus bad events. Below are the 3 that our research shows are the most important to government employees and how to boost them.

  1. Get Sleep!

People in the top 25% on sleep are 50% more resilient and have half the stress drags of the 25% worst sleepers. Don’t take your smart phone to bed, don’t watch TV, don’t drink caffeine at least 2 hours before bedtime, and make sure your sleeping environment is dark and quiet. And don’t skimp on sleep. Some of us think that the key to work-life balance is to sleep less. Wrong. I asked my nine-year-old daughter to rate my grumpiness each day (1=not grumpy, 2= a little, 3=bear with sore head) and the nights I skipped sleep to spend more time with her led to poor quality time.

  1. Be Aware of the Balance of Good Versus Bad Events in Your Life

Our brains are wired for survival, and that means paying more attention to the negative than the positive. We overvalue feelings of anxiety and undervalue calm. We live more fully in frustration than we do in contentment. In an environment of austerity when many of your agencies are political footballs and public opinion of federal workers is at an all-time low, it’s easy to see all that’s wrong and nothing that’s right. Although very understandable, it’s a substantial amplifier of stress. Today I would like to challenge you do something different. As you end work today, write down three things that went well. Tomorrow, first thing, before you check email, review the list. Repeat for 10 days. You’ll find you’re a little more calibrated to the positive and that’s a great buffer against stress.

  1. Rediscover Your Mission at Work

As with sleep, people who are the most engaged at work are almost 50% more resilient and have around half the stress drags. As federal government employees, you are in a unique position to tap into that sense of purpose and engagement to mission. If you’re selling used cars or soda, finding that sense of purpose may be hard, but you are contributing to the very safety, security, and quality of life of our citizens. While that meaning may at times get lost in the noise of the day-to-day, don’t let it. Write a note on how your agency improves lives and how you contribute to it. Carry that note with you as a reminder of the importance of your work every day.

Sleep, good events, and mission. Boost these and you’ll be more resilient and less stressed.

Kimberly Hall is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.


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Christina Smith

Great article, Kimberly! I needed to hear this and I look forward to trying out these steps! Thanks for sharing.

Francesca El-Attrash

Kimberly, like Christina said, thank you for writing this! Just what I needed to read this morning and I also look forward to trying out the tips. Definitely jumping on the more sleep train!

Becky Latka

/Stress and resilience are favorite topics of mine, and I’ll be linking my article to yours since they compliment each other!