One challenge that many of us face is how to best manage work-related stress. There can be a lot of different reasons for this stress. Things that are going on outside of work can have an impact. And of course, work and the working environment have the largest impact. The good news is that there are some approaches to managing work-related stress that can help you immediately!

What you will learn…

  1. Common causes for work-related stress
  2. Recommendations and strategies for managing work-related stress
  3. Pointers to other posts that will be helpful

Introduction to Work-Related Stress

Before I get into the details of the causes and strategies for managing work-related stress, let me start with a warning. Stress is not something to take lightly.

Stress can cause severe health problems and, in extreme cases, death. While these stress management techniques have been shown to have a positive effect on reducing stress, they are for guidance only, and readers should take the advice of suitably qualified health professionals if they have any concerns over stress-related illnesses or if stress is causing significant or persistent unhappiness. Health professionals should also be consulted before any major change in diet or levels of exercise.

Please take stress seriously. If you think that you need help, get it. Stress can impact you both mentally and physically.

Whether you work in a big company with lots of employees, a startup, your own business or operate on your own – there will be times when you feel stress. Below are the typical causes followed by strategies for managing work-related stress.

Causes of Work-Related Stress

I like to think of stress from two perspectives. The first you control. It is the stress that you create for yourself. The second can be managed, but the causes may be out of your hands. They are the stresses that the company creates.

I expect that you already know (and have experienced) many of these.

The Stress You Create

  • Taking on Too Much
  • Inability to Delegate
  • Perfection

The Stress the Company Creates

Job Demands

  • Unrealistic or overly aggressive deadlines
  • Unreasonable expectations
  • Tight deadlines
  • Unmanageable workload
  • Long hours
  • Heavy workload


  • Disconnected decision making
  • No influence over dates or goals
  • Lack of autonomy.
  • Changes within the organization.


  • Gaps in policies and procedures
  • Lack of training
  • No feedback mechanism

Roles and Responsibilities

  • Changes to duties.
  • Boring work.

Work-Life Balance

  • Long or inconvenient work hours
  • Job insecurity.
  • Excessive travel

Strategies for Managing Work-Related Stress

Now let’s get into the meat of managing work-related stress. I think that you need to consider ALL of these – to varying degrees depending on your situation.

Educate Yourself on the Culture

Every company is different. Get to know what works and what does not. Understand how you are measured, what is valued, what success looks like, and conversely what is frowned upon. Work to align the work that you do to align with the culture.

Let me give you an example. If your company is very structured and metrics-driven, make sure that you put in place a solid set of metrics for the projects that you have responsibility for. And then measure and report against these metrics. By doing this, you should be able to operationalize communication, eliminating last-minute requests related to your projects. You can instead focus your energy on other more productive areas.

Conversely, be very thoughtful in spending time on things that are inconsistent with the culture. It is likely that these will not be valued and will again take away time from other efforts.

Take Control

Remember – you are in control. You can impact the level of stress that you feel. You can employ techniques in managing work-related stress.

One way to do that is to work hard to eliminate the causes of stress. Here are some examples applied to the causes described above. I am not covering all of them, but you will get the idea.

You are a perfectionist. You worry about completing something that is not perfect. Stop and look around you. Being perfect or doing something perfectly is not required in most cases. Here are two examples.

First, two quotes from Mark Zuckerberg – “Done is better than Perfect” and “Move fast and break things. Unless you are breaking stuff you are not moving fast enough.”

And second, read “The Lean Startup” that I reviewed. Author Erik Ries describes a new way of looking at the development of innovative new products that emphasizes fast iteration and customer insight.

This may be counter to the way you think. But take the time to internalize that there is more than one way to be successful. Try to use it to take the pressure off yourself.

You may feel that unrealistic expectations have been placed on you or your team. As the manager, this is a big part of your job to address. You need to aggressively work to correct these expectations.

The question is – how? I can tell you that the wrong way to go about it is to complain that they are unrealistic. What you need to do instead is to help set those unrealistic expectations to be something that you can achieve. You need to lead from the front rather than from the back.

There are two simple steps to this. First work to set the right expectations. Get involved early with a good idea of what you can do. Work to communicate the complexity, challenges, etc. in such a way that you can set the expectation appropriately. Then you need to demonstrate that you are driving to those expectations and regularly delivering something else. You need to overachieve what others believe are challenging expectations.

I don’t want you to think that this is easy. It takes practice and more than anything else, it takes time. You need to be involved and invested early. And then you need to be visible and communicate regularly. If this is outside of what is comfortable, you need to work on it. You need to make it a priority.

I will cover one more, long and inconvenient working hours. This one can be really difficult depending on your job. I will assume the problem is not with you but with your boss and/or the culture of the company.

There are two key aspects to addressing this.

First, you need to ensure that you are measured by what you accomplish, not the number of hours that you work. Resolving this may take weeks or months. It will require a good ongoing discussion with your boss about what it means to be successful and therefore how you are measured. Make sure that the results of this are goals or metrics that do not tie you to a certain number of hours or require that you be available during off hours. The closer that you can get the better!

And second, you need to begin to ween your boss off of contacting you or expecting a response at all hours of the day or night. Keep the discussion with your boss focused on the success metrics is critical here. And look for safe times not to respond (not to answer the phone right away or delay the sending of an email) after hours. These together will gradually help your boss to be comfortable with you working regular hours.

One last thing. I recommend that you read “The 4-Hour Workweek” by Tim Ferriss. There are some great examples of how to help your boss to allow you to work from home and ultimately anywhere that can be applied to this situation.

Stay Organized, Manage Your Time, and Prioritize

Stress most often times comes from having too much to do and not enough time to do it. The way to address this is to make sure that you are focusing on the things that matter the most, that you are organized, and that you are managing your time wisely.

As you prioritize, you will need to stop doing some things. I have covered this in detail in my posts on Rethink How to Prioritize, Become Way More Productive, and Limit Time Spent – Avoid Parkinson’s Law.


All of these approaches are valuable, but the one that helps me the most with stress is compartmentalization. Before getting into the approach that I use and recommend, let me start with a very simple definition.

com·part·men·tal·ize – divide into sections or categories.

As was described earlier, work-related stress most often comes from worrying about having too much to do and not much time to do it. It comes from the desire to do a good job and the consequences of not. By compartmentalizing, you are not reducing the workload. You need to prioritize to address that. What compartmentalization does instead is ensure you are able to focus in order to use your time most efficiently. And it allows you to ignore or at least push aside thinking about projects and timelines until you purposefully allocate time to do so.

Let me give you an example. I have an important presentation three days from now. I need to do well. I need to be prepared, I need to have it reviewed and I need to practice so that I can be concise in my delivery.

What I do is schedule time on my calendar for the activities needed to be prepared. I schedule time for research. I schedule the time to write the presentation. I schedule a review meeting. I schedule the time to incorporate the feedback that I receive. And I schedule time for a dry run.

I can then focus on other things. When I think about the upcoming presentation – I tell myself that I have allocated the time. There is no value in thinking about it now. I push out the thought because I know I have allocated sufficient time to do a great job.

This example can apply broadly to other areas that cause stress. It is the best way that I have come up with n managing work-related stress. It also works with personal stress. If you have something that you need to do at home, you can schedule the time in a similar manner, freeing you from stress.

One last thought on compartmentalization. We are really not very good at doing multiple things at the same time. The exceptions are things that you do that do not require active thinking. For example, we can drive and talk at the same time. This is because we don’t have to think about driving, we have done it enough times that it is second nature. Compare that to a time when you are driving on a narrow winding road – it becomes much more difficult to hold a conversation as you are actively thinking about driving.

By compartmentalizing, you are able to focus on one thing at a time. This will allow you to be as productive as possible.

Get Enough Sleep, Exercise, and Eat Right

The goal of this post is not to tell you how to eat right, how long to sleep, or how much exercise you should get. Nor is it to tell you about all of the benefits that these will have on your energy, mood, memory, work performance, or focus. You can find all of that online.

The goal instead is to reinforce the importance that they have in helping you to deal with STRESS. And to bring into question the reasons for not doing them.

I know, there is too much to do. There just isn’t time to exercise. There just isn’t time for sleep. And it is too hard to find the time to shop for the right food.

But I also know that lots of very busy people have figured this out. My recommendation for you is to look around, find a role model and try to emulate what they do.

See Also

Rethink How to Prioritize

Become Way More Productive

Limit Time Spent – Avoid Parkinson’s Law

The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses

Categories: PeopleTools


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