A guide for dealing with stress for hourly and on-demand workers.

Workplace Stress

Job stress is real, costly and very expensive. $300 billion dollars a year expensive for U.S. industries by some estimates.

The connection between work and stress is pretty easy to acknowledge across industries, salary ranges and amongst job types. In fact, the work-stress connection is so strong for police officers in certain municipalities that Stress.org points out “that any police officer who suffers a coronary event on or off the job is assumed to have a work-related injury and is compensated accordingly (including heart attack sustained while fishing on vacation or gambling in Las Vegas).”

Stats on Stress in the Workplace

A 2012 Gallup poll measuring satisfaction in the workplace found that on-the-job stress topped the list of work conditions that respondents are totally dissatisfied with 33% being totally dissatisfied with the amount of on-the-job and another 37% being somewhat satisfied with the amount. Meaning 70% of workers are not totally satisfied with their job-related stress – that’s over one-third of the workforce!  

2012 study by the American Psychological Association (APA) found that 2 in 5 adults: 41% typically felt stress during the workday.

A 2016 Harvard study on health in the workplace found that restaurant workers topped lists of job types associated with stress, with 33% employees who say they have experienced a great deal of stress at work in the past 12 months with 54% of restaurant workers claiming that their work has a bad impact on their stress level.

 An APA study outlined the top five work stress factors:

  1. Low salaries
  2. Lack of opportunity for growth or advancement
  3. Too heavy of a workload
  4. Long hours
  5. Uncertain or undefined job expectations

Stress and the hourly worker:

The APA stress factors have a significant  impact specifically on hourly workers due to the following conditions:

  1. Low salarieshourly employment in the events industry is typically associated with lower income ranges.
  2. Lack of opportunity for growth or advancement  for hourly event workers in the service economy there certain predefined roles with limited growth (waiters, bartenders etc).
  3. Too heavy of a workload last minute absenteeism can disproportionately affect workers who have to deal with a no-show on a shift and perform the same amount of work.
  4. Long hours –  events shifts can be long and often demand overtime work, this mandatory overtime is usually not defined in advance, and is often unwelcome.
  5. Uncertain or undefined job expectations this can be a communication problem. It is particularly difficult to communicate with hourly workers who work irregular and one-off shifts.

Irregular/on-demand work is moderately associated with higher work stress

  1. Uncertainty – Not knowing one’s work schedule in advance can make daily work-life navigation difficult.
  2. Lack of Control – Lack of autonomy over the number of hours, which shifts and mandatory overtime can make a worker feel powerless.
  3. Unpredictable –  Hourly on-demand workers are often subject to schedule modification at the last minute.
  4. Involuntary part-time employment – When workers are scheduled for fewer hours than they prefer, their income is affected and this contributes an extra dose of stress.
  5. Shift work – Late night, early morning or rotating shifts can impact the sleep quality and affect productivity and performance, leaving workers more vulnerable to stress.

Common Effects of Workplace Stress

Unlike the stress that crops up before a big deadline or a public speaking event, job stress doesn’t just go away. Unacknowledged stress just gets compounded. The effect of workplace stress is no joke and effects on the worker both in and out of the workplace.

  1. Physical health – job-related stress can lead to poor eating habits and not enough exercise, which can contribute to weight problems, high blood pressure and increased cholesterol levels. There are numerous studies connecting heart disease, stroke and ulcers with stress. That backache that we have all experienced – definitely worse with stress.
  2. Mental health –  stress left unchecked can cause burnout and can trigger depression, which can affect your ability to work (and leave you more vulnerable other physical illnesses which also contribute to this vicious stress cycle.)  Stress can trigger negative or cynical attitudes toward others and yourself which can damage workplace cooperation.  
  3. Personal Relationships –  work stress can easily become home stress if workers take the work stress irritability out on friends, children or partners
  4. Workplace disputes – aggression and other behavioral problems increase in people that are experiencing stress.
  5. Productivity level – a stressed worker is more likely to exhibit poor decision making, lack of creativity in their duties and even neglect their responsibilities, which in turn can impede workflows and processes so that the larger organization suffers and loses time and money.

Stress Signals

Now that we’ve established that stress can cause havoc on workers. Let’s list common signs that can alert us to stress in the workplace.

  1. Erratic behavior
  2. Disputes within the staff
  3. High turnover
  4. Absenteeism
  5. Frequent complaints and grievances

Recognizing Your Stress Symptoms

  1. Feeling anxious, irritable, or depressed
  2. Apathy, loss of interest in work
  3. Problems sleeping
  4. Fatigue
  5. Difficulty concentrating
  6. Headaches
  7. Stomach problems
  8. Social withdrawal

The news is not all bad. They say it’s not what happens to you, but how you deal with what happens to you that counts. This saying holds true with stress, the way a person responds to the pressures and demands of a stressful workplace can vary greatly.

Now, the good news, no matter the circumstances, both workers and employers can have a significant impact on decreasing stress levels.

Tips for avoiding stress altogether

  1. Take breaks. You are assigned breaks. Don’t be a martyr to work. Even 10 minutes of “personal time” will refresh your mental outlook and help ward off stress.
  2. Make smart, stress-busting food choices. Minimize sugar, caffeine and alcohol. Keep healthy snacks available. Sliced apples and almonds in ziplock baggies are great and don’t need refrigeration
  3. Prioritize self-care: choose healthy eating and sleep habits. It can be hard to maintain basic self-care when we are super busy, but the need for self-care is constant. We all need reminders even at the most basic level, so here goes: don’t skip meals and try not to start a binge-watching marathon on Netflix when you need to catch up on sleep.
  4. Resist perfectionism. Set reasonable standards for yourself and others, including your bosses and coworkers.
  5. Cultivate a positive attitude. Many of us make job stress worse with negative thoughts and behavior.
  6. Be realistic. Don’t try to control the uncontrollable.
  7. Don’t over commit.  We all try to fit to much into one day, make a distinction for yourself between should’ and ‘must’.  
  8. Be authentic. Stress decreases as you move toward authenticity. Get to know your co-workers, break down barriers and open yourself to sharing and support.

We should do our best to avoid work stress, but most people will still experience some stress.

Stress can be triggered when we make questionable choices – like working nonstop shifts without a break.  
Sometimes the universe throws out an unexpected stressful blow – a last minute cancellation of job you were counting on.

Life happens. Stress Visits. Uninvited.

But, that doesn’t mean you should be unprepared for stress: an unwelcome, but common occurrence.  There are some great ideas and techniques for dealing with stress even when you are at work, even if you are an hourly worker, shift worker or work on-demand.

Learn how to respond to stress in a healthy way

  1. Ask for help. This may seem like a no-brainer, but the process of just asking for help can help alleviate stress, as can the counsel of trusted acquaintance.
  2. Help others. It might seem  counter-intuitive, but it can be the perfect distraction, and rush you get from helping someone else can help wash away the anger
  3. Diffuse. Taking a moment to mentally regroup and then re-examine a stressful situation.
  4. Look for humor. Not laugh out loud funny, but you can cultivate an attitude that allows you to step away from whatever experience is happening to you can find a way to look for the lighter interpretation.
  5. Take a break. Take a short walk, listen to your favorite song or simply sit quietly with your eyes closed and breathe or meditate.
  6. Controlled Breathing. Slow and steady breaths can calm your mind, reduce stress and anxiety.
  7. Resilience.  Listen to your body. When stress hits don’t overreact.
  8.  Reframe your views on Stress. Stress causes certain physiological reactions – an increase in adrenaline and cortisol and a faster heartbeat.  You can interpret these symptoms as increasing your risk for heart disease, or you can shift your view to see these reactions as way your body is preparing you for a challenge.

While companies like Facebook and Google can offer free meals, on-site gyms with nutritionists, massage therapists and other amazing stress busters,  smaller business can still improve their workers’ experience, reduce stress and build stronger work relationships.

What employers who manage shift workers can do to minimize stress

  1. Clarify expectations.  Clearly define roles and responsibilities.

  2. Avoid unrealistic deadlines. Nothing says stress like trying to do the impossible.

  3. Employee participation. Give workers opportunities to participate in decisions that affect their jobs.

  4. Communication. As a manager, it is critical that you keep your team updated. In addition to this reducing their stress, open communication is a two-way street: they are more likely to share ideas, concerns, and thoughts which will improve working relationships and contribute to a healthier overall company culture.

  5. Listen. A one-on-one chat can make a worker feel heard and understood, and diffuse stress or tension – even if you cannot resolve every issue.

  6. Employee input.  Get input from workers on rules, assignments, shift lengths etc. Involving workers in the process will boost their commitment.

  7. Praise good work. Show that individual workers are valued.

  8. Practice what you preach. Make management actions consistent with organizational values. Create a culture that encourages workers to take their assigned breaks, don’t reward workers who forego breaks.

  9. Lead by example. The tone at the top can affect your whole staff.  As a leader, any negative behavior, anger, or stress can disproportionately affect your employees. Positive behavior can go a long way.  

  10. Create a sense of stability. Giving workers their schedules in advance can help create or reinforce a sense of stability. In some NYC  Macy’s stores, they set employee schedules as far as six months in advance.

Ubeya a web and mobile platform that helps event businesses manage and schedule workers. Ubeya’s mobile app for workers, improves communication, empowers workers and improves worker experience.


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