What to Do When Work Stress Eats Up the Evening

(By Melissa Korn)

Listing the good things that happened over the course of a day is valuable in its own right, the real impact comes from writing down why those things led to good feelings. That act highlights the resources and support a person has in their work life—such as skills, a good sense of humor, an encouraging family or a compassionate boss.

Feeling the pinch of work stress in the evening? Before heading home for the night, take a moment to savor the day’s wins.

Forthcoming research  from the Academy of Management Journal shows that workers reported lower stress levels in the evenings after spending a few minutes jotting down positive events at the end of the day, along with why those things made them feel good.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Minnesota, University of Florida and others, tracked a group of workers over 15 days, logging their blood pressure and reported stress symptoms, such as fatigue, difficulty concentrating and headaches, and observed changes as they wrote down their accomplishments, such as leading a successful sales call, or a presentation that earned a manager’s praise.

It’s no surprise that positive thinking can ease tension. But it might prove more practical than employers’ current approaches for fighting workplace stress, such as offering flexible work arrangements or creating a new org chart that doesn’t actually change daily life at the office, says Theresa Glomb, a work and organizations professor at University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management and co-author of the report.

(Need proof that the minimize-negative-stressors strategy isn’t working very well? More than one-third of respondents to this American Psychological Association survey reported chronic work stress. And some tactics, such as offering unlimited vacation time and building community in an open office space, may do more harm than good.)

Listing the good things that happened over the course of a day is valuable in its own right, but Glomb says the real impact comes from writing down why those things led to good feelings. That act highlights the resources and support a person has in their work life—such as skills, a good sense of humor, an encouraging family or a compassionate boss.

The reflections don’t have to be work-related, Glomb adds. Even a tasty lunch brought from home can be a workday accomplishment. In the experiment, about 40% of the end-of-day reflections had nothing to do with work, and reflecting on them still made the subjects calmer later that evening.

Companies shouldn’t rush to institute mandatory reflection time each day, Glomb warns, since that could just add another stressor for time-crunched workers. Instead, they can embed the exercise in the regular work day, perhaps by asking employees to share details of something that’s going well in their lives at the start of a team meeting.

(Source: WallStreetJournal)

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