Eliz Greene

Does a crabby co-worker or an overly demanding boss increase stress?


According to my job stress research, the environment at work is the 3rd leading cause of stress.  This makes sense for a couple of reasons:

First, stress is contagious.

Sitting next to a highly stressed person increases your stress.  A recent study indicates this second-hand stress reaction may be hard-wired.  Chemicals released in one body due to stress signal the rest of the group of danger.  This reaction comes in handy if we all need to escape a burning building, but isn’t helpful when it leads to burn-out.  This second-hand nature of the stress reaction is one reason stress is referred to and the “new smoking.”

Second, disfuctional dynamics block teamwork, creative thought, and creates stress.

Several recent articles (links below) point out the importance of a psychologically safe environment for team success.  If people don’t feel safe in expressing different views or ideas and making mistakes, creativity is squelched and projects don’t evolve.  The best teams develop excellent interpersonal relationships and avoid being head-to-head competition.

Interesting articles:

How do you protect yourself from a negative environment at work?

Highly stressed people double their risk of a heart attack or stroke and job stress should be taken very seriously.  Ask yourself some tough questions:

What if this is the best they can do?

One of the best exercises I have for defusing my reaction to negative people is to ponder whether I’m expecting more from a co-worker, client, or even boss than they can give. Very rarely do people get up in the morning thinking about ways to make your day miserable or your job harder.  Backing up and trying to understand the “negative” person’s perspective can diffuse the situation.

Is this my responsibility to fix?

Some people need to complain, that is their way of dealing with a stressful situation.  The complaining can absolutely increase my stress because I feel compelled to DO something about it.  I’ve learned to frame a conversation with a “complainer” in advance by asking, “Do you need me to do something about this, or do you just need to talk about it?”  If they just need to talk, I listen at a different level (a less stressful level).

How do I insulate myself from a negative work environment?

Creating a barrier, physically or emotionally, is often essential to protecting your health and productivity.  Not everyone has the luxury of an office door to close. Be creative about ways to buffer or avoid negative interactions.  Taking breaks, lunch, and vacation time away from the environment is an essential stress recovery strategy.  Think about how you need to process the stress from work.  Do you need to talk about it, distract yourself from it, exercise it away, or meditate?  All of these are equally good strategies.  Find the one that works for you.

Is it worth it?

People don’t leave jobs; they leave the environment in which they work.  Is the benefit of this job worth the toll it takes on your health, sanity, and relationships?

Ultimately, the environment at work is as important as job duties, salary, and benefits.

What have you done to deal with a negative work environment?  I’d love to hear about your experience –  please leave a comment.



About Eliz Greene

Eliz Greene survived a heart attack at age 35 while seven months pregnant with twins. Her down-to-earth strategies to manage stress and improve heart health and reduce stress are used by thousands of busy people all over the world. She is a motivational wellness speaker, author, and job stress researcher. Visit elizgreene.com to book Eliz for your next event.


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