Imagine you’re hiking a familiar trail with your friends. It is daylight, the temperature is perfect, you have plenty of water. You are calm and safe. Time passes and you notice the sun is setting. You get up from your resting spot and realize, the trail is out of sight. Getting lost in the woods at dusk may cause an increase in heart rate, fast breathing, and body shaking—a fight-or-flight response that occurs when a perceived threat appears. Enter the hero- a compass! Your compass assists you in navigating and orienting yourself back to the trail. Crisis averted. But we wonder, where is the compass that helps employees navigate the modern-day workplace stress that produces the same fight-or-flight responses?
What if forward-thinking, modern organizations acted as organizational compasses by cultivating and promoting healthy work environments, guiding the vision for their employees, maintaining motivation and aligning leadership behaviors with the company mission? Currently, many work environments lack key initiatives that contribute to workplace happiness, such as work-life balance, the lack of role conflict, opportunities for growth and development, or recognition for desired results. There has never been a better time for an organizations to develop their own compass for employee health.
Behavior analysis, the research-based backbone of human behavior used by W3RKWELL, often promotes the use of antecedent interventions which, in this case, generally means setting up systems to disrupt or decrease nonfunctional workplace stressors while developing systems to replace and reinforce more productive, strategically aligned and health-centric behaviors. At a high level, this means identifying behaviors that work against us and replacing those with productive behaviors.
Common Stress-Related Behaviors: mental stress behaviors can include negative self-talk, decreased attention with ruminating thoughts, and disengagement from environment; physical stress behaviors may include increased heart rate, yelling, hurried or clumsy movements, or unhealthy eating
Setting Events: these include events occurring well before going Hulk smash on your colleagues and may include medication changes, lack of sleep, schedule changes, staff changes (staff shortage or staff surplus), or diet changes
Stress-Related Consequences: these are events directly tied to a stressful situation, such as tensing shoulder muscles, clenching jaw, and emitting hurried speech when a colleague interrupts your attempts to complete a project with an imminent deadline
Using principles of behavior analysis, W3RKWELL provides the critical modern-day workplace compass to aid employees in shaping their behaviors to perform work tasks while attempting to reduce negative stressors that affect performance.
Antecedent Hacks (mitigate nonfunctional stress behaviors)
Research suggests getting seven to nine hours of sleep per night to perform optimally. Getting to bed on time can be difficult. Since we can’t physically drag you to bed, we’ve provided a getting-to-bed-on-time hack: antecedent-behavior-consequence contingency. This is jargon for “make it a habit.” Changing deeply-entrenched behaviors is half the battle, so start by creating an antecedent event that signals time for bed, like setting an alarm with a soothing sound for 10:30 PM or always engaging in a certain behavior, like meditation, at a specific time before bed. Next, do the behavior—go to sleep. Wake up feeling refreshed, energetic, and ready to conquer the day—consequence. Not exciting enough? Do it 10 days in a row and reinforce your new sleeping habits with those expensive bed sheets. Go ahead, you deserve it.
2. EAT HEALTHY
Pack healthy (whatever this means to you) lunches and snacks: to aim for success, consider meal prepping. You probably read about the importance of meal prepping no less than 100 times, but consider the behaviors associated with meal prepping—competing reinforcement and response effort. After an exhausting day at the office, hitting the fast-food drive through sounds like a win compared to cutting vegetables, washing lettuce, and grilling chicken for a salad. We, humans, go for the biggest pay off, with the least amount of effort, in the shortest amount of time. Meal prep isn't just trendy, it's science. It ensures nutritionally-dense food is readily available while the processed fake stuff isn’t the easier-to-access option after a long work day.
This may seem impossible, especially with a busy schedule, but keeping it simple could be a recipe for success. For instance, prepare and store ingredients individually for the week ahead. Preparing a grain, vegetables, protein, and fruits allows for items to be mixed and matched throughout the week. When stress behaviors arise from an unhealthy work environment, healthy meals and snacks will be ready in the fridge at home, which can help reduce unhealthy stress eating.
Ever heard of the Premack principle? Even though your parents were likely not behavior analysts, think of this in terms of the all-too-familiar “first dinner, then dessert” trick. It’s a strategy behavior analysts use to influence people (and ourselves) to complete non-preferred tasks in a timely manner. With this principle in mind, start your day with your most non-preferred task then do what you want to do after completing the non-preferred task. This can continue in cycles throughout your day to achieve all tasks on the checklist. And, who knows? Maybe checking items off a list will serve as self-reinforcement.
Behavior analysis uses pairing to associate two things or events. You might remember this from Psychology 101 when your professor spoke of Pavlov and dogs salivating. Ring any bells? W3RKWELL’s Behavioral Xanax course guides participants in selecting their own values and recommends pairing your selected values with the specific actions you emit to complete your work-related tasks. If a personal value is family then acknowledge yourself for not attending to emails during family time and seek new ways to balance work and family.
Consequence Hacks (reduce stress-related behaviors after an event occurs)
Response interruption and redirection is an evidence-based practice in behavior analysis to decrease interfering behaviors. We propose using this strategy in the workplace by recognizing when stress-based responses arise, such as sweating and tensing muscles in the neck and jaw. Upon noticing these nonfunctional stress behaviors, redirect yourself to engaging in behaviors that don’t work against you. One study suggests problem-focused coping strategies are less associated with burnout.
Believe it or not, some research suggests stress is needed in life to learn and improve performance. The trick is to find a balance that fuels and sustains motivation, and behavior analysts refer to it as an intermittent schedule of reinforcement. To create a sustainable balance, reflect on the job responsibilities that are motivating to accomplish and think of ways to hack your job to encounter those same tasks more frequently. Each person is unique in what motivates them, but let’s say you enjoy leading and mentoring staff. Potential hacks can include taking phone calls after office hours, creating an open-door policy that allows staff to chat (if you don’t have an office door then a ‘proverbial’ open-door policy), or discussing a position change to a job that aligns with personal motivations. Thinking of ways to encourage yourself to increase discretionary effort in a few key areas can sustain motivation while learning and improving performance, and, who knows, maybe the boss will reinforce exceptional efforts.
After enduring a stressful day, go home and stop engaging in work-related behaviors, such as checking emails. Use the response interruption and redirection strategy mentioned. Finding a relaxing, low-effort activity can help you achieve pre-stress levels.
W3RKWELL sincerely hopes these strategies helps navigate and orient individuals in the modern-day workplace. Now, get out there and seize the day. Or, before conquering the day, leave us a comment about how you manage work-related stressors.
Demerouti, E. (2015). Strategies used by individuals to prevent burnout. European Journal of Clinical Investigation, 45(10), 1106-1112. doi:10.1111/eci.12494
Lepine, J. A., Lepine, M. A., & Jackson, C. L. (2004). Challenge and Hindrance Stress: Relationships With Exhaustion, Motivation to Learn, and Learning Performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 89(5), 883-891. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.89.5.883