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How to Handle Stress as a Temporary Employee

Stress is often defined as the reaction a person has when a situation exceeds a person’s ability to handle it.

Mindy Shoss, an Associate Professor in Psychology at the University of Central Florida, says work-related stress “occurs when the demands on employees are greater than the resources the employees have to meet these demands.”

Basically, people become stressed when they think they don’t have control over a situation. Temporary employees, placed in a job only until a specific project is completed or only for a specific length of time, have even less control over their work environment and their work situations than other employees.

Plus, the nature of being a temporary employee with a temporary job could result in high job insecurity, one of the causes of work-related stress.

Not all stress is bad. Wanting to do a good job when you are first hired or working to meet a deadline or production target can be stressful, but the impact of that stress is driving you to perform better. It’s when the stress you’re experiencing is negatively impacting your work, health or home life that you need to worry.

When to worry

There are a number of warning signs to help you recognize when the stress is getting to be too much. In general:

  • Feeling angry, anxious or irritable in general without a specific incident as the cause
  • Loss of interest in your work or no longer caring if you’re doing a good job
  • Problems sleeping – getting to sleep or not getting a good night’s rest
  • Losing the ability to concentrate on a specific task
  • Physical ailments like headaches, muscle tension, or stomach/digestive problems
  • Turning more often to alcohol, or even drugs, in order to cope

Sometimes it’s hard for a person to connect the dots and realize that these signs are an indication of stress. Often, it’s a family member who points out the multiple signs and helps identify that a work situation is causing what could be a dangerous level of stress.

While recognizing negative stress is sometimes difficult, knowing what to do – and actually doing it – can be even more difficult.


One of the basic ways to handle stress is through relationships, especially with co-workers. Sometimes, just talking about a stressful situation can make you feel better about it. For temporary workers, this means making new friends at the work-site or by reaching out to other temporary workers at your placement firm.

Making new friends isn’t always easy, but one way to engage with co-workers is to put down your phone during breaks and begin conversations. Experts also suggest taking a class, volunteering, or joining a club as ways to expand your social network.

Remember:  you’re more vulnerable to the negative impacts of stress when you feel lonely or isolated.

Exercise and Healthy Eating

It’s a bit of a cliché, but it’s true: exercising and healthy eating help you handle stress.

A Harvard report found that exercise “starts a biological cascade of events that results in many health benefits, such as protecting against heart disease and diabetes, improving sleep and lowering blood pressure.” Other research says that aerobic exercise increases your energy levels and helps to relax the body and the mind, while rhythmic exercise (like walking or running) helps to soothe the nervous system.

Healthy eating would mean avoiding sugar, caffeine, trans fats, nicotine and alcohol. Foods in these categories can cause you to be tired after eating them, give you a spike of energy followed by a crash, impact your ability to sleep or, in the case of alcohol, contribute to depression.

Instead, eat foods that are high in “good fats,” especially if you’re looking for a snack in the middle of the day. Such foods include: avocados, olives, nuts, peanut butter, sunflower or pumpkin seeds, and certain fatty fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines.


Again, it sounds like a cliché, but getting enough sleep can work wonders. Yes, not being able to get a good night’s sleep is a symptom of too much stress. However, some studies say lack of sleep contributes even more to the problem and “suggest that a good night's sleep helps foster both mental and emotional resilience, while chronic sleep deprivation sets the stage for negative thinking and emotional vulnerability.”

Setting a schedule for bed time and waking up is the first step, including following the schedule on weekends. Make sure you schedule for a full eight hours. Then, be sure you’re ready for bed by turning off TVs, tablets and other electronic devices one hour before your bedtime. Lastly, don’t do anything stressful in that hour before bedtime. That hour is for soothing activities, like pleasure reading and soft music – not for catching up on work emails.


Take a look at what is contributing to your stress levels and organize better to avoid those factors.

For example, if you’re starting the day off with stress getting everyone in the family out the door, look at what morning tasks can be done the night before. Making lunches, getting school or work backpacks ready, even making breakfast, can be done ahead of time to avoid the morning rush.

You can also use your calendar as a reminder for important upcoming dates so they don’t sneak up on you, or make to-do lists so that important tasks are clearly identified. These tips work for both home and work.

At work, know what the daily and weekly priorities are so that you can properly plan your tasks. And make sure you have a clean work-space so you don’t get distracted.

It’s important that you don’t work through your lunch or other breaks. They’re intended for you to step away and help you be more productive throughout the day.

Lastly, if your position allows, set up a “do not disturb” time when you aren’t checking emails or taking work phone calls.

Good Habits

Too many times, bad habits contribute to increased stress, so replacing bad habits with good ones, should help reduce stress.

First, you don’t have to be perfect. Everyone makes mistakes, so an expectation of perfection is a bad habit that should be replaced. Instead, expect that you will do your best and that you will use any mistake as a learning opportunity.

Second, think positively. For every interaction or situation, there is both a positive and negative way to deal with it. Consciously decide to see the positive, rather than get bogged down with negative emotions that drain you and cause stress.

Last, control what you can. For example, your attitude and how you react to situations are 100 percent within your control, so focus on those two things whenever you are faced with uncertainty, negative people, or negative situations that contribute to your stress.

Professional Help or Assistance

Sometimes, the stress is too much to handle on your own. This is especially true if you find that you’re turning too often to alcohol and drugs.

Most employers these days have employee assistance programs or help lines that can be called when a situation needs professional help. Don’t be afraid to use them. Your employer would rather you take advantage of the assistance and address the problems you’re having before they begin to affect your work.

For temporary employees who don’t have access to the help line for their work location, there are a number of community assistance programs you can utilize. The United Way has a 2-1-1 program, which is a 24-hour-a-day information and referral line you can contact if you need help finding the right service.

You can also speak to your doctor who can offer guidance and referrals.

Last Solution

Temporary employees do have an advantage over regular employees when it comes to stressful work: you can ask to be reassigned.

While there are consequences if you ask to be reassigned too many times, if you find yourself in a work situation that is causing too much stress, you can speak to your Staffing Manager and ask to be replaced in that position.

You should be prepared to share exactly what about the position is causing the stress and whether it’s your ability to handle it or whether the work environment is something your placement firm should discuss with the company.

Hopefully, these tips and advice will help you develop better ways to handle the stress we all face, so that you are the temporary employee that companies always request.


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Topics: Establishing a Career, Safety, Managing Stress