Build Strength, not Stress

by Richard Smith.

You need to watch for signs of stress in yourself and in those who work at your company, because if it is not eliminated, or at least acknowledged and dealt with, then there will be negative consequences. Some signs can be as simple and obvious as a greater tension between teams or shorter tempers in people who have never displayed them before. The situation can get more serious when people start avoiding places, tasks, or conversations, not doing the work they need to do, or missing days because they cannot face the stress of work.

The solution seems so simple: take away the sources of stress. Unfortunately, it is rarely possible to take away all sources of stress, in fact, it is often not simple to work out the underlying causes. In all businesses, there are many events and situations that can unnerve even the most seasoned employees. For instance, it might be an open secret that your company’s industry is declining and it has you worried, but you are unsure if it will affect you. Perhaps business is booming and there is so much work needed to be done that no one is managing to keep up with all the tasks on their plate. It could be that people are time slicing too much and their performance is suffering. Maybe an employee’s partner or child is sick at home and the worker is worried all day long, but feels they cannot leave the office because there are some urgent deliverables.

These examples are only a sampling of situations that can give rise to stress. I am sure you can fill out pages and pages of others that you have experienced yourself or have seen others experience. There are rarely easy solutions for any of these. The beginnings of stressful situations may have occurred far in the past and have just gradually built up to a point where a person shows outward signs of suffering. You can be certain that if your people are stressed then the organization will also be negatively affected.

The critical thing is to be watchful and pay attention to your people and those around you. Use your common sense to determine what can cause stress and look for it in your company. Do you feel stressed yourself? If so, then you should expect others around you may also be affected. You must listen to what others are saying and be careful not to be dismissive just because you yourself may be more immune to stress.

Most importantly, as a manager or a colleague, you must look for ways to fix the issues that are causing stress. While it is not practical to assume that anyone can remove all sources of stress from a modern company or from anyone’s life, it is possible to reduce the impact by taking some actions, such as stepping away physically and mentally from the situation for some “down-time” as regularly as you can, or talking about the situation with those around you or a support group you have away from work. Educating yourself about the signs of stress and how it commonly impacts people is another crucial management skill that will be very helpful for you, your team and for your company

I worked on a project in Hong Kong a number of years ago. The project was very complicated, very large and business critical for the customer. We were replacing an existing installation with a totally new system that had to go live at the flick of a switch for over 10,000 law enforcement users. Over a number of years many teams worked independently on key designs and functionality that in the end had to work seamlessly together or we would fail. The customer’s expectations and our own were extremely high and we knew that if we were successful there would be a lot of future business that would come our way from customers in many other parts of the world. So no pressure really.

People were working seven days a week in the final push and after a long stretch at this elevated pace I realized that I did not feel my usual sprightly self. I prided myself on never letting pressure get to me, but I felt less than my normal 100%. It took a few weeks of this before I realized something was up.

Pride can sometimes be a dangerous thing; luckily I have enough of it but not a debilitating amount. I admitted to myself that I was under a lot of pressure and this was stressing my usual iron will. Filling every hour of my waking days, and sometimes nights, with the delivery of the project was a pattern I would need to break in order to clear my head for a bit and bring the stress level down. So the next Sunday I jumped on a ferry to Lamma Island, landed on the northern point and set out walking down the island. The day was Texas hot with Atlanta humidity. I had a few large bottles of water with me and a good pair of walking boots. I hiked around the island for the day and took in the scenery. It was a glorious day and about halfway through it I could feel myself relaxing.

The next day back at work I did feel better and refreshed, apart from my feet. The walk had distracted my brain and reduced the stress. So I made it a habit to go on a walking adventure for one of the days each weekend. This worked very well for me and helped me do my part to successfully deliver the project while remaining sane.

So be on the lookout for situations that are badly effecting your stress levels or those of your colleagues and teams. Find a practical way that works for you and your company to reduce the stress levels. The payback will be happier, more productive people and better performance for the company and your customers.

Build Strength, not Stress

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