According the American Institute of Stress, 80% of workers feel stress on the job, nearly half say that they need help learning how to manage stress, and 42% say that their coworkers need help. 14% of survey respondents had felt like striking a coworker in the past year, but didn’t.
I’m worried about how stressful it’s been around here lately. We’re short-staffed but still working at full speed. Our head of operations is visibly stressed. With everything that’s piling up, that person is starting to snap at employees. How do we help manage each other’s work and stress load?
Thoughts of the day: Do an assessment of the organization. It’s easy for things to get out of hand when growth takes off. Find stress points and increase the backup or reduce the load. Know that when people don’t have time to listen, they’re likely to take shortcuts and make less than optimal decisions. Make time to get away. Slow things down.
Step back and take a written assessment of the organization. How many open positions are there? What resources exist to fill open positions, and is that adequate? Who needs training, and what’s the plan to get them trained? How many clients are excessively demanding and need to be replaced? What do managers do to back each other up? How does accountability, or lack of it, contribute to success or stress?
Consider each employee carefully. Take into account things they may be dealing with outside work. While it’s not your responsibility to solve personal problems, it is your job to head off conflicts and disruptions. Find out if help is needed; at least provide a sounding board.
Make a list of things around the company that could use improvement. Prioritize the list, build a timeline and allocate funds. Show people the plan so they know that it won’t always be like it is today.
Often stress comes after a growth spurt. Everyone knew how to handle things at the former size. Then a bunch of new clients or new types of products or services got added to the mix. People are asked to take on more responsibility without enough practice. And all of a sudden there’s struggling and stress.
If growth is the problem, you have a couple options. Hire, train or acquire the workforce you need. Add systems to improve efficiency. Make it your top priority to get enough people in place, with the right tools, prepared to do the job correctly the first time.
Sit down with the people who are showing signs of stress. Ask them to talk about what’s going on. Insist that they engage in a dialogue about what’s happening in the work environment. Provide them with specific examples — things you’ve observed that cause you to be concerned.
Decide if this situation is temporary. If things aren’t expected to improve quickly, consider unburdening the individuals who are stressed. Lower goals, reduce the number of direct reports or reassign duties. Sometimes it’s necessary to take a couple of steps back in order to find solid ground from which to move forward again.
Don’t allow tensions to go on for very long. People under stress often make poor choices and reach incorrect conclusions. You need everyone in your organization thinking clearly, focused on the tasks at hand. If they are distracted by too many challenges, it’s better to reduce the load before more bad things happen to them or to the organization.
Consider the value of time off. Sometimes a week or two away from the job is all it takes to get a clear head and an improved attitude. A break from routine can turn into renewed energy and a fresh outlook. And if things don’t improve, be ready to take further action to reduce demands and eliminate challenges.
Encourage people to build trust by getting to know more about each other. Bring people together outside of work, where they have opportunity to share experiences, let off steam and build rapport. Hold meetings where you ask people to share their fears as well as their goals. Make time for the people side of the business to develop.
Stress is a sign of being overwhelmed. Slow things down. Whether it’s reducing the company’s growth rate or lowering the paced of advancement for a specific individual, get the stress under control by taking things off the plate. Allow time for adjustment to new conditions. Be realistic. Just because you believe a person can handle the workload doesn’t make it so.
Looking for a good book? Try “Success Under Stress: Power Tools for Staying Calm, Confident, and Productive When the Pressure’s On” by Sharon Melnick.