Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Reducing Workplace Stress

Notice I have use the term 'reduce' rather than to manage stress. My reasoning is this. The events that cause us stress are (a) either self generated or (b) we are able to put in place some countering strategies. Our aim should be to reduce the potential for stress rather than trying to manage stress after it has occurred.

Everyone experiences events that are stressful to them. For some its being late for appointments, or when others are late, or being interrupted when on the phone. Take a piece of paper. List the events that really give you the irricks at work. Prioritise the list - some events are more stressful than others. Now beside each event note down the signs you might observe that indicate the potential for stress. For example, you might be chairing a meeting, you notice a couple of empty seats. This is a sign. The aim here is to identify the range of trigger points that might send you into a tiz. When you can identify the event and the signs that such an event is likely to occur you can then identify a range of strategies to help you cope better.

In most instances a stessful event is not attack on you personally. When a person is late for a meeting, its not that they don't appreciate your time or topic, its that they have sloppy work habits. That is their problem; not yours - so try not to take it personally.

Be proactive, don't wait for something stressful to occur. Move yourself from the event. Get some fresh air, cold water to drink, move around so that you are more relaxed, create your own 'sadhana' a place where you go to relax and reflect or find an ally to talk things through with.

Many of the things that cause us to be stressed are created by our own behaviour. If you become stressed at being late for meetings then leave yourself more than adequate time to get there. I am aware of a colleague who absolutely hates walking into a room full of strangers. So instead she arrives early and makes a point of greeting people as they arrive. Relaxed and positive. Another person who becomes physically stressed at moving from fresh air to an air conditioned room. He experiences severe persperation. The strategy, arrive early, go to the indoor area, sit, relax, take off the jacket, have a cool drink of water and let the body acclimatise. Then attend the meeting feeling relaxed and confident. If you have a task that requires uninterrupted concentration, try moving to a secluded place (where people cannot find you), work from home or a quiet cafe or just close the door with a polite sign asking people to indulge your need for privacy at this moment.

Many people, when they are trying to get you to accept their point of view, will attempt to raise the stress levels. They intuitively understand we are at our weakest when we feel stressed. It is when we are mot likely to give into their demands. You can control the stress levels in these situations.

We increase the stress levels by being reactive. One of the quickest ways to to shift from being reactive to becoming proactive (and less stressed) is to ask a question. It means you have to listen actively, you have to think through the questions. Others have to listen and they have to think through the answer.

As a manager be constantly aware of stressful situations occuring in your work group. Keep your ears and eyes open. Coach employees through stressful situations. Bring the group together to discuss, reflect and set boundaries for behaviours. It is important you remain cool, calm and collective, and avoid becoming stressed yourself - or being seen to be stressed - you as a role model is critical. Others will follow your lead and that helps to design the culture that works for your group. Been seen to practice the very things you would like others to do themselves.

Develop the ability to say NO. If you are unable to say no, politely, then you will become a doormat for someone. It is possible to say no to your boss. The success is in the way you say it. Some people prefer to say yes for fear they might cause offence in saying no. Others simply dont feel comfortable saying no to their manager. Your manager would much prefer someone else, more able, to do a task, than have it only partially done because you have insufficient time or to have you break down at work. Be upfront. Say, I am sorry, I would like to help out but I've got XYZ to complete by this date, I would struggle to complete it well, and would prefer you ask someone else. It's that simple. And, if you have a boss who is a prick, then go find a better place to work.

You cannot do your job effectively if you are stressed or on sick leave. You have customers and patients that rely upon you. You must look after yourself by being proactive about reducing the opportunity for stress. Adopt a Buddhist approach, say the right things, take the right actions and be mindful of your environment.

Finally don't beat up on yourself. We are human, we make mistakes. Sometimes our emotions trigger off a reaction faster than we can spot it coming and do something else. When that happens say sorry, mend the bridges and move on. You will learn from the experience. Remember you dont have to like the people you work with, however you do need to develop the skills to work with them in a positive and productive manner

Let The Journey Continue
John Coxon

John Coxon & Associates
Taking You from Frontline Manager to CEO
Email john@johncoxon.com.au
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