Do you know how to recognise and deal with stress in yourself and in others?
As business and project managers it is important we recognise that, in the modern world, it is an occupational hazard of the nature of our work, that we will come into contact with stress. Not only should we be able to recognise this when it occurs in ourselves but, as people managers, it is also important that we take steps to identify and minimize stress levels within the workplace – as much as possible.
Stress has become so commonplace that it tends to be treated as a normal daily occurrence; this attitude should be discouraged. If we fail to manage stress properly it can lead to all sorts of health problems including, most significantly, issues with and failure of the heart. Aside from the ethical issues associated with ignoring stress, it can have a real impact on the functioning of our business or project teams as we are likely to see an increase in sickness and absenteeism.
If we make the effort before it takes hold, stress managemnt can be easy to conduct; the result should a happier and healthier team! Below are some tips to help manage stress. You don’t actually have to adopt elaborate techniques to relieve stress: in fact the best way to get rid of it is by preventing its occurrence in the first place. Read on and you might just keep those wrinkles from showing up!
- Keep it organized – when there is a lot going on in your life, even the smallest thing (like a misplaced set of keys) can cause a disproportionate amount of stress. By staying organised, you can immediately lay your hands on whatever you need, reduce wasted time and avoid adding unnecessary pressures to your daily routine.
- Start early – this will ensure you don’t need to hurry when you are working on a project or task; you can take your time and really think about what you are doing. Many people also find they can be more creative in the morning and find it easier to work quickly and more productively before midday.
- Live healthily – stress levels will rarely affect you when you are prepared for it, health-wise. You see, when your body is healthy and is full of energy, you are more or less protected from the effects of stress such as the lowering of energy levels, nervous breakdown and sometimes, even heart disease. This can only be done by living healthily through eating the right kind of foods and having an appropriate amount of sleep each day.
- Take time off – if you feel that you are already nearing your breaking point, don’t be a martyr. Take a break. This will do you a lot of good as it will help you to recharge and to de-stress yourself. If you are too busy, don’t postpone it as doing so will only make the stress fester inside until you become too stressed to be productive.
When managing a team, make sure everyone has at least some time off in the week, even if they are keen and appear happy to work regular overtime. It may seem like a good idea to sanction overtime but, if workers are given appropriate breaks, they will come back to work much more refreshed; productivity will then increase and the need for overtime is likely to reduce naturally.
Why should we worry about identifying stress in our customers?
Change is often one of the key ingredients or triggers of stress. As part of a project team, one gets used to handling change as it is familiar to us and becomes part of our daily routine. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that, to most people change is an unfamiliar and unwelcome intrusion in their lives. When managing projects we regularly come into contact with clients for whom change is unexpected; they may react in different ways but, if stress levels are not contained, even just through something as simple as regular two-way communication, they may quickly become hostile or obstructive. This should be avoided at all costs, if for no other reason than it is likely to lead to delays in project delivery with the knock-on effect of increased stress levels within your own team.
Which factors are responsible for creating stress?
Remember that stress in the workplace routinely occurs when there are:
- Excessive challenges and demands of work
- Pressures which hinder people’s abilities in handling such circumstances
- Continuous and changing demands as these become exhausting and more frustrating.
When any or all of these factors occur, there can be physical and emotional changes that can drastically affect not just the employees but the entire nature of the business as well.
To avoid these effects in the workplace and in the business, it is sensible for employees as well as employers to familiarize themselves with the job stressors present. By knowing this, employees can recognize the source of stress and employers can make an action plan to somehow alleviate it.
The most common job stressors include specific work factors such as tedious tasks, excessive work loads, low pay despite extended hours of work, absurd demands in performance rates, and short rest breaks. Another factor is often the physical environment itself, especially if the area is overcrowded and noisy, with poor ventilation, and where inadequate care has been taken over health and safety.
Organizational practices can also be a job stressor especially if there is only a vague set of expectations and responsibilities, conflict in job demands, the presence of too many bosses, poor decision-making habits, problems in communication lines, and an absence of policies that can benefit the employee’s family members. This is one of the reasons why it is important that projects are delivered under structured circumstances; most of these former fears are then automatically eliminated.
Minor job stressors would include changes in the workplace that lead employees to have unspoken fear in terms of job tenure. This may be further fuelled by inconsistent turnover of personnel, reluctance to adopt changes in technology, no room for promotion and recognition. Finally, interpersonal relationships including distant bosses, office politics, competitiveness of other employees and the like, can also play their part.
What should we know about stress management?
Over the years, many experts have been involved with conducting studies in order to give people who suffer from stress, as many options as possible. As you might expect, stress management is not simply about choosing from a range of techniques that have been identified as being appropriate in equipping people with coping mechanisms that can be effective when they undergo different types and levels of stress.
Experts have devised many stress management techniques that have been proved to help people deal with psychological stress, physical stress, and even emotional stress. But, these techniques are not tailored for all types of people. Many of these will highly effective on some people but have absolutely no effect on others – this is hardly surprising given that we are all so very different. So, for stress management to be effective, an individual must utilize a specific technique or strategy and see if he or she can cope with various stressful circumstances.
How can we manage stress effectively?
Stress is one thing that many people cannot live without. In fact, there are those people who use stress to fuel their drive to do something or accomplish tasks in time. Although stress can be beneficial to some people, this is not always the case for everyone because too much unmanaged stress can be detrimental to physical and psychological well being.
As defined, stress refers to an individual’s “physiological response to an internal or external stimulus that triggers the fight-or-flight response.” Meaning, it is something that is innate for people and normal once it is managed properly.
To date, there are various models of stress management that are being recommended to people who want to effectively manage their stress levels. The most common stress management models include the transactional model and the health realization or innate health model.
- The transactional model says that stress—that is not a direct response to a certain stressor but from other sources—can be controllable. Here, the stress that a person goes through may be reduced by changing the stressors’ perceptions, thus, providing people with different strategies and techniques for them to cope and gain back their confidence in completing tasks at hand.
- Another stress management model is the health realization or innate health model which says that being stressed doesn’t always need a stressor to be felt. This model aims to help individuals that are being stressed to better understand the nature of a person’s thinking—specifically in giving them the realization that to know when they are feeling stress—so they will know how to overcome it and eventually reduce their stress levels.
The techniques to manage stress include: meditation, cognitive therapy for anxiety or clinical depression, nootropic, autogenic training, exercise, deep breathing, conflict resolution, various relaxation techniques, which include either fractional and progressive relaxation or using stress balls.
You can also use natural medication, alternative treatments that are validated by a clinic and even just effective time management. Some people find the simple act of listening to certain types of music can be sufficient to reduce their stress levels and allow them to continue with their remaining work tasks.
What is the best way to deal with stress?
Having worked in a project environment for a great many years, we have seen and experienced a wide variety of stress, so BIG recommends the following:
- Communicate regularly with your clients and colleagues – this keeps everyone involved and aware of their place in the bigger picture of project delivery.
- Take regular breaks – this includes short breaks during the day to get you away from your desk but also refers to taking time out away from the office at weekends and on scheduled holidays.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help – your work in the project arena should mean you are working as part of a team. Often when a problem is shared, even if only in discussion over a coffee, it can help to shed new light on a solution or help put the matter into perspective.
- Switch tasks – if you find one particular task is causing a great deal of stress, stop what you are doing and move to another task for a short period; you will then come back to the original task with fresh eyes and energy, even if you have not actually had a break from work.
- Try and keep things in perspective – it may be important for you to meet a deadline but, only in an extreme role will this ever be more important than to your personal well-being or health.
- Encourage team working – create an ethos of shared working within your project team so that people are encouraged to ask for help and to also give help as part of their daily routine.
- Laugh – the simple act of smiling and having a laugh is a perfect tonic to release pent up tension; involve others around you for maximum effect or, if you are working remotely, pick up the phone and speak to one of your friends or colleagues for a few minutes.
As project and business managers we have a responsibility for the welfare of others. It is our responsibility to be vigilant and to include stress as a serious issue to be managed within the wider project team.