Stress Management

by Helen Whitten

Common questions

  1. How would I recognise stress, in myself or my team?
  2. Is stress in a team member contagious?
  3. What does stress do to productivity?
  4. As a manager, what are my liabilities and duties regarding stress?
  5. Why do some situations stress one person and not another?
  6. How do I know whether someone really does have stress or is simply malingering?
  7. What can I do if someone simply cannot carry the stress involved in a job they have been promoted into?
  8. How can I measure stress in the workplace?
  9. Isn’t some stress necessary to get things done?

 

1. How would I recognise stress, in myself or my team?

In your own case, you would generally notice physical symptoms first – sweating, heart racing, digestive problems, insomnia... You may also notice that your behaviour changes in some ways, such as becoming more aggressive and intolerant.

In your team, you should watch out for physical symptoms, such as headaches, rashes, anxiety and taking time out for colds, flu, back or neck ache and so on, as stress depletes the immune system. Also watch out for changes in behaviour such as short temper. Some people become more anti-social and go in to themselves.

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2. Is stress in a team member contagious?

It can be. Each case needs analysing in its own right. It can happen that someone becomes vulnerable and requires a great deal of support for a period of time, due to a specific event in their lives, a change or a project. Support can be invaluable at these times. It may also happen that someone develops a feeling of being a victim of their circumstances. These can end up grumbling. Watch out for the negative grumblers – they can spread negativity quickly.

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3. What does stress do to productivity?

Stress makes people stupid. It cuts off the part of the brain that we require for the type of complex thinking that we encounter in the workplace. Why? Because it puts us into survival mode – the fight or flight response, ready for speed and strength. Not ready to solve a knotty problem or deal calmly with a difficult client. It also depletes the immune system and sickness absence rises when people are stressed. Therefore, it costs a business money.

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4. As a manager, what are my liabilities and duties regarding stress?

You need to provide a supportive environment at work and ensure that each person has an adequate job description and the ability to complete their work within the boundaries of this. If you feel that someone has a deeper problem, it is wise to get further advice or to refer them on to your HR department or a counsellor. Stress can lead to depression and other mental illness, so take it seriously.

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5. Why do some situations stress one person and not another?

This is a question of perspective. It depends on how people view a situation. It may also relate to whether a person has had a bad experience in the past and is facing the same experience again – for example change, restructuring, potential redundancy. Some people are more ‘anxious’ than others: it doesn’t necessarily make them a weaker person, but you can help them review whether their anxiety is rational and realistic or they are imagining problems that may never happen. Other people can appear very macho and in control, but in fact are extremely stressed underneath, just not admitting it. Every human being has areas of vulnerability and can be incredibly calm in one situation and incredibly stressed in another. It is part of the human condition. By introducing stress management interventions, you will be helping prevent unnecessary stress and providing techniques to manage stress – but you can’t change the world, so there are always likely to be situations that will cause you and your team some degree of stress.

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6. How do I know whether someone really does have stress or is simply malingering?

You will need to analyse and observe carefully. Most people aren’t malingerers, but of course you do get some of them. If a person is appearing to be very stressed in the workplace, review the situation practically and try to see it from their perspective. Don’t consider whether you personally could manage it: consider whether they, as an individual personality, are having to manage something that is obviously beyond them. If not, then try to get involved and help them. You can also pick up clues about other areas of their lives – for example, are they doing all kinds of other activities and hobbies outside the workplace that might hint that they are fitter than they are saying? Also observe their physical symptoms and check the validity of these through discussion and, where relevant, with a medical advisor.

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7. What can I do if someone simply cannot carry the stress involved in a job they have been promoted into?

This is a tricky one and it is advisable to talk with your HR Department about this before discussing it with the person concerned. You want to be aware of the legal implications of any approach. However, I have known people who were promoted into a role that they could not manage and who were delighted when given the opportunity to share their problems with their boss and develop solutions. So if you really feel that someone is in over their heads, be compassionate: it can be a horrible feeling. Then look to see if there might be ways that you can keep them in the post, but with additional resource or support. Talk around the topic to begin with and gain information from them; then, if you feel it appropriate, go ahead and address the situation with them in a collaborative and not a judgemental way.

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8. How can I measure stress in the workplace?

Carry out a stress audit that will measure and identify the specific factors that are causing stress in your workplace. In this way you will be able to identify the consequences of stress and also will be able to set a plan of action to address the problems. Your HR department can arrange this or you may want to get an external consultant or coach to arrange this for you, to ensure that confidentiality issues don’t cloud people’s responses.

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9. Isn’t some stress necessary to get things done?

Well, this is an interesting one. As far as I am concerned, stress is quite different from the adrenalin kick of motivation. We certainly all need challenge in our lives in order to get us out of bed in the mornings and keep our minds engaged in our lives and at work. This is quite different from the sense of stress and overwhelm that comes when everything gets too much, and you feel out of control and think that you can’t cope. The latter you want to avoid at all costs; the former you want to stimulate as much as possible, so that people feel motivated and enthusiastic and in control.

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