By Christopher Freeburn.
Stress is a fact of daily life, especially for small business owners. Starting your own company and managing its growth forces you to deal with a myriad of never-ending problems, make quick decisions, smooth over employee interactions, deal with customers, suppliers, and business partners—not to mention bankers and insurance companies. Some people thrive on stress, using it as tool to propel their performance, but others wither under its strain.
The Stressed-Out Workplace
There is no question that stress is a major issue in modern society. Indeed, in 1992, the United Nations declared stress the “20th Century epidemic.” In fast-moving modern societies, where every day involves hundreds of complex decisions and constant interruptions, stress-inducing obstacles seem to litter life’s landscape. But nowhere is the rise in stress more evident than in the workplace. A recent study of 2,500 American workers by CareerBuilder.com found that 77 percent feel burned-out at their jobs.
Moreover, if ignored, rising stress levels can cause seriously inappropriate employee behavior. A survey of more than 1,300 workers conducted by Caravan Opinion Research found that 13% claimed to have personally committed, or have observed co-workers commit, an act that they would describe as “desk rage”—an angry or destructive outburst in the office—due to anger resulting from the high levels of stress they encountered at work.
Causes of stress at work.
Technology—much of it meant to reduce labor—has actually just increased the amount of work we can do and, thereby, added additional stress. “Computers and cell phones and email all increased productivity,” says Dave Bowman, human resource expert at TTG Consultants, “but this also means you can do more work in a day, and that you end up expecting to get more work done every day. More importantly, your boss expects you to get more done.”
Bowman also says that today’s highly competitive business environment exacerbates the problem. “Companies are paring down their workforces to remain competitive, even as they increase the demands on their employees,” he explains, noting that the job stress is rising at all levels of the workforce. “It’s not just the middle manager, or the executive vice president, that feels stressed,” he adds, “even production line workers and clerical staffs feel it too.” Business owners under the strain of stress can lash out at their employees, become overbearing, and create a hostile workplace.
Dealing with workplace stress
Here are some steps to deal with stress before it becomes a costly problem for you or your business:
Better time management – A considerable amount of office stress results from allocating too much time to less important things and then facing a rapidly approaching deadline on an important project. Prioritize projects and schedule them accordingly. Daily to-do lists help clarify time frames.
Deal with employee conflicts – A festering dispute between employees will poison an office and increase stress for everyone there. Create an open atmosphere where employees can discuss any problems they are encountering with you and try to resolve them through communication, if possible. Remove problem employees at once.
Organize the office – Make certain that you and your employees have all the equipment they need readily at hand, and that the office workspace is kept orderly. A lack of proper equipment or a constant need to find needed materials can increase stress and frustration. Time spent looking for materials is time taken away from meeting deadlines.
Delegating responsibility – Trying to do too much is often as bad as trying to do too little—and it is the trap into which many small business owners often fall. To paraphrase Nancy Reagan, learn to just say “no.”
Put down the coffee – Caffeine, nicotine and alcohol all boost stress levels. Replace the office coffee maker with a water cooler, or non-caffeinated beverages. Quit smoking, and encourage your employees to do so, too. Moderate alcohol consumption.
Avoid unrealistic expectations – Set realistic goals for yourself and your employees. Expecting too much in too short a time only sets the stage for stress and failure. When offering your services to others, it’s often best to promise less than you can deliver, and then deliver more than you promised.
Get away from work – Work is very important to many people, especially small businesspeople, who have often staked their financial future on the success of their businesses. Still, no one can be all work all the time. Make sure you have some time every day that is free from the pressing concerns of your business. Make sure your employees have adequate breaks.
Reduce distractions – Cell phones and email have their place, and serve important functions. But they can also be constant distractions. You almost certainly don’t have to answer every email or phone call as soon as they come in, and especially not when you are trying to get things done. Dealing with constant interruptions diverts your focus and increases stress. Set aside a specific time during the day to return phone calls and email.
Stay healthy – Nothing will increase stress like trying to work if you’re too tired. Make sure you are getting sufficient sleep. Eating correctly and getting enough exercise will make you feel better, which in itself can help you reduce stress—as well as mitigating potentially high blood pressure and boosting your immune system.
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