With stress being so fashionable these days – “I’m just so busy (and stressed), daaahhling …” – it’s easy for workplaces to inadvertently foster a culture of pressure, rushing and busy-ness. Plus, whilst most people would say they understand stress is ‘bad’ for us, we still live in a society (and business environment) where it is tolerated to a high degree – to our impending detriment, folks.
The reality is that stress is not conducive to high performance, creativity and innovation – or happy and healthy people. The very things that support business growth and success get stifled the moment there’s too much stress.
Why? How come so many work environments are still so stressful?
Whilst various organisational challenges like the pressure of targets/KPIs, a fast changing market or a lack of resources can cause stress, even in the absence of these, stress levels can be high. What’s that about?
Here’s what I notice among organisations ranging from small service businesses to medium sized manufacturers, to professional service firms and corporates …
We’ve normalised stress.
In our great gusto to make a living, be the best and feel important, we’ve gone a very silly thing. We’ve decided that it’s normal to be stressed. Richard Carslon said ‘Stress is a socially acceptable form of mental illness’ and he’s right. When did we decide that having our fight-flight survival response (specially designed for emergencies only) activated regularly was ever a good idea?
We’ve got used to it. And we need to get un-used to it.
We believe in slogging our guts out.
Stress is a throw-back to the puritanical work ethic of ‘slog your guts out’ still prevalent today. If you just shook your head at this, thinking ‘Oh, that’s not me’, bear with me. These may not be your words (they come from my father’s generation) but the reality is that most of us were encouraged from a young age to work hard, try to get a lot done and to do so over our basic wellbeing. We’ve been bred to be stressed and many of us have got very good at it.
We hear all about working smarter, not harder, and lord knows there have been enough books written on the topic, but the reality is, until you shed your well-entrenched, conditioned beliefs about the glory of slaving away with all hours granted you, you will not work smarter. And neither will your team.
We have to set go of the idea that slogging it is what makes us good enough and worthy enough.
Stress is a habit.
For many of us it’s a habit, it’s how we roll, and we often don’t even notice how much we’re rushing, jamming our diaries or stressing about stuff that’s coming up – because it’s our already-always-way-of-being. A habit. Worrying has become habitual for many. Feeling anxious has become a habit. Rushing has become a habit. And because we do it so automatically all the time, we don’t realise it. It flies so far under the radar its invisible.
Until we spot it, that is.
Do you know how you hold your toothbrush? What angle? How far up the brush? For how long? Check it out tonight. Observe. See what you discover about how you do it.
Being a curious observer like this to your at-work-self might also be illuminating.
I can’t tell you how many people I talk to who work in office environments where it doesn’t look good to not be stressed in some way. Hell, if you are calm, under control and on top of your work, there’s a good chance that it doesn’t look like you’re working hard enough. It’s the idea (and these words come from one of my clients) that if I’m stressed at least it looks like I’m trying my hardest! Heaven forbid we might be able to achieve everything we want to get done in a day without running around like a headless chook.
I beg to differ.
Don’t be a piece of manic poultry. Be a resourceful, wise human being at work.
And if you are a leader, encourage your flock to do the same.
In organisations where commitments are made to clients by owners and senior leaders and tight lead times agreed, the cascade down through the business to those carrying out the work can create huge pressure, and at times be cataclysmic. A major factor in people’s stress levels is how much control they have over their time – affecting how they manage their workload and priorities. Giving people as much control as possible helps everyone be more brilliant and happy at work.
Leaders set the tone in an organisation. How much stress is tolerated and (overtly) made acceptable at a leadership level will usually influence the rest of the organisation. As the leader, you get to choose what tone you’re setting.
Paying more attention to WHAT, rather than HOW.
In a busy environment with the typical demands of commerce, just trying to get stuff done is often the focus.
What needs to happen? Do it.
What do they need? Get it.
What needs sending? Send it.
When we can stop long enough to look at HOW we’re doing and getting and sending, we can start to smooth out the process, reduce the stress and usually improve productivity and results.
But this does require a P A U S E, some reflection, and a commitment to LESS STRESS.
So, what do you want to do change these OLD dynamics?
What’s the smallest next step you could take in your role to influence this?
If you want to cultivate a more intelligent, productive environment in your workplace, you will be going against the grain, so to speak. You will be operating outside the box.
I love outside the box.
I say … go for it.