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chapter 18
handling stress

Stress is defined as a state of emotional, mental and physical tension. While the majority of stress is usually caused by one’s own actions and behavior, it obviously also can result from the demands of others, such as one’s supervisor at work.
Most jobs involve a certain amount of stress. Some of it is constructive from the standpoint of causing people to adopt a greater sense of urgency in performing tasks than would otherwise be the case. Deadlines are attached to projects to impose pressure that they be completed on time.
Different individuals have a capacity for handling different levels of stress at work. Some can cope with it better than others. If you use an index to measure stress, most people can operate with a stress level of 2-3/10. Few people can tolerate a prolonged stress level of 9-10/10 without experiencing emotional, mental and physical health problems. Repeated high levels of stress can result in job-burnout and serious illness.
Stress Makers
The principal causes of self-created stress at work are:
  • Poor planning of one’s daily work schedule, including over-scheduling of activities.
  • Engaging in chronic procrastination, continuously putting off what needs to be done.
  • Failing to establish proper priorities and allocate sufficient time to deal with them.
  • Having a disorganized office or work space, causing one to waste time looking for things.
  • Lacking the ability to focus on one task at a time and allowing oneself to be constantly interrupted.
  • Being an e-mail junkie throughout one’s work day.
  • Exercising weak project management skills and setting unrealistic deadlines.
  • Failing to negotiate appropriate boundaries with your supervisor and work colleagues, including saying “no” when one needs to do so.
  • Bringing one’s home and personal problems to work and worrying about them there. And, vice versa.
  • Letting negative emotions constantly override your personal frame of mind.
These behaviors will lead to stress and raise the risk of you becoming overwhelmed by your work. Being in denial about any of them is not going to help matters.
Stress Busters
Some of the best ways to combat stress are:
  • Getting into the habit of taking some form of regular exercise and engaging in non-work activities, hobbies or sports that take your mind totally off your job.
  • When you are constantly working, taking off a minimum of one full day (i.e., 24 hours) from what you are doing every week regardless of the pressures not to do so, as opposed to working seven days a week. This weekly recharging of your batteries is absolutely essential to maintaining your mental and physical well-being, personal relationships and capacity to function effectively.
  • Enjoying the company of your friends and family, and experiencing “adventures” and other fun events with them.
  • Getting enough sleep on a regular basis.
  • Using the full amount of your allowed holidays each year without fail.
  • Refraining from drinking too much coffee, tea and other caffeine drinks or taking stimulants to help you keep working.
  • Planning your travel to suit your habits. Include some time for personal activities when you take business trips. Do your best to avoid taking red-eye overnight plane flights.
  • Allowing yourself enough time to recover from jet-lag on long trips before engaging in any serious business meetings.
  • Trying to leave your personal problems at home and your job-related problems at work.
The benefits of taking positive action to minimize and reduce the stress you experience at work are enormous. By doing so, you will gain a greater sense of control, have more energy to devote to what is important, and boost your ability to think creatively. In the process, you will achieve higher overall work productivity, have fewer health problems, and be happier both at work and at home.
One simple way to relieve stress at work is to stop everything for a breathing exercise several times a day. Sitting still, breathe in through your nose for a count of three and breathe out through your mouth for a count of six. Keep repeating this for about three minutes.
Progressive organizations are implementing policies designed to reduce the stress imposed on their employees. One such policy, adopted by Pfizer Canada, is to ban any work-related phone calls or e-mails being sent between the hours of 6 PM and 6 AM. Pfizer calls this popular policy “Freedom 6 to 6”. The e-mail servers of Volkswagen in Germany are programmed to cease sending e-mails to employees starting 30 minutes after work and not to resume sending them until 30 minutes before the beginning of the next workday, plus to prevent any e-mails on weekends. Some organizations are also banning e-mails on Fridays as well as weekends.
Dealing With a “Bad Boss”
Occasionally, you may find yourself saddled with a “bad boss”, one who is frequently bullying, manipulative, unsupportive or demanding in a totally unrealistic manner. If you come to believe this is the case, carefully assess whether you are the one creating the problem and whether it is possible for you to change your behavior in the job to make your supervisor “happy”.
When a particularly troubling incident has occurred, it is usually best to wait several days before reacting. Try to be objective in determining what is causing this situation. Consult your work associates to see if you are the only one experiencing such difficulties with your supervisor. Keep notes of the details of any actions by your supervisor that you think are totally inappropriate. Review this situation with your mentor if you have one.
Rarely will anyone significantly change his or her approach to supervising. Chronic “bad bosses” usually stay that way. In some cases, however, a supervisor may be completely unaware that he or she is causing problems for you. Your best chance of resolving this matter is to request a meeting with your supervisor “to discuss some work issues”. Try to pick a quiet time to have this meeting, keep calm and unemotional, and do not get confrontational. At the meeting, say, “I’d like to have a frank conversation about our working relationship. You seem to be constantly unhappy with my performance. Is there anything I can do to better please you?”
What is the worst that can happen? At a minimum, you will gain a better understanding of your supervisor’s position and the extent to which you have any chance of having a better working relationship. If the situation is hopeless and you are unable to minimize your contact with the supervisor, attempt to switch to another department or location. When you are stuck in such a situation, it is probably best to look for a job with another organization. Unfortunately, complaining about a “bad boss” to the next level of management rarely produces positive results.
A note of caution – before you make any irrevocable decisions as a result of having a “bad boss”, step back and look at your total work situation to place things in their proper perspective. What are the pluses of the job and being with this organization? What opportunities may become available there? On an overall basis, can you mitigate the negative consequences of your supervisor by taking certain actions yourself? Regardless of what happens, do not let yourself adopt a victim mentality with this situation. Many, many people have had “bad bosses”, survived from the experience, and gone on to great success.


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