You have grabbed your daily energizing cup of coffee from the local barista, wolfed down breakfast on the way to the barista and are now maneuvering your car out of the parking lot to tactfully beat the morning rush hour-by 2 minutes! You almost feel victorious, when you witness a road-sign “DIVERSION! WORK-IN-PROGRESS-TURN LEFT” on the highway close to your place. This is almost the right time for the stress hormone-cortisol, in your body to go in an overdrive.
Stress can manifest itself in varied forms and at the oddest of times. And when it does, the overwhelming tightening of our insides makes us wonder- “Why me?”. In this modern, hyper-connected world of ours, everything around us seems to be occurring in a whirlwind and everyone we know is just too busy to get the most out of it. But is stress really that bad? How is it that while we are breaking into a sweat at the thought of being late to an early-morning meeting due to a road diversion, there is a team of paramedics calmly attending to an injured man at the next curb? Professional success is as much a function of your perceived sense of control as it is of your technical and academic competence. We mistake stress to be something that happens to us as opposed to regarding it as our reaction to external stimuli, even if it is adverse.
For certain individuals, the mere thought of entering the office premises on a Monday morning induces an inexplicable sense of dread while for others it is a fresh opportunity to create value, contribute towards something larger than themselves and advance a little closer to their career goals. So stress is really at its essence, a deeply individual reaction, one that cannot be absolutely defined by the magnitude of responsibilities connected to a particular job role, department or even industry.
Yet, it is fair to say that stress levels, in general have continued to rise among the working population over the last couple of decades. In fact, a recent study, observed that workplace stress amounted to fairly the same amount of health hazards as smoking. Exercising resilience and control at an individual level is highly significant, however, there are some recurring and increasing trends that should be of concern to employers, senior management and HR leaders alike.
Some of these recurring trends can be attributed to lower paychecks, demanding work schedules involving longer working hours, inflexible work timings, inability to work remotely, working over the weekends, etc. Job insecurity, constraints to career advancement and hostile behavior of co-workers are other extremely common triggers for mounting workplace stress levels. Work culture is a term that has become a tad overused as well as misused. For, snazzy office places with recreation centers can contribute to the sense of ‘shared culture’ but not replace it if employees are otherwise disengaged in their work and have no clarity in terms of what it means to work in the company.
Leaders and senior executives have to consciously gauge employee-engagement and measure stress inducing factors in order to take proactive steps such as job redesigning, lateral transfers and process restructuring. In addition, leaders need to convey the adoption of transparency in policy-making and communication to prevent anxiety, speculation and negativity stemming from unclear vision. Conflict arising out of the gap between what employees think they deserve to do to what they are expected to, to ultimately the extent to which they ascertain they can deliver impedes creativity and productivity.
Here are a few tactical, easy and calming steps that we feel you can undertake to shun away stress. So, ease yourself into a bean bag and have a look:
Prioritize your tasks: Randy Pausch, the celebrated author and professor of The Last Lecture states that time and money are equatable and that we should quickly figure out the few tasks on our to-do list that generate maximum returns. Another step to note is that you should aim to complete the most complex and critical- impact tasks first as you start your day so that you can approach the simpler assignments with a calm mindset without the looming pressure of deadlines. Also, if you are required to fulfill shared goals, then you need to acknowledge that there would be few skills and tasks that you are better off delegating. You need to reach out to individuals that you feel have a stronger expertise in certain areas than you do. Micro-managing everything yourself is at times not the most effective route and not a lot of fun either.
Take control and organize: Inculcate a sense of discipline in your daily routine. Gather all necessary documents, reports and items that need to be taken to work in the evening so that you don’t have to rush looking for stuff the following day. De-clutter and personalize your workstation. Having a neat desk not only has a calming effect when you set out to begin your tasks but also saves up a lot of time when you can find important documents at the time when you need to. Personalize your work-space with pictures of your family, pets or friends, anything rather that lends a positive vibe when you are a little pressurized to achieve ambitious targets. Compose standardized response for emails that are repetitive in nature and do not require deliberation. Also, if an email thread converts into convoluted noise, then you need to step in and set up a personal meeting with the stakeholders involved. Segment large projects into small, actionable tasks and steps which seem realistic and not too overwhelming.
Voice your concerns: The power of communication as an outlet for shedding stress cannot be stressed enough. If you feel that your disengagement with work is stemming from monotony, then reach out to your superior or reporting manager for the same. If you feel more comfortable sharing your apprehension with an experienced team member or senior, who you feel can, not only provide a patient ear but also empathize with your situation and offer the most tactful next step, then don’t hesitate. Be vocal about your learning and training requirements, clarify the confounding gaps in your job description, discuss and collaborate to redesign goals and job responsibilities. Simply Put-Talk it out!
Assess the source of stress: Although a stressful moment can seem like an all-consuming, overbearing shadow of eternity-pause and take a deep breath. Introspect to ask yourself, if the situation that is worrying you, would it really matter, one year down the line or even one month into the future? Visualize how the person you admire would act when confronted with the same set of constraints and challenges. How would they objectively resolve the problem? But before that, spend some time figuring out the actual source of your stress. Is it that you have been assigning undue importance to developments and incidents that have no direct relation or impact on your work? Do you really need to be bothered by a learning program for the Tech-team when you have sufficient capabilities at your disposal in the Accounts department to fulfill the requisite goals?
Question yourself as to what is the value you are creating and what is that one action, albeit small, that you must change to get a little closer to your career goals and indeed to that project target which seems too herculean to even think about.
Adjust your perspective and unwind: Set clear boundaries and be aware of the same as you set out on the path of execution. Think of the interests of your team, organization and project, before you let a sense of complaint sink inside you. Being attached to your workstation 24×7 does not translate to you being over-productive. Take a walk around the office block, plan a weekend getaway and initiate fun activities for your team. If we find the humor in adversity, then we are really working to find a solution. Be kind to yourself and acknowledge the smallest of accomplishments. If that means deftly addressing the never-ending laments of a difficult client, then so be it. Embrace positive life choices-exercise and eat healthy.
The biggest folly we all are prone to commit as we amble, stride and often dash towards our career goals is to assume that we are invincible. We are not! We have our strengths and we are human. These two facts are often in conflict with each other. We need to understand these two aspects about ourselves a little better and then calm down. Leverage your strengths since you are meant to add value through them but greet your mistakes and weaknesses as learning grounds and not really as stress-holes of no return.0