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Manage Stress at Work

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended correspondence course in management. You can dip into it as you go, or you can follow the course, right from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


As a manager, you have two stress management responsibilities:

  1. To manage your own stress levels
  2. To manage the environment to avoid subjecting your team members to inappropriate levels of stress

Let’s scamper through the basics.

Exercise 1: How to spot the signs of stress in your team?

In your notebook, make a list of all of the outward signs that suggest that a team member may be experiencing stress.  These are the things you could observe in their demeanour, appearance and behaviour.

Part of your responsibility is to monitor your team’s collective performance.  What if stress were an endemic problem?  What would be the indicators and behaviours that would signal this problem? Write these in your notebook.

For some examples, click here.

Reducing Stress

To understand stress, you need to focus on one thing: control.  We feel stressed when we do not feel we have enough control in our lives.  Therefore, to reduce stress, we must increase control.

Supporting your team

Look for places where stressed team members feel robbed of control.  Where you can, restore some of their control.  Where that is not possible, help them to find other areas where they can take control.

Points of Control

The five key points of control for all of us are:

  1. Our environment
    How can you or your team members make changes to the environment to feel a greater sense of control.  Often, very little things are enough.  Personalisation is an important driver.
  2. Our use of time
    Where can you use your time more effectively (you may want to look at the time management tips in an earlier blog)?  How can you give team members more control over the way they use their time to get their work done.  Autonomy is another important driver.
  3. Our physical response to stressors
    Simple choices like what to eat, getting enough exercise and prioritising rest and relaxation will make a big difference to stress levels.  Poor physical health will reduce our resilience to a stress response.
  4. Our mental response to stressors
    ’there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so’
    Hamlet was spot on when he understood that it is the meaning we attach to events that determines our response to them: elation, contentment, boredom, or stress for example.  When feeling stressed, take control of your mental response and start focusing on what opportunities there are, what resources you have, and what there is to be grateful for.
  5. Our values – what is important to us
    A mismatch between what we are told is important at work and what we fundamentally believe is important to ourselves is a major cause of stress.  Examine your values – they may be out of date and you may want to shift, for example from: ‘it is important I work hard’ to ‘it is important I do great work’.  If your values are still out of sync with what your employer requires, you are in the wrong job.

Further Reading

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Type A and Type B

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended correspondence course in management. You can dip into it as you go, or you can follow the course, right from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


Are you a ‘rush-rush-got-to-get-things-done’ sort of a manager, or are you a ‘take my time; want to get things right’ type?  Or are you nicely balanced.  Doctors Mike Friedman and Ray Rosenman identified these two styles as, respectively, Type A and Type B personalities.  When I tell you they were cardiac specialists, you might start to worry.  There is no need.  Take the test and then I’ll explain.

Exercise

For each of these nine statements, score yourself 0 to 10 according to how close you lie to the first statement (a low score) or to the second statement (a high score).

Type A-B Thermometer

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Casual and relaxed 0 … 10 Often feel on edge

Slow and deliberate 0 … 10 Always rushing

Dislike deadlines 0 … 10 Love working to deadlines

Patient 0 … 10 Impatient

Express your feelings 0 … 10 Suppress your feelings

One thing at a time 0 … 10 Lots of things at once

Ready in advance 0 … 10 Just in time

Plan and prepare 0 … 10 Just do it

Enjoy relaxing 0 … 10 Feel guilty when relaxing

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Interpretation

Friedman and Rosenman predicted that strong Type A personalities would be prone to heart disease and die young.  They were wrong.  Many of their patients did have a cluster of personality traits that they characterised as Type A, but only a few of them were truly predictive of illness – and not the ones relating to rushing about.

However, both Type A and Type B personalities each have their own challenges in operating in an organisation.  Let’s look at some.

Dealing with other People

Inevitably, we deal best with people who are like us.  We find them easy to understand and their habits agreeable.  Type As readily get impatient with Type Bs.  They want the B to hurry up and despair that the B has no sense of urgency about things.  Type Bs find Type As’ hurry annoying; they would rather the A would slow down and do things properly and are concerned about quality standards.

Dealing with Admin

Type Bs will take on the organising and admin tasks as another thing to do carefully and well.  Type As – unless they really value it – will rush through it, wanting to move quickly onto ‘proper work’.  They will then get angry when they can’t find what they need or get what they want.

Dealing with Interruptions

Type Bs may not welcome an interruption – especially when they are engrossed in something – but when they accept it has happened, they will turn their whole attention to you.  This is great for the interrupter and can lead to positive outcomes.  But when the interrupter has a non-critical issue, Type Bs can lose valuable time on the work they were doing.  Not so Type A’s.  The interruption may be unwelcome or a welcome distraction when they are starting to feel bored, but the Type A will soon be tapping their foot, keen to get on.

Managing Time

Type A personalities get masses done; often just in time and at breakneck pace.  Quality can suffer, especially when they try to multi-task, but it is Type As who are at the heart of the (perfectly true) cliché: ‘if you want it done; ask a busy person.’  Type Bs focus on one thing at a time and do it well.  They plan well and execute effectively, as long as they don’t get held up by an interruption or by finding a problem and working deliberately to solve it.

Exercise: Balance is Everything

The most successful people inevitably balance both personality types.  Look at your weak points and note them in your notebook.  What strategies will you use to neutralise them?

Further Reading

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Mental First Aid

nsad_logo2010Tomorrow is National Stress Awareness Day, so let’s take a look at a valuable idea from The Stress Pocketbook.

The Stress Cycle

Early in the Stress Pocketbook, author Mary Richards introduces a cycle of our natural response to stress, in the form of a threat or a challenge.

Response to threat

The problem is that, in a stressful work environment, we don’t get the time for our body to return to its normal state, before the next threat or challenge arrives.  So, instead, we get this result.

Stress cycle

Break the Cycle

One of the tools that Mary offers to break the cycle is what she calls ‘Mental First Aid’.  This involves turning your mind to something else, for example:

  • Daydreaming for a few moments
  • Self-talk to direct your mind to a productive approach
  • Thinking about how the situation is not so bad after all
  • Checking your attitude is positive

Physical First Aid too

You can get a far greater positive effect when you combine your mental first aid with physical first aid:

  • Control your breathing by taking slow, deep breaths
  • Release tension in your muscles
  • Sit up or stand up straight
  • Smile

More on Managing your Stress Levels

The Stress Pocketbook

The Stress Pocketbook is filled with tips and tricks and an essential guide. You might also like:

The Energy & Wellbeing Pocketbook

The Positive Mental Attitude Pocketbook

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Elastic Management

SuperLewinKurt Lewin is something of a hero to me, not least as the originator of one of my all time favourite quotes:

‘There is nothing so practical as a good theory’

This appeared in my intro to The Management Models Pocketbook and a blog I posted on my birthday.

So why come back to it now?  I want to look at one of Lewin’s best known models from a slightly unconventional angle, but let’s start with the basics.

Force Field Analysis

Lewin’s language derives from the world of physics; he talks of equilibrium and forces.  His metaphor is not, however, strained and works very well for me.  In his model, we (individuals and groups – even organisations) will be in equilibrium, unless a force acts upon us.

By equilibrium, he means that there will be no change.

Let’s get real!

In the real world, there are always forces acting upon us, so there is always change.  Lewin identifies two fundamental types of force:

Driving forces, which promote change

Restraining forces, which – take a guess – restrain it

ForceField

To understand the nature of change and how it is happening in an individual or a group, we need to inventory all of the driving and restraining forces, understand them, and assess the net direction and strength of the resultant force.

Under Pressure

Many of us in the worlds of business and public service are finding ourselves under a lot of pressure at the moment, and if you manage people, you may be putting them under pressure.  What can Lewin teach us about what is going to happen?

As we apply a driving force to our colleagues in times of pressure, many will respond and you will achieve the changes you need.  People are able to suppress their reaction to unwelcome pressure and hence you may not sense the restraining forces.  But they are there.  When you release the drive, as the pressure reduces, the elasticity of the restraining forces will show itself.

Two Tactics

How can you deal with this elasticity.  If you need to maintain your new productivity levels over a long term, you have only two options:

  1. You can maintain the driving forces
    We see this pretty often in organisations.  ‘Autocratic’ or ‘follow-me-the-superhero’ styles of leadership maintain long term pressure that can turn into stress and burn-out.  If you suspect you are in danger of causing this, you need to deal with it – quickly.
  2. You can release the restraining forces
    This is by far the harder tactic.  You need to understand what the forces are that pull back against your drive and address them one at a time.  So, longer hours may be mostly a problem because of a parent’s evening routine; so can you offer flexible hours to allow them to leave early?  A greater workload may frustrate someone who is angered by the slow running of an aged computer; so can you upgrade their equipment?

Welcome to the club

If you are anticipating 2011 will be a tough year for you, then welcome to a large club.  But don’t just despair or let events drive you.  Analyse and understand your situation, and take active steps to manage it.

This quarter, Pocketblog will be offering a range of solutions from the Management Pocketbooks library, to help you through.

Some Management Pocketbooks you might find helpful

The Managing Change Pocketbook

The Stress Pocketbook

The Motivation Pocketbook

The People Manager’s Pocketbook

The Tackling Difficult Conversations Pocketbook

Under Pressure? – take a break

For Queen fans

For music fans who aren’t so keen on Queen

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Management New Year’s Resolutions

Welcome to 2011!  This blog is published on the first working day of the New Year, so we have culled five Management New Year’s Resolutions from our Management Pocketbook library.

Resolution 1: Evidence-Based Decision-Making

After all, what is the alternative to evidence-based decision-making? Decision-Based Evidence Making

FrancisLSullivan-as-JaggersOne of our favourite quotes comes from Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, in which the lawyer, Jaggers, says:

`Take nothing on its looks; take everything on evidence. There’s no better rule.’

Image of Francis L Sullivan as Jaggers in the 1946 movie by David Lean – if you’ve never seen it, do so this year.

So, resolve never to make an important decision without first critically reviewing all of the evidence available to you.

Resolution 2: Reduce Reuse Recycle

For a manager, this year is likely to be one with resources at their tightest.  So use what you have well.  Think carefully about every commitment to reduce what you do; look for solutions that already work and make sure you put redundant resources to good use in a new context.

TimeTime will be your most valuable resource, and unlike the others, you cannot save it up, so use it really well.

Photo by i-am-marvin.

So, resolve not to squander anything of value.

Resolution 3: Make a Difference

How much did you achieve in 2010?  Seth Godin, in his blog, asks what did you ship (or get out of the door) in 2010 and he’s right: answering that question is an uncomfortable exercise if you are rigorous in excluding the near misses and outright failures to deliver.  Accept no excuses from yourself.

Now, resolve to make a real difference this year; face your demons and get things done.  And reading Seth’s blog will be a great stimulus.

Resolution 4: Treat your Customers like Kings and Queens

Management Pocketbooks has five excellent pocketbooks in its Customer Care category, but if you boil all the advice down to two words, it’s these: ‘just care’.

If you are in the business of serving people or creating products for them, this is what you have chosen, so, resolve to put up or shut up.  Treat every customer as you would wish to be treated when you are at you most demanding and unreasonable.

And, for the ultimate in customer care training, this column will be buying the Remastered DVD box-set of Fawlty Towers.

Resolution 5: Chill Out

RelaxRelax.  Get more done by stressing less.  Make time for more of what you enjoy and the people you really love.  Find ways to discharge the pressures and tensions of your working life and give yourself more energy in the process.

So, resolve to be more mellow and easier to be with.

Ten Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy this Year

Resolution 1
Resolution 2
Resolution 3
Resolution 4
Resolution 5
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National Stress Awareness Day

Today’s post comes to you from
Mary Richards, author of the Stress Pocketbook

12th Annual National Stress Awareness Day

National Stress Awareness DayTomorrow, Wednesday 3 November, is the 12th Annual National Stress Awareness Day. Organised by the Institute of Stress Management (ISMA) their website (www.isma.org.uk) contains a balance of practical approaches and chilling statistics. It’s worth taking a look at. There are some good tips and they give some sound advice.

Relax

But just to make sure that I don’t add to your stress levels today, I would prefer to leave the nitty gritty to the ISMA and choose instead to tell you a story. So relax for a moment, step down a gear; read, absorb and enjoy…

When I was about 7 years old, my grandfather took me for a walk. There was nothing unusual in this, we often went for walks. Sometimes we talked. Sometimes we walked in perfect silence, listening to the birds, feeling the winds, watching the clouds, sensing the life around us.

As we came to the edge of the village pond my grandfather stooped down and picked up a stone. ‘Here’ he said as he passed me the stone, ‘throw this into the water.’ Laughing, I threw the stone high in the air and watched as it dropped, squealed with delight as it hit the water and splashed us. I quickly bent to pick up another stone, but felt my grandfather’s hand on my shoulder.

‘Look’, he said, ‘see what the stone has done to the water. You felt the splashes, now see the ripples. Wait and watch. See how long they last. See how far and wide they spread.’

And so we stood and watched. And as we did, I heard him say ‘As you grow, remember that you are like a stone dropping into the pond of life. You will create a lot of splashes in your life, it is inevitable. But just as you are responsible for your own splashes, so you are responsible for the ripples that come from them and touch the lives of others. The splash that comes from anger will send anger out to others. The splash that comes from kindness will send kindness out to them. You always have a choice. The responsibility is yours. Remember this.’

And although in my early years, I often forgot, I find that I am increasingly reminded by some quiet inner voice, that whatever comes my way in life, I have a choice. I have a choice of how I see it, and how I respond to it. My choice can make life more difficult for myself and others, or my choice can make it easier. My choice is my responsibility.

Have a smooth day, and a stress-free week.

Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

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Recharge with Watercress

Management Pocketbooks is based in the lovely Hampshire town of Alresford.  The principal claim to fame of Alresford is as the heart of Watercress growing in the UK.  Thanks to the clear, fast moving fresh water that flows through around the town, watercress grows plentifully.

Watercress

Watercress has a peppery taste and is full of good things.  Those of us who live here use it as a salad vegetable and ingredient for most of the year for its taste, but it is one of the foods that can rightly claim the title of “’superfood’.  Let’s look at what’s in it:

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Vitamins:
A and beta carotene, C, B1, B6,
Folate (or folic acid) – a type of B vitamin needed to form new cells,
E, and K

Minerals:
Calcium, Iodine, Iron, Manganese,
Phosphorus, Potassium, Zinc, Magnesium.

Powerful Phytochemicals:
Beta carotene, Lutein, and Zeaxanthin, Quercetin , Glucosinolate Family

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The Watercress Festival

This Sunday (16 May) sees the annual Watercress Festival.  This has been a consistently great day out, with music, dance and food a-plenty.  You will be amazed at the flexibility of the humble water-weed that is Watercress.

What has this to do with Management?

Managers, leaders, trainers, and educators – indeed everyone in today’s stressful world – needs to know how to take care of their health.  Here are three relevant tips – which you already know:

1.  Eat well
Healthy eating is a pre-requisite for long-term resistance to the effects of a stressful job or lifestyle

2.  Sleep well
Sleep is when your body goes on its full re-charge cycle.  Like the battery in your mobile phone, you do need to drain your body’s energy and re-charge it fully on a regular basis.  Your battery needs this at least once a month: your body is designed to work best with this cycle running once a day

3.  Learn to relax
Days out, relaxing evenings, pursuing interests and time with family and friends will all help you to discharge the stresses and strains of daily life

So here’s the deal

Get along to Alresford this weekend and enjoy the Watercress Festival.  Eat watercress, buy watercress and take it home to eat.  See you there!  Click here for directions.

Management Pocketbooks to help you thrive

EnergyWellBeing

The Energy and Well-Being Pocketbook by Gillian Burn is full of tips and techniques to help you maintain your sense of well-being and boost your energy levels, so you can be at your best.

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You may also enjoy:

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