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Managing Stress

Many conditions can contribute to a high level of stress in the workplace. Following are a few of the most common factors. Along with each one are some possible causes, some tips on how to eliminate this as a source of stress in your job, as well as some strategies you can adopt, as a manager, for eliminating this as a source of stress for your employees.

1. Too many assignments or too much work to do and not enough time to get it all done.

    Possible causes:
  • Schedule conflicts;
  • You and your manager have different expectations about how much time is required to complete the work;
  • Poor planning;
  • Lack of understanding about what is involved;
  • Inefficient use of your time.
    What you can do about it:
  • Practice good time management techniques; for example, establish priorities and work on the highest priority first;
  • Agree on a plan and schedule before initiating a new assignment;
  • Request additional resources;
  • Request more time;
  • Negotiate commitments up-front before agreeing to them;
  • Learn to say no, when possible.
    If you're the manager:
  • Work with employees to establish priorities;
  • Reassess your expectations to determine whether they're reasonable;
  • Make sure performance goals are attainable;
  • Help resolve schedule conflicts;
  • Redesign the job, if appropriate;
  • Carefully explain how the work is to be done;
  • Shift responsibilities to other people as appropriate;
  • Aim for an equitable distribution of work; or
  • Request additional resources.
2. Don't have the staff, budget, or equipment needed to get the work done.

    Possible causes:
  • Budget constraints;
  • Poor planning;
  • Equipment failures;
  • Outdated process or technology;
  • Inefficient process;
  • Employee turnover; or
  • Difficulty filling vacant positions;
    What you can do about it:
  • Renegotiate the work or reduce the scope of the assignment(s);
  • Suggest alternative approaches that would be less expensive or time-consuming;
  • Request additional resources.
    If you're the manager:
  • Ask the employee what he or she needs;
  • Determine whether additional resources are needed;
  • Request additional resources, if needed;
  • Consider alternative methods for accomplishing the objective;
  • Streamline the work process; or
  • Request help from other departments.
3. Given an important assignment without being told how to do it. No instructions given or not told how to perform the job.

    Possible causes:
  • Lack of training or communication;
  • No prior experience;
  • Work should have been assigned to a more qualified person.
    What you can do about it:
  • Discuss the assignment with your manager;
  • Request clarification or training;
  • Talk with others who have successfully done this work in the past;
  • Conduct your own research using books and websites.
    If you're the manager:
  • Determine whether the employee possesses the requisite knowledge and skills;
  • Ask the employee if he or she understands how to perform the job;
  • Provide additional coaching, mentoring, or training as appropriate;
  • Partner the employee with someone more experienced;
  • Meet with employee on a regular basis to review progress and provide feedback.
4. Don't feel qualified to handle the job.

    Possible causes:
  • Lack of confidence;
  • Inexperience;
  • Lack of training; or
  • The job isn't well-suited to your individual strengths.
    What you can do about it:
  • Discuss your concerns with your manager;
  • Request additional coaching or training;
  • Be willing to try new things;
  • Start small and build on early successes;
  • Seek out a coach or mentor from your circle of acquaintances.
    If you're the manager:
  • Ask the employee is he or she has any concerns;
  • Assess the employee's background, qualifications, and skills;
  • Provide additional coaching or training as appropriate;
  • Meet with employee on a regular basis to review progress and provide feedback;
  • Make yourself available when needed.
5. Have no involvement in the decisions that affect the work. Assignments are made without my input or not given any say in how or when the work gets done.

    Possible causes:
  • Poor communication;
  • Your manager may not be involved in the decision(s) either; or
  • Perhaps your manager practices a directive or authoritarian management style.
    What you can do about it:
  • Ask the manager what constraints he or she is working under with regard to the work;
  • Ask your manager what flexibility you have in deciding how and when the work gets done;
  • Ask if he or she is willing to consider alternative approaches;
  • Explain that your goal is to do the very best job possible and, to do so, it would be helpful if you could discuss, in advance, how and when the work will be completed.
    If you're the manager:
  • Ask employees for suggestions on how the work can be done;
  • Negotiate deadlines;
  • Establish limits and then provide flexibility in how the work is to be completed.
6. Have difficulty balancing responsibilities at work with family and personal obligations.

    Possible causes:
  • Schedule conflicts;
  • Emergencies;
  • Inability to get the work done within normal working hours;
  • Frequent business travel or overtime.
    What you can do about it:
  • Ask about alternative work arrangements, such as flex-time, part-time, or work-at-home arrangements.
  • Ask about the possibility of job sharing.
    If you're the manager:
  • Involve employees in planning and job design;
  • Consider alternative work arrangements, such as flex-time, part-time, and work-at-home arrangements.
  • Help the employee transition into a position that can more easily accommodate his or her family and personal needs, if appropriate.
7. Don't have anyone to turn to for help. Don't feel comfortable going to the manager.

    Possible causes:
  • Your manager is inaccessible or frequently unavailable;
  • You have a poor relationship with your manager, including a lack of trust;
  • Your manager is new to the job or the organization;
  • Your manager lacks experience in your specialty;
  • You have a lack of confidence in your manager's abilities.
    What you can do about it:
  • Negotiate a routine or schedule for meeting with your manager on a regular basis;
  • Communicate by phone, e-mail, and voicemail whenever possible;
  • Keep your interactions businesslike;
  • Be prepared;
  • Be respectful and don't waste your manager's time with trivial matters or problems you can resolve on your own;
  • Work on the relationship
    If you're the manager:
  • Make an effort to be accessible on certain days or at certain times of the day;
  • Give employees your full attention when they speak to you;
  • Communicate by phone, e-mail, and voicemail whenever possible;
  • Designate an additional person the employee can go to for help when you're not available;
  • Take time to understand the employee's needs and concerns;
  • Work to improve your relationship with the employee.
8. Future is uncertain. Not certain of having a job next week.

    Possible causes:
  • The organization is undergoing significant change, such as a merger, buyout, or downsizing;
  • Your department is being reorganized; or
  • A new manager has been assigned to your department.
    What you can do about it:
  • Maintain a level head;
  • Stay focused on matters within your control;
  • Ask for information and clarification;
  • Consider your options.
    If you're the manager:
  • Keep employees informed;
  • Be honest;
  • Maintain a positive outlook;
  • Provide assistance to employees adversely affected.
9. Don't know what's going on. Frequently feel left in the dark.

    Possible causes:
  • Your manager is frequently inaccessible;
  • Your manager closely guards information;
  • Your manager doesn't know what's going on either.
    What you can do about it:
  • Inform your manager how you feel;
  • Occasionally, ask your manager if there is anything you should know about that could affect your job or your work;
  • Establish a network of contacts throughout your department that you can rely on for information.
    If you're the manager:
  • Communicate regularly with employees, both verbally and in writing;
  • Conduct meetings with employees on a regular basis to keep them informed of developments.
10. Work assignments or priorities change on a daily basis. Nothing is ever completed.

    Possible causes:
  • Frequent or rapid change;
  • Poor planning;
  • Shifting priorities;
  • Poorly defined performance goals;
  • Crisis mentality;
  • Inconsistent enforcement of policies and procedures;
  • Management style.
    What you can do about it:
  • Ask your manager to help you determine priorities;
  • Be flexible and willing to adjust your work assignments, as necessary;
    If you're the manager:
  • Involve employees in planning and job design;
  • Actively solicit ideas before making decisions;
  • Establish priorities and then stick to them;
  • Provide organization and structure to the work.
  • Try to anticipate changing conditions and factor that information into your plans.
11. Everything is a crisis. No plan or process for preventing problems from occurring.

    Possible causes:
  • Your department or company is undergoing frequent or dramatic changes;
  • Poor planning;
  • Lack of organization and structure.
    What you can do about it:
  • Ask your manager to help you determine priorities;
  • Offer to participate on a team to develop contingency plans;
  • Be flexible and willing to adjust your work assignments, as necessary;
  • Ask your manager to help you determine priorities;
  • Be flexible and willing to adjust your work assignments, as necessary;
    If you're the manager:
  • Maintain frequent communication with your employees;
  • Learn to anticipate future emergencies and develop contingency plans;
  • Work at establishing order and structure.
12. Bullying or harassment by a manager or coworker.

    Possible causes:
  • The bully or harasser is unaware their behavior is offensive;
  • The individual believes he or she can get away with it.
    What you can do about it:
  • Report the situation immediately to the person in your organization designated to handle this type of complaint;
  • Follow your company's procedure.
    If you're the manager:
  • Make sure employees are aware of the company's policy forbidding harassment as well as the procedure for reporting offensive behavior;
  • Notify your human resources representative immediately regarding any complaints or knowledge of potential violations.
13. Not sure what is expected of me. Is unclear with regard to responsibilities.

    Possible causes:
  • Poor communication;
  • Perceived to be out of the loop;
  • Responsibilities keep changing;
  • Vague or non-existent written direction, including job descriptions.
    What you can do about it:
  • Ask;
  • Discuss the situation with your manager;
  • Request clarification;
  • Request copies of relevent written materials, including company policies, procedure manuals, and performance goals.
    If you're the manager:
  • Establish clear standards for behavior and performance;
  • Make sure new employees are given a proper orientation;
  • Communicate your expectations to employees verbally and in writing;
  • Provide copies of organizational policies and procedure manuals;
  • Meet with employees systematically to review performance goals.


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