In previous productivity steps we planned our work (Step 1), put systems in place to keep our people informed and in sync (Step 2), rolled up our sleeves to get work done (Step 3) and identified strategies to sustain the momentum we’ve built (Step 4). This post goes deeper on Step 5, leading for maximal productivity.
Building passion is also a great way to manage and reduce workplace stress. Stress is a serious drain on productivity and had a direct effect on worker health and absenteeism. Stress-related illnesses cost businesses an estimated $200 billion to $300 billion a year in lost productivity, as reported in Stress in the Workplace. A study by Health Advocate found that 1 million workers miss work each day due to stress. This absenteeism costs employers an estimated $600 per worker each year. Twelve percent of employees have called in sick because of job stress. This is not surprising because most people respond to increased stress with added caffeine and alcohol consumption, smoking, and prescription medications.
A leader’s role in reducing workplace stress
Leaders can reduce stress by helping their people better manage it. Understand that leaders don’t create stress for others. Instead, they create conditions that, taken together with whatever is going on in people’s personal lives, can increase stress levels and decrease productivity and job satisfaction.
A leader’s role, then, is to help their people by educating them about the importance of self-care (see Step 4). They should encourage people to eat properly, take regular breaks and get enough sleep. People also need to have their minds and souls “fed,” with such things as time management training, meditation, prayer and a list of personal and team values to motivate them and help them make correct, healthy decisions. Leaders can also help by pitching in; offering people opportunities to delegate; accepting excellent, even if imperfect, work; and giving people the opportunity to vent and offer constructive feedback to improve processes and systems.
Of course, leaders cannot force their people to take better care of themselves, but the very fact that they offer options and serve as a resource for stress reduction can itself be helpful. After all, who gets the blame for work-related stress if not the boss?
How leaders can reduce their own stress
In addition to the strategies listed above, leaders should consider the following tactics to manage their own increased stress levels.
- Label your emotion. The simple act of labeling our emotions reduces activity in the emotional brain and increases activity in the areas of the brain associated with focus and awareness. By labeling your emotions you can better separate yourself from the experience and draft a clearer plan on how to handle it.
- Record and review your leadership goals. Clarity of purpose and action is a solid defense against leadership stress.
- Be selective in your work. This was discussed in Step 1. Don’t engage in tasks and efforts that unproductive or produce limited benefits. Your time and attention are extremely valuable and must be protected.
- Learn to delegate. Clear your plate of all the “other” things so you can do the “right” work. We detailed how to do this in Step 2.
- Seek to control only the controllable. Focus on the things you can control such as your efforts and the way you choose to react to problems.
- Remain positive. Stress is part of leadership and running successful enterprises. Don’t let it poison your mindset or, more importantly, your self-perception.
- Get social support. Leaders often lack social support at work. To combat this, consider joining a peer board, a mastermind group, or a leadership development group that will provide trustworthy, confidential, and ongoing social support.
- Re-group on a task. When a task is stressful, look for ways to better organize and streamline what needs to be done. Take time to clearly define roles and clarify expectations.
- Increase your determination. Commit to working through your challenges and to not let them gain the upper hand. This determination will push you through the most challenging moments when you may otherwise be inclined to pull back.
- Keep a collection of inspirational quotes handy. Quotes can give us quick bursts of inspiration. Here are two:
- “Permanence, perseverance, and persistence in spite of all obstacles, discouragements and impossibilities: It is this that in all things distinguishes the strong soul from the weak.” (Thomas Carlyle)
- “The obstacle is the path.” (Zen proverb)
- Consider your impact. As much as you are struggling with your burden, keep in mind that you are still needed by others. Your leadership, guidance, direction and support are critical elements in your organization and folks need you to be there for them. Use such thinking to push yourself forward.
- Share what’s happening. Share your situation with a few close confidants who support you and can fill in for you as needed. Just knowing that others care about you can be extremely uplifting and can keep you going during difficult moments. Having people who can step in during your absence will help alleviate the burden and make sure that things move forward as needed.
- Find the silver lining. In almost every difficult situation there are silver linings, including considering how many others may have it worse. For example, if you’re struggling with a defiant child who is making poor decisions, consider how much worse off others may be in terms of their condition and disconnect.
- Reflect on how others did it. Life is filled with stories of “failures” who endured challenges yet went on to achieve great successes. People like Albert Einstein (rejected from college), Thomas Edison (failed repeatedly to invent the light bulb), FDR (crippled by polio), Charles Schwab/Richard Branson (struggled in school due to dyslexia) and Oprah Winfrey (domestic abuse) all overcome personal challenges to achieve greatness.