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A little stress can be good, but a lot can be disastrous

By Steve M. Cohen  bio

There’s a big issue that I think is overlooked too often in many offices: job related stress and anxiety.

Some stress is good. A certain tension, including awareness of deadlines and the feeling of meeting challenges, is a good thing in any workplace.

But too much stress, or stress for too long a time, will overload people. Some handle it better, or for longer periods, but ultimately most will show wear and tear. They and their performance will suffer.

For managers, this is obviously not good, but the signs can be extremely difficult to detect and evaluate. You will get mixed signals.

Try to find the cause

Some workers may not be able to tolerate the normal or intermittent stress at your office. But before terminating them or, preferably, seeking a negotiated separation, try talking. See if you can find out what is bothering them, or at least what’s bothering them the most. There may be a simple solution.

In some cases, it might be something as easy as telling an individual that others are experiencing the same thing. This type of support often comes from co-workers, but if it does not, then the successful manager will step in. Communicating to employees that they are not going through this alone will, by itself, reduce stress and anxiety.

Sometimes it is your veterans who need attention. Loading up good workers is a proven practice but, at some point, you need to make sure you’ve not given an otherwise good performer an unrealistic workload. Ultimately, you and the office are the ones who will suffer: You may lose the worker when they find another job.

Lend an ear

What works well is a multi-step process that, more than anything, involves talking and listening. Ask workers individually what’s troubling them. Sometimes they won’t know, or they’ll identify a symptom rather than a cause. Nevertheless, you’ll gain information and, simply by showing interest, you can often reduce anxiety. Especially with some workers, this should not be underestimated.

You may also identify some stress points, areas in the workplace where capability and demands are out of sync. Or perhaps expectations are not clearly or accurately communicated and staff members are spending a lot of energy on something that’s not productive, while underperforming in an area that is important.

Adjust what you can

Perhaps you need to adjust workflow to provide a slower pace following an especially brutal stretch. Do staff members have what they need to do the job? This means tools and adequate control of their time and focus in order to realistically meet your expectations. If a group must rely on outside elements to do their job, and those elements are late or not up to expectations, stress will result.

Does your staff have incentives to push through tough times? Giving everyone a bonus may not be an option, but perhaps you can use “comp time” or a benefit adjustment to provide a carrot for stressful sticks. Solutions are not always easy; some will require some real creativity.


The good news is that solutions are usually within reach. Don’t forget, however, that it pays to pay attention. Without some action on the part of managers, the office is likely to lose their best workers, which will increase the stress on you!

Editor’s picks:

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