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How Can I Reduce Stress Due to Work?

Actually, you have two concerns: controlling your own feelings of burnout and minimizing the stress your employees feel.

As an effective manager, you should provide employees with the information they need to do a good job. You should give regular feedback. You should say "thank you"—regularly. You should involve your employees in decisions that affect their work—don’t let them feel powerless—and be sure to recognize a job well done. If you can’t provide money, then consider other forms of recognition. Establish easy-to-use channels of communication so they can tell you when there are problems (like unrealistic deadlines).

Maybe they need help. If so, see that they get the resources they need. In short, be alert to employee needs for help. Most important, if you see one of your employees is evidently tired and suffering from work overload, then you should look for ways to reduce his or her responsibilities. If you suspect that an employee is putting in extra hours from fear of being laid off, then provide reassurance if you can, or level with the employee about his or her lack of a future within the company.

What about yourself? To help minimize the stress that stems from overwork, the best advice is to learn to pace yourself. The most successful managers I know are those who have learned to go on overdrive for a period, then slow down for a time, then speed up once more, and at the end of the day take a break.

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If you feel this stressed out while at the office, take a walk around the block. If you don’t want to leave the office, at least step away from your desk—say, walk over to the office copier to do your own copying. The object is to get away for a brief period from that stack of paperwork or long list of e-mails awaiting your attention.

Don’t worry how you will fit a big project into your workday. Plan, instead, how you will get it done. Work on it when you feel most energetic and can be most productive. Ask yourself, "When is it easiest for me to do a task? When is it toughest?" If you don’t know, keep a record over a period of time, and then try to adjust your work schedule so you do the most stressful tasks when your energy is at its highest level.

Finally, try to put people and situations into perspective. When you look at each situation at the office as a matter of life and death, you can develop tremendous feelings of stress. Ask yourself, "What is the worst that can happen if I don’t complete this project on schedule? Will the world end?" The answer: no. Ask yourself, "Will I lose my job?" The answer: unlikely. "Will my manager think less of me? The answer: perhaps, but more likely the extra time taken might produce a better report or analysis, which will please your manager, particularly if he or she has been warned in advance about the delay.

Frame your questions to evaluate potentially stressful situations and help keep overreaction to a minimum.

In any discussion of work fatigue and burnout, mention needs to be made not only of the long hours but also of other factors, like:

Task demands. Managerial positions are particularly stressful because of time deadlines, performance evaluation responsibilities and decision-making activities. Boundary-spanning activities can also be demanding, as they require dealing with myriad people with different backgrounds, interests, and demands.

Role demands. When responsibilities and roles aren’t clear, stress can occur. Over time, the stresses can lead to burnout. Differences between an individual’s values or beliefs and those of leaders within his or her organization are another cause of role conflict.

Physical environment. A poor work environment can add to the feelings of stress, especially if it is in conjunction with long hours. Think of some cubicles that are about the size of walk-in closets, or office environments in which employees freeze in winter and perspire in summer from poorly regulated thermostats.

Interpersonal demands. Differences with others with whom you work can cause work to be less pleasant. In time, interpersonal conflicts can mean severe pressure on the body and spirit and lead to burnout. Fellow workers with abrasive personalities are sources of interpersonal stress. So is an authoritarian management style. Even informal relationships, however, can add to stress. While friendships can be supportive, they can also be demanding if they impose behavioral norms.