Workplace stress is very real and can seriously impact on the health and lives of those who are affected by it. Stress is a strain caused by demands that exceed a person’s ability to cope.
I am writing about this topic partly in response to readers ‘concerns, as is the case with many of the articles I write now. I am also writing it because I believe all managers should be aware of the dangers of workplace stress, and act responsibly to ensure they do not cause, or contribute to, the problem.
But please be aware I am writing about this from a generalist, layperson’s, point of view, I am not in a position to deal with medical, legal, or health and safety issues arising from this matter.
Role and responsibility of the manager
Managers are in a position to take care of their employees in terms of the workplace stress to which they may be exposed. Indeed, they have a responsibility to, at least morally, and in some countries, legally.
Management sets the pace, influences the culture and social customs in the group, and assign tasks, so they must be aware of the potential repercussions of mismanagement and the risk of inducing stress in their team members.
That is not to say they cannot ask for deadlines and targets to be achieved. Sometimes business is difficult and competitive, hard things have to be done, issues addressed, targets achieved. And management must be free to ask for those things. Successful people must be robust enough to deal with a challenge.
Workplace stress only arises when the challenge is sustained for so long, or is so intense, that the person cannot reasonably bear the strain: when it exceeds their ability to cope.
Many managers will be reluctant to open themselves up to a deluge of people claiming they are suffering workplace stress because they have a heavy workload. This is a difficult balancing act, but one I think managers must be aware of.
Sometimes managers will be under unbearable strain themselves. If they are owner/managers, they may have financial worries as well as the normal problems of managing a business. And this can affect relationships with spouses and partners, and affect family life.
If they are middle management, they will have targets and objectives of their own to achieve, which may require them to put in long hours and make difficult decisions.
In both cases, they need to be able to rely on their team for support and everyone has to shoulder some of the strain.
So, I am not saying everyone has to have an easy time, business is difficult, demanding and competitive by its very nature. I am saying, take care of your team.
People are like elastic
When I was at school, my headmistress always used to say that people are like elastic. They need to be stretched and relaxed, stretched and relaxed.
If you don’t use an elastic band, it perishes, and if it is stretched it will snap. Similarly, with people, if you never stretch them and then suddenly put pressure on them, they will snap.
And if you stretch them too far and for too long, they will snap under pressure.
I have always found this to be a great analogy. It is very useful when coaching, mentoring, training and managing staff. They need to be stretched and then relaxed.
The key is to avoid them snapping either because they are not used to being stretched, or are stretched too much, too far and too long.