Managing Stress

Monday, August 8 2022

A lecturer, explaining managing stress, raised a glass of water and asked, “How heavy is this glass of water?”

The audience called out answers ranging from 250 to 700 grams.

The lecturer continued, “The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long you try to hold it. If I hold it for a minute, that’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my arm. If I hold it for a day, you’ll have to call an ambulance.”

“In each case it’s the same weight, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it feels.”

He added, “That’s the way it is with stress management. If we carry our burdens all the time the burden becomes increasingly heavy and sooner or later we won’t be able to carry on.”

Managing Stress Through Recharging

“As with the glass of water, you have to put your burden down for a while and take a rest before holding it again. When we’re refreshed and recharged, we can carry on with the burden. So, before you return home tonight, put the burden of work down. Don’t carry it home. You can pick it up tomorrow. Whatever burdens you’re carrying now, let them down for a moment, and relax. Pick them up later after you’ve rested.”

How many of us follow that advice ourselves or encourage our team members to take time to recharge or reenergize? Many organizations do a lot of talking about the importance of recharging, but do they always walk the talk? It is interesting to note that research shows North Americans work longer hours and take fewer vacations than Europeans. Furthermore, the trend is toward less time recharging, arguably moving in the wrong direction.

There are many benefits that accrue to an organization that ensures people recharge, such as increased productivity, fewer mistakes, less absenteeism, improved team work, reduced sick days and a decline in harassment incidents.

So it comes down to culture. Does your organization really believe that recharging makes a difference to the results? Are the leaders so focused on checking the numbers that they forget to check on the people who generate those numbers, and find out how they are feeling?

Here are a few questions that might help you to assess the real culture in your organization. If you don’t know the answers then it might be worthwhile to find out.

When managing stress, how many people:

  • Take more than one week of vacation at a time?
  • Use all their allotted vacation?
  • Regularly work more than 45 hours a week?
  • Phone in or do work during vacation?
  • Answer emails at night?
  • Are getting sick more often?
  • Finds the person they report to supports them and helps them to prioritize workload?
  • Get the response, “Well just do it anyway,” when they say, “I can’t do it”?
  • Feel that saying “no” is not an option?
  • Believe that if they complain they will be fired?

Review your answers, and as a leader ask, “Is this the culture that we are trying to achieve? If not, what can we, and are we, willing to do about it?” Creating a culture that allows people time to recharge does not mean a sudden surge in requests for extended vacation time, or that people will require extra days off, and can never be expected to work longer hours. What it does mean is that leaders need to be cognizant of how people are feeling, and respect that people do need time to recharge. Recharging may mean a vacation uninterrupted by work demands, or it may be simply ensuring that people take a lunch break. It might mean being aware of how stressed people are feeling, and getting help when it is needed.

Remember what is good for a team member is also good for the leaders. If you are not walking the talk, you are sending a mixed message about your expectations.

Some sage advice from the lecturer in the story about how to deal with burdens of life:

  • Use humour to relax.
  • Accept that some days you’re the pigeon, and some days you’re the statue.
  • Always keep your words soft and sweet, just in case you have to eat them.

And the last one from me:

  • Life is short. “Enjoy!”

Taking time to recharge will help with managing stress and have a great effect on the bottom line.

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