By Victor Lipman
I wrote a piece last week about how stress can turn a manager into almost a different person. Under stress, a manager who’s normally calm and reasonable can quickly turn agitated and unreasonable. This dynamic is unfortunately common, and an impediment to productive management.
This post is a logical follow-up. If stress is a persistent management problem, what practical steps can managers take to control it?
In fact, a fair amount has been written on this topic (including this excellent earlier Forbes post), and I have no desire to reinvent the wheel. So rather than provide an exhaustive list of stress-management techniques, here are the five tactics that proved most useful to me over the course of my management career.
Look hard for perspective. Fact is, many of the things we become stressed by at work are not as dramatic as we often make them out to be. In the vast majority of cases, let’s say, nobody is hurt, sick or dying. Many workplace “crises” don’t really deserve to be elevated to that level (even though we may have a persistent tendency to!). If you can keep work events in reasonable perspective, that’s a solid first step to keeping stress under control.
Block time. One key reason why management is stressful involves time. For someone who’s constantly multi-tasking there’s rarely enough of it. The most effective productivity tactic I as a manager ever found was time blocking – holding a period of time (in my case one afternoon a week) and regularly keeping it free from all meetings, calls and miscellaneous interruptions. Having it available for whatever I most needed to work on. This enabled me to catch up with things I knew were important but just weren’t getting done – and therefore a cause of stress. The amount of time you can block varies of course depending on your role and organization, but I highly recommend it as an easy productivity trick – and a way to keep the (stressful) hounds of time at bay.
Take time to try to enjoy your people. As much as this may sound a bit odd to some managers, the employees you manage can be a source of enjoyment, as well as a source of stress. I can honestly say that in nearly a quarter century of management, I genuinely liked the vast majority of people I managed (with, truth be told, a few notable exceptions). I found “management by walking around” (and chatting) to be a productive, enjoyable use of my time. No doubt I wasted a bit of my employees’ time now and then, but it gave me a better grassroots understanding of their jobs and challenges, and it was a constructive way to get away from my desk and break up the day.
Take time to exercise. This advice has been given many times but just because it’s a cliche doesn’t mean it isn’t true. I was fortunate to work much of my career for a company that had an excellent on-site fitness center. Unless my schedule on a given day completely precluded it, I always took time at lunch to go outside and run, and it may well have been the most valuable hour of my day. I returned energized and clear-headed, ready for a productive afternoon. If you do have the opportunity to exercise during work hours, I can’t imagine not taking advantage of the benefit. It’s an energizer and stress-reliever.
Build a support network. One basic fact about an organization of almost any size is that there are lots of people around. (Admittedly this isn’t the case with small start-ups.) In short, many people to choose from when stressful problems arise – friends, colleagues, mentors, HR contacts, and so on. Over time I built my own network of trusted colleagues – people whose judgment I respected and to whom I could readily go for an objective point of view for troublesome situations. Anyone can do this, and it’s a helpful asset to call on when needed.
Net-net, stress is an unavoidable element of management, but there are easy, constructive steps all managers can take to keep it under control.