Posts Tagged ‘stress’

Stress kills both people and productivity


As a number of you, particularly parents, will be on half-term breaks, two areas of thoughts come to mind. One is work-related stress. The other is holidays, which are supposed to be our way of winding down, enjoying ourselves and of course relieving pressure that results in stress. This entrepreneurial technology world we live in because of the speed of change, instability and pressure to succeed, often breeds stress.

It’s bizarre that many senior people in start-ups and global vendors still boast the fact that they haven’t had a holiday in years. They believe it is a statement of commitment and success. It strikes me as sad that talented people with the drive to succeed don’t have the time, both to gain a different perspective on what they are doing and also to have balance in their lives, to share that success with loved ones.

Stress shows itself at many levels in an organisation, a perfect example being in the holiday periods for the poor sales staff. How many of them are sweating to produce over target performances in a period when increasingly , the corporate decision makers have decided to leave the office? Some deal with it better than others, but all of us can learn to recognise the warning signs. The incidence of stress related illnesses is on the increase. Indeed it probably costs more to companies than industrial disputes these days.

So how do we recognise it? Well tell tale signs include headaches, tension in the neck, back pain, poor circulation, sleeplessness, lethargy, tiredness, extreme working, mistrust of others, fear of death, imagined illnesses. The classic symptoms of course are increased drinking, smoking, drug taking, irritability with colleagues or family, and lack of concentration.

There are a large number of environmental sources of work stress, the characteristics of the job itself, the role of the person in the organisation, interpersonal relationships at work, career development pressures, the climate and culture of an organisation and problems associated with the interface between the organisation and the outside world. Stress can be caused by too much or too little work, time pressures and deadlines, having to make too many decisions, fatigue from the physical strains of the work environment, excessive travel, long hours, having to cope with changes at work and the potential expense (monetary and career) of making mistakes.


Both qualitative and quantitative overload may produce at least eight different symptoms of psychological and physical strain. Job dissatisfaction, job tension, lower self esteem, threat, embarassment, high cholesterol, increased heart rate and more smoking. An aspect that is particularly pertinent in this decade is career development pressure, lack of job security, fear of redundancy, obsolescence or early retirement and status incongruity (under or over promotion), frustration at having reached one’s career ceiling. Career progression is of overriding importance, especially to managers and professional staff. By promotion they not only earn money but also enhanced status and the new job challenges for which they strive.

Unless individuals adapt their expectations to suit new circumstances, particularly the changing needs of globalisation, career development stress is likely to be prevalent on a massive scale. We all need a modicum of stress to drive the bodily systems (for example it eliminates over toxicity in our body’s chemical systems). However, we also need to be able to cope with the negative effects of stress. Some of the suggested strategies are to increase your exercise levels, to use meditation, mindfulness or relaxation techniques, talk to someone outside your immediate circle, reassess your lifestyle or aspirations, protect your space, set boundaries at home or in the workplace, take a holiday or weekend away, remember the positive pleasant times and allow yourself praise for minor successes.

Other areas readily available today are massage, manipulation, reflexology and aromatherapy. A number of more far sighted companies are now employing freelance therapists to come into the workplace to give what is known as seated, fully clothed massage, which only takes 20-25 minutes of an employee’s time, but gives a great return on the employee’s wellbeing and in company performance. The strategy adopted will vary. For example, if stress comes primarily from poor physical working conditions, we might consider ergonomic solutions. If on the other hand, problems originate from conflicting roles, we might want to utilise techniques such as role playing. If individuals are dissatisfied with the rate of career advancement, relaxation techniques would be of no help, far more useful to do some career planning or train managers in the methods of career development.


I can think of many people over the years who have been destroyed mentally and physically by the pressures of the modern working environment, at the end of the day some are just not able to cope with it. The increasing pace of technology change over the next ten years will only add to this. The fact that we are constantly bombarded with more data than it is possible to cope with may only be alleviated by AI, machine learning and robots taking over some of our roles.

To return to an earlier point, some of you will be on half-term holiday when you read this, the time thoughts turn to aspects of your life other than work. It’s interesting how difficult it is, though, to wash thoughts of work away from your mind in the first few days of a break, that too may be a sign of stress. Holidays can sometimes even add to the emotional stress. Some believe that a lot of short breaks throughout the year, rather than one long holiday, might be more beneficial. The bottom line is, you’ve only got one life, make the most of it, for your sake and the company’s.


In the technology world that we play in there is a tendency for the teams we manage to be on the young side. That in itself is cause for caution in how we treat them, as often they are not fully formed yet as people. I know this will go against the grain of the US vendor numbers led system, in which the turnover of people is seen as part of the competitive machine. Now that is not to say there are not some really good cultures to be found in that setting but on the whole from my experience it is more about the company than the person in most cases.

From the time in my late twenties when I really had enough experience under my belt to handle most situations in management, it was clear to me that people are fragile in their early to mid twenties and easily broken if not treated carefully. In the hyper competitive sales world it is easy to crush people with a careless word or line that is ill thought. You don’t in most cases even remember saying it, while they the recipient ponder and agonise about the meaning and implications for days. Communication that is clear as to the message and well thought out is imperative, even more so if it is constructive criticism of performance rather than praise. But even in the positive role it is very important to balance the messages so that the team member can gauge what is real and not real and can understand the level they are at.

This does not negate you being demanding of performance or driving hard in a competitive race to win against the opposition. The team say 20 strong are all going to have growing pains inside and outside the business, and they will bring them with them to work. So you have to manage in the round, walking the talk, a bit like the old factory foreman that knew their people intimately from being close to them on the factory floor and out of work as well. Some management can be learned in books and on courses but the handling of people comes from learning mostly on the job, being sensitive to changes in mood and temperature on the shop floor so to speak is one of the great skills.

Often body language rather than what the team member is saying will be a stronger clue to the mood of the moment. People nodding, head down and eyes averted may not be gaining the acceptance of whatever you are trying to put across, no matter the verbal protests that they are. Reinforcement of messages is always needed remember they are not you, perhaps they need more time to assimilate, but when they do, blossom off the back of it. Others will have little patience for the message being laboured, quicker on the uptake, but maybe less prepared when implementing.

That is the joy of management it is so diverse, if they were a bunch of robots with no feelings they could get a machine to manage them, not you. That is why to get a team or a start-up company purring on all cylinders is one of the great things to achieve in life, just like any sports team that is flying at the top of their game. But it is a responsibility that has to be taken seriously, in the high stress environments we operate in, you have their lives in the palm of your hand and that should never be discounted lightly.


I hear it all the time, company scaling fast, maybe 200 + people on board or even 1000+,  3 or 4 years in. The functional teams are growing and need managing more closely, You are good at your job, getting good reviews and now prime to be given that first non task orientated management role. Even if it is only 2/3 people, maybe some older than you, you were promised training, but what with the growth and pressure of work the company has not managed to get round to that yet. So you are a little lost, a nice person, well liked, maybe even a good communicator, but in reality now really worried about how to handle all this.

Well the first thing is not to stress too much or panic, the company has failed you a little here, even if they have been great in most other areas. Let them know in a professional manner, nothing over the top, that you really could do with a basic principles of management course. Either bought in to be run in-house or which I think is better offsite, with other company’s people so that you can share experiences together. In the interim pick up some of the better known handbooks on management, the difference between task and people management. There is no shortage on-line or off or recommendations, Peter Drucker’s “The Effective Executive” is a good start, this stuff tends not to date.

So what is this PODC in the headline? Something I was taught over (well let’s not say how many) years ago when I was in my first team leader role in a multinational telecoms company. I too was a young sales hotshot, dumped into the role because of my outstanding sales results, not a grounding for management, as I was a killer loner, which is why I usually won. Luckily they did train me, as was the nature of big companies in those days, with some of the best trainers in the business. PODC has stayed with me across the years from managing small or large 100+ teams in big established companies to whole companies as Founder/CEO of entrepreneurial start-ups.

It is a very simple framework for most things that come across your desk when you are moving at speed and juggling balls..

PRIORITISATION: Set out the key things that you want to achieve, the must haves over the next month or quarter that you can hang your hat on as success in relation to how your particular organisation makes up the count.

ORGANISATION: Set up you team’s resources to be able to deal with the priorities you have set. Work with the team to discuss what they are being allocated and your expectations of how they will approach their tasks and allocation of their time.

DIRECTION: Now walk the talk, management is about communication and support of the team to help them exceed their targets and make them feel good about the process. Don’t shy away from conversations if someone is struggling or going off at a tangent, keep talking and inputting.

CONTROL: Measurement and a checking process is a constant to keep moving in the way you want the team to grow and win. Results positive or negative are valuable, so gain ongoing feedback as well as the ultimate scores at the end of this particular set of tasks. Then reflect and do it better next time.

There is a lot more to this as you can imagine and years of experience help, but it is good place to start and hang on to when the whirlwind seems to engulf you, always good to return to base and map it out, your people will thank you for it.