In this series of posts for LinkedIn, professionals reveal their best antidotes to work stress. Read more posts here.
I decided to add my voice to others regarding the topic of work stress and life #outsidework (back to team development next week). I will take a different approach than most of the other posts I have read. Rather than focus on what I do to relieve stress when I am away from work, I decided to focus on how I handle it at work. We all need our outlets for relaxation, but it’s better to minimize the amount of stress you have at work – “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
I have been in sales most of my career and as my colleagues can attest, it can be very stressful. Even though I love sales, I know that finding clients, keeping clients, service issues, quotas and not knowing this month’s income is a recipe for a Cortisol cocktail. Stress. I have found that there are many things you can do for yourself when it all becomes too much: workouts, spa treatments, golf, travel, or a daily walk.
Various polls indicate that most people are unhappy in their jobs or the company they work for. That means most people are fighting through the 5 days of work. This “working for the weekend” approach to work, is the fundamental cause of burnout and stress. We need to get more in tune with how we work Monday thru Friday, and yes, enjoy the balance that the time away from the job brings.
In my early thirties, I had begun a rapid ascension in my career. An exciting time, but also very stressful. To the point that pressure manifested as symptoms in my body. The wake up call that I was no longer invincible and that I was vulnerable to stress was sobering. As a result I developed a code to work by. Not leaving my days to chance and being subject to mercurial circumstances – I began working by rule.
I am not trying to delude you with a “when life gives you lemons make lemonade” Pollyanna mentality (though one of my Top 5 Strenthfinders is Positivity). I am giving you insight into how I work in high stakes, high pressure environments. Governing my own emotions while leading teams of people who have their own pressures, at work and at home, to bear.
The first thing I did was create a philosophy of work and what it means to me. This following 3 things remind me to keep a positive attitude and perspective about work. This helps me enjoy work more, thus minimizing effects of stress and burnout:
- Work is a privilege. Having been unemployed (and underemployed) I understand the importance of work. It is a privilege, not a right. Daily gratitude will offset much of the attitude that leads to burnout. Yes, even if you hate your job! Give thanks for where you are right now and keep a mind on where you want to go in your career.
- Leading teams or owning a business is a responsibility. What causes burnout for leaders is putting out the fires of their teams or employees. You can minimize these by being actively engaged instead of waiting and reacting. If you are in a position of influence, put your people first. We tend to be stronger for others, their needs and problems than we are for ourselves. I gain strength through the process of being there for others. Teams also perform better when leaders are engaged, which preemptively relieves stress all around.
- Compensation is proportionate to service. Certainly, in sales this is true, but equally applies to all other types of work. I made a decision early in my career not to be paid for time, but for performance – my service. If I am giving 40 hours, why not maximize my income? A service focus not only generates money, but has a corresponding impact on the one thing that helps to avoid burnout – the attitude that comes from the satisfaction of a job well done. Not in sales? Continue going to work focused on service and contribution…that will open up doors of promotion and larger opportunity.
Once I had my philosophy of work, I created daily work mantras. These have developed and evolved over the past two decades, but are the cornerstone of how I work in any environment:
- Don’t have worry or fret as your default mode. If you think back to all of “the sky is falling exercises” you have been through, hindsight will reveal that only a small percentage required “soul energy”. Don’t use that precious energy for trifles or for things that never materialize. Save it for real problems.
- Think positive thoughts and work without friction. For most of us, negativity creates a weary mind. That weakened state, unchecked, leads to the first symptoms of burnout. Fortify your mind against outside influences with a positive mental attitude. You can’t always stop others negativity or the undermining of bosses or colleagues. Teams coming together requires building consensus, which requires communication between differing opinions. It does not have to escalate to conflict, or contempt. Years ago, I came up with a saying, “If it doesn’t hurt me or the objective, let them have it”. To help the stress go, let go of your ego.
- Plan your work, then harmonize your plan and actions. Plan your work. Simple exercise that yields exponential peace of mind. That said, work stress comes from derailed plans. The high priority email, the daily fire drill or other urgent events pull you away from what matters most. Build protected work blocks. Do what the plan dictates. Yes, allow for real contingencies but not at the expense of the actions that support major objectives.
- Be true to your strengths. Trying to be a square peg in round hole contortionist is bound to create stress. Identify your strengths and what you do best, then do you – to the highest. If an area needs development or you need help, get it. Being frustrated is one thing, being ineffective is another – you shut down when you are both! If you are a leader or owner, delegate and trust others for your challenged areas.
- Concentrate upon the task at hand. Stop multitasking. Working on 5 things at once leaves 5 things half-done, or worse…undone. How do you feel when you identify a task, attack it, focus and finish it? Amazing, right? People who are most satisfied at work believe they are actually getting work done. There will always be legitimate reasons to put down the current task, but distractions that diffuse your energy should be avoided.
Work stress is a serious matter. How you deal with it will determine your quality of life – at work and at home. Do I still get stressed sometimes? Yes. I am still human. At least now, it is not everyday. I love Monday as much as I love Saturday.
Confront the things about work that bother you, come up with your own philosophies and mantras that give you a better handle on the emotional and physiological aspects of work. Then you will love Monday too and no longer be working for the weekend.
Until next week…continued success!