As an IT manager, the daily challenges you face are enough to make it obvious that you and your staff would benefit from up-to-date stress management know-how.
When I created a stress-buster workshop for my staff, I approached the project as I would any other project management assignment. I created a project plan because I didn’t want to run the risk that my training planning would morph into an unending cycle of research and development, with no expected delivery date. Although I didn’t meet all of my milestone dates, I was able to follow an organized development plan and deliver the training when promised.
In this article, I’ll provide an outline of the steps I took to create a stress-buster class for my staff and offer ideas on how you can customize the class for your shop.
Identify the project sponsor
As with any project, you will need to identify and secure a project sponsor. If your boss signs off on the project, but must sell the idea to his or her boss, then that person is actually the project sponsor. To help ensure success, you need to think about the class from his or her perspective and be sure you have buy-in from the beginning. You don’t want to be told there is no time to deliver the class after it is developed.
Resources on stress management
Doing your homework before you begin could save you weeks of rework and can improve your organization’s bottom line for years to come. Here are some resources on the importance of stress management:
- "Stress causes missed workdays for IT pros"
- "Stress at Work" is available from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
- "The Cost of Stress in the Workplace"
Define course requirements
Defining requirements for the course is essential to success. Here are some questions you should answer to help define the requirements of your stress management class:
- How long will the course be? Ideally, you let the course objectives and material determine the length of the course, but you will often find that you must begin with a time limitation and then define objectives and exercises that fit within that time frame. I determined that a half-day workshop was all I could afford, and still hope to get management buy-in, so I worked within that limit.
- What are your objectives? To determine your objectives, ask yourself, “What do I want participants to do differently when they leave the class?” (Be careful here: While you may want participants to leave feeling more relaxed, the project sponsor’s objective may be to energize participants to work even harder. If you don’t agree on the class objectives in the beginning, you could be forced to re-create entire exercises.)
- How will you meet those objectives? Will you use a seminar-style delivery or workshop exercises? Will you use a PowerPoint presentation, videos, or music? Will you perform relaxation exercises in the class or just explain them? Will you create a student guide and instructor guide or simply use handouts?
For my class, I used three primary objectives for my workshop: “I can, I want to, and I will.” I wanted participants to:
- Fully understand that there are significant things they can do to reduce the negative impacts of stress.
- Develop a strong desire to make positive choices to reduce stress and to deal with it.
- Commit to those actions, by designating due dates or other follow-up details based on the action items those choices entail.
Because I was limited to a four-hour delivery time, I had to sacrifice a lot of bells and whistles. I used PowerPoint to guide the class along, with instructor notes pages for each slide, since someone else would be delivering the class. I used soft music for a relaxation exercise but had to sacrifice the use of any video clips. I also created a nice student guide, since my development time was much more generous than my delivery time.
Set the development timeline
Now, you can make an educated guess regarding how long it will take to develop the class. A rule of thumb is six hours of development time for every hour of class-delivery time, so for a half-day workshop, you would need a minimum of 24 hours to develop the class.
When you add those hours to your other work responsibilities, it could be several weeks before you are ready, but it will be time well spent. Be sure to include your time estimate in your communication with the project sponsors. I estimated that my project would take 24 work hours, but it ended up taking much longer. The previous project—creating a PowerPoint presentation with exercises for a management presentation on the importance of “selling” your department—took three full days to develop, and I thought this would be similar. In this case, however, the 24-hour development schedule would be worked into existing projects and completed over three weeks. While I did meet the three-week deadline, I ended up spending about 60 hours on the project, so my time estimate was way off.
Once you have agreement that you and the project sponsors expect the same outcome, you can begin to research and develop your stress-buster workshop.
Plan the workshop to meet objectives
Your development will include research of facts to help you meet the objectives you already established and then creating the exercises to help participants gain the knowledge and come to the conclusions you are hoping they will reach.
The development phase is critical, and you might want to break it down into researching the latest news on stress (nytimes.com is a good place to start), designing the workshop exercises, and developing the actual steps and transitions for each exercise and segment. You will also plan the handouts or student manual for the workshop. (You could cheat here and print out your PowerPoint presentation as a handout, if you design it with that in mind.)
Let’s say your objective is to enable your staff to stay calm in the face of coworkers’ complaints. To meet this objective, you might plan an exercise where participants create a card to carry with them that outlines three quick stress-reducing tips to use when customers become impatient.
This process doesn’t have to be daunting. Here are three sample objectives that I used to generate classroom exercises:
First Objective: Participants will identify six physical impacts of stress on the human body. A Web search using the terms “stress,” “physical,” and “impact” will give you all the information you need. Use your research findings to create exercises that will help your students meet this objective. For instance, divide the class into groups of three and give each group a different URL that you found useful. Instruct them to spend 15 minutes preparing a quick two-part presentation. The presentation should include their stress-impact findings and an example of an actual work-related stressful event that one of the group members experienced. The first-person story should include discussion of the physical impact of the event. Let participants know that the goal of the class is to give them tools to improve their responses to stressful situations such as these.
Second Objective: Participants will complete a self-assessment of their current stress level. A few of the sites you will find in your research, including StressTips.com, have online stress-assessment tests that your workshop participants can take. After they complete the quiz, ask if anyone was surprised by their results. This is a good time for a large-group discussion, with thought-starters such as, “What personality traits might make someone react more or less strongly to stress?” and “Do we have to live with stress?”
Third Objective: Create a personal stress-control plan. Throughout the workshop, you must emphasize that this course will not help participants unless they are committed to some changes in choices that impact their stress level, such as overcommitment, time management, organization, and goal-setting.
The stress-control plan they create will be a key component of their success. Here is one way to facilitate this exercise.
- Have individuals do some further reading of your research findings, focusing on stress-prevention and healthy responses.
- Have groups of three discuss their findings for 10 minutes, with the goal that they each come away with new ideas they can use.
- Finally, have them work individually to create their stress-control plans. Give them at least a quarter-hour to create their plans and ask them to schedule specific events in their planners.
Schedule follow-up sessions
Your efforts to stop stress shouldn’t end with the training session. Schedule two or three brief follow-up meetings for participants to discuss their progress and become remotivated. By doing this, you truly could make a lasting positive impact on your organization and in the lives of your staff.
Our stress-buster workshop produced one surprising result. Many of the participants seemed to breathe a BIG sigh of relief when they discovered they weren’t alone in their struggle with stress. It seems that folks feel the stress and then beat themselves up for feeling stressed out. Just knowing they are not alone can be a big help.
Don’t be surprised if your staff reacts the same way.
Share your ideas
Do you have ideas you’ve successfully used to manage stress in your workplace? If so, we’d like to hear them. E-mail us.