Work stress is inevitable. The first step for managers who want to help employees deal with its effects is to evaluate their own habits.
In February, 2017, Rosanna Nadeau, principal consultant with Prism Perspectives Group, which consults with organizations to help them optimize performance, said that one of the top priorities of managers today is ensuring good health by watching their diets, regularly exercising and seeing their doctors for checkups on a regular basis.
But how many managers practice make good health a priority on a daily basis?
Soon after I received a promotion to vice president in a semiconductor company, I left with a marketing manager for a meeting we had with the executive vice president of marketing. We found the EVP slumped over his desk, the victim of a heart attack at the age of 47.
I will never forget the experience--and the experience wasn't lost on our CEO, either.
Soon afterward, executives at the VP level were required to have comprehensive, annual, company-paid physicals, and we were expected to utilize an in-house exercise and fitness center. We had arrived at a point as a high-tech company where we formally recognized the constant stress of our jobs.
"It starts with the travel," Matt Rose, chairman of Fort Worth's Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, commented in an article on CEO health. "Most CEOs are gone a lot, always up in the air. You're going through time zones and you're always on the run. You're always entertaining and there is always a lot of food. You can't always get healthier choices. I promise you this job is hard when you're healthy. When you're fatigued and dragging, it is doubly hard."
But in tech jobs, it isn't only C-level individuals who are affected.
There is the traveling technician who never puts down his or her cell phone, even on vacation. Or the application programmer who must meet a go-live date and does an all-nighter. Or the operations supervisor who gets called in at three a.m. when disaster strikes. Or managers who work long hours and never take vacation time.
If you are an executive or a middle manager, here are three things you can do to reduce work stress levels and promote wellness for yourself and your staff.
Look into your own situation
Companies can furnish exercise facilities and healthy meal choices in their cafeterias, but it doesn't do much good if you work 10 non-stop hours a day without taking a break, or if a project has you so "under the gun" that you can't distance yourself from it.
In cases like these, project deadlines should be questioned and re-negotiated, or more people should be assigned to the project to spread out the workload, because individuals working 10 hours a day are likely to make more mistakes as they tire. It is equally important to insist to these people -- even if it is yourself -- that they take a break to get away from the project they are working on so they can return to it with a fresh pair of eyes.
Pacing yourself, getting enough sleep at night, eating right, getting up and stretching or walking so you aren't sitting at your desk in one position for hours, and identifying potential stressors like alcohol and caffeine (and reducing them) can also help, and so can seeing that you are in a positive working environment. If you don't like your job, or dislike the company culture, it is probably time to make a change, especially if others are affected by your moods and stress levels because they work for you.
SEE: Drug and alcohol abuse policy (Tech Pro Research)
Keep tabs on your staff
Your top performers are likely to be the individuals who are under the most daily stress -- and they will also be the people who will be the last to show it. One technique I used as a manager was to keep tabs on individuals whom I knew were overworking and then surprise them with a comp day off. It made a difference for me personally as a manager because I felt I was promoting a positive and a supportive work environment. More importantly, it made a difference for my staff.
I also took steps to offload some of the work these individuals were doing, and to develop employees who were less utilized (and more inexperienced) with training programs so they could at least perform para-technical tasks in support of these highly skilled individuals. In some cases, my exceptional performers resented the help because they perceived it as my questioning their own ability to perform, but when they were given these employees as subordinates who worked under their direction and took some of the load off, the strategy worked very effectively. It was also good for the junior employees, who felt they had a direct work mentor whom they could go to with questions.
Advocate for wellness programs and/or facilities at your company
If you are in a position to advocate for or implement wellness programs such as routine health screenings, onsite fitness centers and "healthy eating" cafeteria programs, do it. These programs help foster a health-oriented culture at the company.
The DuPont Corporation reduced disability days among its workforce by 14 days each year after instituting a wellness and fitness program, and Union Pacific Railroad decreased employee health care costs 17% during the first five years of its employee wellness program, saving an estimated $1.26 million during its first year. Both are testimonies that wellness efforts can manifest themselves on corporate bottom lines. There are also benefits in the health of corporate cultures, the ability of companies to attract and retain employees, and in overall productivity improvements. All are reasons why health-conscious managers can make a difference above and beyond the work that they manage.
UnitedHealthcare, Qualcomm Life, Fitbit aim to expand corporate wellness (ZDNet)
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