It is generally understood that stress can be both good and bad.  Positive or good stress can help make life interesting and helps us do a good job.  Stress can be a source of positive motivation to succeed or it can be a dark cloud that hinders morale, relationships and performance.  The latter is what I call bad stress.  Bad stress can ultimately be destructive to a person’s body.  This type of stress will impact the productivity-and in the end, the success-of your team.  Here are some techniques that I have learned for identifying the stress signals and managing the impact to your team.  First, let’s get a better understanding of stress.

What is Stress?

Stress is a natural response to the challenges, changes and pressures of life.  Bad stress is the negative and unpleasant condition which may be experienced when a person perceives that they are unable to meet the demands and pressures placed upon them.  This type of stress may be associated with a wide range of ill health effects, both psychological and physical.  It can have a significant impact on your team’s ability to be successful if not managed properly.  Its affect can seriously impact a person’s concentration, energy level, health, mood and productivity.

What are some of the causes of negative stress?

Virtually every company today is trying to do more with less.  Unfortunately, the “less” usually means less people.  In the past, work that was done by two or three people is performed by one today.  This situation can be coupled with corporate downsizing; an increase in merger activity; increased business travel; negative impacts on company financials; a significant increase in regulatory requirements; in increase in company security requirements; and, of course, hundreds of emails a day.  These are just some of the work stressors.  This list does not take into account the stressors that individuals experience outside of the work environment.

How is stress impacting your ability to succeed?

The first thing to keep in mind is that stress is inevitable. Times are changing and the power of negative stress is not going away.  The second thing to remember is that significant increases in stress will cost both you and your company.  Finally, the impacts of negative stress are not restricted to a profession, type of company, industry or geographical location.  There are studies that have indicated that approximately sixty percent of absenteeism is related to stress.  Many of these absences progress into short and long term disability leaves.  It is difficult to get things done when the people are not available to do the work.  The opposite situation is what some health officials call presenteeism.  These are the people who are experiencing increased stress levels yet come to work.  These individuals will generally demonstrate reduced productivity and energy levels. 

What are some of the common signs?

It is easy for a manager to overlook the signs of stress that can ultimately impact their ability to get the job done.  There are a number of signs that can indicate that stress levels are going to impact your team.  Some are physical, some are not.  One sign that is generally easy to recognize is when people who are your top performers seem to produce less even though nothing in the environment appeared to have changed.  A number of health organizations have outlined a few of the more common signs.  They are frequent complaints of headaches (migraines), backaches, shoulder and neck aches; cracked voice and dry mouth; complaints of indigestion problems and excessive episodes of acid reflux; rapid or excessive weight loss (for no apparent reason); feeling helpless and depressed; and defensive.  In addition, the person can easily get upset or angered; they will tend to withdraw from others; and they may experience frequent emotional outbursts.  This is just a sample.  Many health organizations indicate that these signs may appear where they were not demonstrated by these individuals in the past.  You should contact a reputable health services organization and get a more exhaustive list of things to observe.  For example, has a fairly complete list on their website.

What can you do?

First, you must recognize that some people thrive on stressful environments.  These people operate at their peak performance when faced with a stressful situation.  Therefore, you should be aware of the normal behavior patterns of your team members so that a change in that pattern is obvious.  When you observe a change that could affect the health of your team member, you should consider transferring the employee to less stressful work assignment; give the individual assistance to do the work; or give the individual a ‘buddy’ to encourage confidence.  In addition, consider the following:

  • Ensure team members take time off to avoid too many long days on the job.
  • Make certain individuals are aware of your company’s employee assistance program (EAP). This organization can work with them on stress-related or personal problems.
  • Ensure opportunities for them to pursue skill-development and professional-development programs.
  • Encourage them to participate in stress-reduction workshops that may be available.
  • Work with team members on their workload management skills and assist them in assessing their priorities.

Most of all ensure that you provide leadership support to those individuals.

Stress does not have to impact your team’s ability to succeed.  However, it is important to be aware of the signs and manage the stress levels that can hinder you and your team’s success.