Have you felt oppressed by stress? According to the head of the American Psychological Association (APA)’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program, work stress is a major problem. From personal reports, stress is a condition felt at all levels of the workplace, from entry level to executive suite. Stress can be short-lived; however many people tolerate stress for months and years, without let up.
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How does stress affect the leader? How can the leader change stress in the workplace?
Quality of work. We don’t do our best work when we are stressed out over a long period of time. The stressed out person looks for ways to recover, even if only for ten minutes. When stress is everpresent for hours, a person’s attention span may suffer. Details may be lost. Decisions are harder to make under stress. Some stressed out people may decisions quickly, avoiding the lengthy analysis that may be needed. Overall, a stressed worker will contribute lower quality work. When stress is chronic, then the person may need a significantly longer recovery period before work has again returned to optimum.
Drop in creativity. The stressed out person is not likely to take any chances. Creativity requires one to find an original solution. Under stress, a contributor will be more likely to give safe, uninspired solutions. If stress does not appear ready to let up, why should any worker appear original or different from the standard? Don’t look for innovation from the stressed worker. The stressed worker values safety, easy standards, not originality.
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Cautious behavior. Hey, this is not always a bad thing. Caution is valued in many workplaces. However, when stress gets too high, caution is a byproduct of the weary worker. It is much safer to doublecheck one’s work than to bound ahead into new zones of activity. Caution is celebrated in engineering and accounting sections. However, most of us don’t get inspired by cautious behavior. Stress pushes the workplace superhighway into a construction zone crawl. If this goes on too long, the organization will simply be repackaging the old customer favorites. Cautious behavior is dull for customers looking for change.
How about the leader? How can the leader reduce stress in a workplace? The leader can help people face stressful situations through at least three mechanisms.
In part two of this essay, I will examine how leaders can change the workplace to reduce stress. Part two will be posted on Friday.
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