“Adopting the right attitude can convert a negative stress into a positive one.” Hans Selye – the “father of stress” and founder of the Canadian Institute of Stress.
Every worker in America has heard of individual stress management techniques — relaxation, meditation, and visualization — good tools for getting through stressful periods. But if they’re so great, why do we still have all this stress?
We’re going to need something more than mood music, aroma therapy, and comfortable lighting to get beyond the stress of today’s workplace. We’re going to need management’s attention because stress control is a leadership responsibility.
The US Army has plenty of experience with stress control as front line leaders strive to keep GIs on the job. Traditionally, the US Army has lost as many soldiers to stress as to enemy gunfire – a ratio of 1:1. The most elite units trim this loss to a ratio of 1:10 – one stress loss for every 10 wounded soldiers.
Regardless of the ratio, every front line soldier is critical to winning the battle. Commanders know that controlling stress under fire is as critical as food, fuel, and ammunition. The same holds true for corporate America. You can’t get high productivity with high absenteeism.
Combat leaders watch for stress symptoms and take action. They are taught to “Know your troops, and be alert for any sudden, persistent or progressive change in their behavior that threatens the functioning and safety of your unit.” (FM 6-22.5, “Combat Stress”)
Specifically, front line leaders are taught to help overstressed soldiers in six ways:
Army Step 1. Reassurance
Corporate Solution: Some people need contact with the boss to assure them that things will turn out ok. Spend time to find out worker’s concerns. Ask for their observations on recent events. Find out what they think about upcoming changes. Ask for their advice — they’ll admire you for demonstrating your trust. Simple remarks showing your confidence in workers can make a big difference.
Army Step 2. Rest and sleep
Corporate Solution: Its worth your while to offer some additional time off if stress is interfering with performance. Consider giving additional breaks to relieve mental and physical fatigue. Improved productivity will more than pay for the unstructured breaks that over-stressed workers will take on their own.
Find out what’s needed to help employees get more rest at home. Bring in experts to teach the importance of rest and relaxation. Take a look at that overtime schedule; the extra work might be taking its toll in absenteeism, illness, accidents, and attitudes.
Army Step 3. Food and fluids
Corporate Solutions: You can influence how people eat by getting experts to teach the importance of proper nutrition. Make sure nutritious snacks are available alongside the junk food in vending machines. Provide healthy snacks mid-morning and mid-afternoon when energy levels begin to fade. The investment will pay off in better performance. Reward good health.
Army Step 4. Hygiene – bathing, clean uniforms
Corporate Solution: A scheduled break to get cleaned up before lunch or after a hard day of dirty work can pay off in a big way. Make sure everyone has the right protective clothing for the job. Extreme temperature and dampness create stress that can be easily relieved by proper apparel and hygiene breaks. And, as surprising as it might seem, some employees do not have running water at home.
Not all of them have hot water. Not all of them have washing machines. Make these things available at your workplace or find alternatives. One-time arrangements can go a long way in helping stressed workers get their emotions under control and get their productivity up where it belongs.
Army Step 5. Discussion – A chance to talk about what happened, to tell war stories
Corporate Solution: Everyone benefits from a chance to tell about what went on. Some people are more sensitive than others. There is often great value in routine meetings to kick off the shift or explain the day’s activities. Scheduling time before or after meetings to talk about what happened can relieve stress for those in the spot light. Team discussions after sales calls can help stressed workers understand the results and focus on what needs to be done.
In times of high stress, some people need to talk about what happened to others around them – family members, community tragedies. Managers can handle the day-to-day conversations and experts are available to address major stressors. Help workers tell their “war stories.”
Army Step 6. Restoring identity and confidence with useful work
Corporate Solution: As soon as possible, over stressed workers need to return to their positions of responsibility. They need to see that (a) they can perform well (b) that management recognizes their efforts (c) and that life goes on. Emphasize small accomplishments. Find reasons to reward each person for their achievements.
GIs usually return to their jobs after a short rest, a hot shower, a chat with their supervisor, and a warm meal. Your people can do the same. Most of the time, they can continue in their jobs if you pay attention to their basic needs.
Watch for high stress period in your business cycle and schedule time to work on these six steps. You’ll improve productivity and the workplace environment by taking care of your people. Your investment of time and money will be rewarded in better performance and lower costs.
Work with your human resources experts to assist those who are beyond your ability. Let the professionals take care of the severe cases while you take care of your other employees and get the work done.