Sadly, stress has become a daily part of modern work environments. How do we look at keeping ourselves and our teams happy, healthy and productive?
I was shocked to read a Labour Force Survey by the UK Health and Safety Executive, the total number of working days lost due to this condition in 2015/16 was 11.7 million days, which equated to an average of 23.9 days lost per case. Just thinking about how much 24 days would knock a project off course or delay a key programme is pretty serious. The report also stated that stress accounted for 37% of all work-related ill health cases and 45% of all working days lost due to ill health.
Speaking to IT leaders and managers, this is a part of their lives, juggling priorities and deadlines, shrinking budgets and expanding customer expectations. It’s also a challenge for our IT professionals; from the service desk agent handling multiple difficult calls in a row with angry users to the project manager under the gun to deliver. When we get a security breach, when the backup doesn’t kick in, when we have too many roles and tasks, and not enough support.
I believe leadership in IT is all about getting the best out of your people, enabling them, inspiring them and even keeping them happy and healthy as well. After going through some rather stressful few months myself, and from working recently with a few coaching clients on ways to manage their own stress better, I wanted to share some thoughts and ideas about how to manage stress effectively. Alas, the world as we know it is not going to get less hectic anytime soon – we will be pulled into more work, and pressure on IT departments to deliver will still increase. To come out better on the other side of this disruption and change means it is imperative not only for your team but also for you as an individual to keep a clear head, happy heart and calm demeanour.
- Build Stress-dar. Like a radar for stress, learn to ‘check yourself before you wreck yourself’. A few months ago, I had a bunch of things pile on, all at the same time (the wrong time!) and I felt like the mad hatter at Alice’s tea party. We had to move house (in a rush), I had clients who needed me and being a service-based-relationship-giver-type I knew I couldn’t let them down, my kids needed me, we had a bunch of other jobs hit us at the same time, and I was preparing for two big trips abroad. I wasn’t always graceful in my approach, but I found that as my internal pressure cooker heated up, I started to read the gauge more often and find ways to decompress. Actively seeking out my own stress-busting behaviours (like going to the gym and having productive mornings), helped me manage (read: survive).
- Learn how to Breathe. Breathing deep is a natural relaxant. Go ahead. Take a breath and blow out some birthday candles. Three times should do the trick.
- Take a 2 minute holiday whilst you’re sitting at your desk. Yes, you’ve heard that right. Visualise as clearly as you can a good time you had from a previous holiday. Think about the details, the feeling of sand beneath your toes, the view from the top of a mountain, the look of the sunset from the deck of a yacht. What did it sound like? What did it smell like? The more regions of your brain you can enlist the better. A friend of mine has even taken to keeping a small glass vial of sand and some shells on her desk to remind her of a particularly good beach holiday she’d had with her partner.
- Use High Tech Stress Busters. Download a de-stressing app – yep, your smartphone might just help! There are many thought-organising, calming apps, meditation aids and podcasts for relaxation to help you gain some clarity and deflect the possibility of stress knocking at your door.
- Move. This can be as simple as getting up and taking a 5-minute walk to clear your thoughts and take a breath. If you can go outside, even better. Find an empty conference room and stretch. Hit the gym and keep that commitment to yourself, your sanity and your health. Keep a pilates ball in your office or cube and go for a bounce. Yoga, anyone?
- Make Others Happy. I find the best stress buster is laughter. Making other people smile, laugh and feel appreciated is infectious and not only helps them de-stress, it will help you too.
These are just a few to get you started. If you have any other relaxation suggestions, it might be great to share so feel free to send us a comment…….