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Beat the stress and don;t let it overwhelm you
  Dear Dave: I have worked for several companies that have had stressful work environments. But, where I work now really takes the cake. I feel as if everything is a crisis, and my staff and I are always on pins and needles. I believe I can weather the stressful conditions, but I worry about some of the more vulnerable people who work for me. How can I sense if my employees are overly stressed? And, what can I do to help them? — P Dear P: You ask very important questions, and I can tell that you really care about your staff. Often, managers will not recognize when stress is present and, if they do, they might not have a clue what to do about it. Accordingly, everyone must be aware of the warning signs of stress and then take measures to deal with it. Work demands will never go away. Companies are trying to do more with less, and they have loftier goals each and every time they put their targets and strategies together. Even employees that once loved their jobs are succumbing to the mandates set by upper level executives. When the passion and commitment of a job becomes a grind and a chore – because of unrealistic demands – I don't think you need to look very deep for stress warning signs. You mention that you can "weather the stressful conditions." Do you mean that, or are you just telling yourself this is true? I believe everyone shows the impact of stressful conditions one way or another and to varying degrees. You might be fighting a battle yourself but not admitting stress may be taking a toll on you. Be careful and monitor your own stress levels and your reaction to what they might be telling you. Stay calm and carry on When I managed salespeople, we had monthly, quarterly and yearly numbers to hit. There was no hiding from the numerical demands of the job. My employees and I always gave it our all and tried to lighten up the load with creative and innovative ways to reach our goals. But, even then, reality set in, and we faced the fact that there were too many sales to make and too little time to do it. I could see it in the eyes of my sales reps: They were nervous and dreadfully concerned. They did not want to be salespeople who did not hit their goals. However, it was the life we chose, and we knew there would be times when we were shocked and dismayed by the challenges before us. This realization did not bring much comfort because we still were driven by the pursuit of goals and were expected to come up with ways to hit them. Their stress became my stress, and our sales meetings often took on the appearance of a bunch of people in anguish, instead of smart people coming up with inventive ways to close the numbers gap. No deal was good enough, and no customer was big enough in the minds of my salespeople. I would take the time to have open conversations about what my employees were going through, what they tried and what they could try before the deadlines appeared. In short, we tried to think our way out of the challenges. I made it a point to make sure no one drove home without a realistic and workable plan in hand. To a great extent, careful planning helped my salespeople feel more strategic about their expectations and less stressed about what would happen on Monday morning. I cannot say enough about thinking and planning when facing difficult goals. It keeps you more objective and, dare I say, optimistic about hitting targets. However, managers must make sure plans are a collaborative endeavor, so employees can sense buy-in and ownership of the planning. I advise you to stay calm, appear analytical and be in charge of your emotions. If you appear to be coming unglued, your staff certainly will follow your lead. They need leadership, inspiration and encouragement. Only you can provide this. Meet with your employees as a team, or individually, and lay everything on the table. It is important your staff sees things for what they are. But, make the meetings opportunities for coming up with ideas and solutions. If cool heads prevail, there is a much better chance that creative plans will emerge and be executed.

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