Workplace stress is remarkably damaging — both to our health and to our general effectiveness in the office.
Last year, my company, Skylum, experienced some tough times. We grew sizably, but we were also navigating new markets and facing unexpected challenges. Ultimately, we had to ask — and answer — some hard questions of ourselves. Today, the company is more successful than it’s ever been. But our year of growth and adjustment also had another side effect: everyone in the company — myself very much included — struggled with new and difficult levels of stress.
This doesn’t make us unique. According to The American Institute of Stress, 80% of employees today experience stress at their job. CEOs and company leaders suffer the most, with a majority reporting feeling regularly overworked, exhausted, and anxious. The problem is so pervasive that it now feels commonplace and almost required of working and keeping a good job.
The truth, however, is that workplace stress is remarkably damaging — both to our health and to our general effectiveness in the office.
It’s the ultimate distraction. It tires your brain and prevents you from applying 100% of your mental energy to whatever task is at hand.
So if you’re attempting to achieve any kind of goal, stress is something you need to combat rather than accept. Here are the four primary types of stress — and how to manage them.
Stressor #1: Having too much work.
Problem: Company leaders and managers constantly have things to do, along with people who rightfully need our attention and time. Trying to complete all these tasks runs us down and drains our focus and happiness.
Solution: Focus on results, not the workload itself. Many of us — CEOs included — tend to focus on the amount of work we have, as if the number of nights we spend at the office is indicative of our success. Guess what? It’s not. So instead, prioritize your individual responsibilities in accordance with your short-term and long-term goals. This will help you determine what you actually need to do today in order to achieve your most pressing goals. If you have a new product you’re launching in two months, for example, ensuring that launch is successful is likely your most important goal. You should make sure that everything you do furthers your progress in achieving that end. To help you make such determinations, use metrics and data. Then eliminate, delegate, or ignore processes and tasks which won’t contribute to your growth.
Stressor #2: Having too little work.
Problem: One of the ways CEOs manage major influxes of work is by delegating tasks. But with delegation comes more free time. I experienced this first hand. As Skylum grew, suddenly I had roughly 70% more free time, and I had to figure out how to best spend it. As I discovered, this can be even more stressful than having too much work; I felt like I wasn’t adding as much value as before, and I feared employees might get frustrated.
Solution: Focus your energy on new and specific goals. One of those goals in my case was building and managing highly effective teams. Sure, I wasn’t running PR and marketing by myself anymore, but I could help ensure those who were now in charge had everything they needed to be successful. Once you’ve identified your new areas of focus, apply yourself to add as much value in those verticals as you can. As you grow, this is what your role as a CEO or manager will always look like: identifying areas of weakness at your company, and then applying yourself to address those as best you can.
Stressor #3: Losing connection with your team.
Problem: You always want to stay connected with your team, but as a company leader, this isn’t always possible. I’m reminded of this whenever I’m on the road for long periods. You worry about whether your team will suffer without direct access to their leader. You also worry that without you managing or directing things, productivity, engagement, or happiness might dip.
Solution: It’s threefold:
1) Utilize a variety of channels to maintain communication — Slack, email, Skype.
2) Identify “opinion leaders” and “influencers” within the company you can partner with to relay your messages and help you manage morale from afar.
3) Get feedback from outside sources, such as your family or other founders. Your situation is not unique, so solve it by talking with folks who’ve gone through it before.
Stressor #4: Things not happening as fast as you’d like.
Problem: This one, again, is especially hard for company leaders; you want things to grow and move along quickly, but often, they don’t. And you won’t always have control over that.
Solution: Take time to reflect and evaluate the effectiveness of each individual component of your company. Determine whether disparate teams are putting in maximum effort toward delivering the result you want. If they’re not, weigh potential solutions, and decide whether those folks may need a bit of a nudge. If folks are working hard, recognize that sometimes, progress simply can’t be rushed. I find that with big projects, you often don’t see results for more than six months or a year after you start working. So in those moments, turn your attention to something else — something that is in your control and that you can have a tangible impact on.
At the end of the day, stress management is necessary. And the best way to go about doing it is to look at your sources of stress objectively, and work smart to identify solutions. Your solutions may look different than those which I ultimately employed, but I’m confident the methodology will be the same.