The Overwhelmed Office
Six Fixes for the Stressed-Out, Productivity-Challenged Workplace
Pittsburgh, PA (May 15, 2006)--Lately, you feel a palpable sense of stress when you walk into your office. People are tense and not smiling. Nerves are stretched to the breaking point. Everyone operates in marathon mode, getting into the office early, working through lunch, and putting in one late night after another. And yet, despite the jackrabbit pace, important tasks aren't getting done. That's not surprising, says Joanne G. Sujansky, CEO of KEYGroup®. There is a strong link between stress and lack of productivity--and the problem is more widespread than you might think.
"Busy-ness does not equal productivity," Sujansky says. "In fact, frantic, disorderly activity is counterproductive to your organization's goals. Not only is too much stress incompatible with the vibrant, creative environment a company needs to stay competitive in our intense marketplace, but it actually makes employees sick. And according to a recent survey we commissioned, nearly one in five employees confirms that stress hinders their job performance."
The Internet-based survey--carried out by Zoomerang--included questions regarding disconnect between management and workers, frequency of performance feedback, and the amount of unnecessary stress on the job, among others.
The 1,727 men and women who took the survey ranged in age from 18 to 64, had varying levels of education, and lived all over the United States. While they work in varying occupations, the majority of respondents classified themselves as "Middle Management," "Office & Administrative," and "Professional."
In evaluating the statement My productivity on the job suffers because the company causes unnecessary stress, 19 percent of participants expressed agreement.
So if you suspect your employees would jump on the "unnecessary stress" train, what can you do? Sujansky offers the following suggestions:
- Give people specific, challenging, yet attainable outcomes they are expected to meet. When people know that they are working toward a clear-cut goal--with (and this is important) a clear-cut deadline--they tend to regulate their own workday in order to meet it. If John knows he has to boost revenues in his department 10 percent by June 1, he will stay focused on that goal. He will be less likely to get sidetracked by other, less critical tasks.
- Put systems in place for measuring productivity. In the business world, the bottom line is, of course, the bottom line. The whole point of goal setting is to help employees become more productive. That's why you must be sure not to confuse activity with progress. Put systems in place for measuring productivity and live by them. "Remember this mantra: What gets measured gets done," advises Sujansky. "Create policies that ensure that the 'urgent' doesn't take precedence over the 'important,' and do everything you can to eliminate redundancies and busywork."
- Make the workday meaningful. When employees are fully engaged in their work, they're less likely to perceive intensity as "stress." They will be motivated and rewarded by their task list rather than feeling oppressed by it. Therefore, make sure to give your employees challenging and meaningful assignments that stimulate and inspire them. "Employees today want more than just a job," insists Sujansky. "They want to contribute to the big picture and help sustain the company through the tough times."
- Reward employees after they meet a challenge. A positive attitude goes a long way toward managing stress. It helps you maintain a sense of perspective and view problems as challenges, perhaps even motivators. While you should refrain from giving employees Pollyanna-like speeches about accentuating the positive, you can "adjust their attitudes" by showing a little appreciation. When an employee goes the extra mile or meets a seemingly impossible deadline, reward her for a job well done. Make the reward meaningful to her. Perhaps she would enjoy an office pizza party, theatre tickets, or a gift certificate to a local business. Small gestures can have a big effect on mood--which in turn has a big effect on alleviating stress.
- Make employees take lunch breaks, vacations, and even mental health days. Do your employees wolf down burgers at their desks while replying to a volley of e-mails? Do they take work home every night? Do they rack up unused vacation days like interest on a high-yield CD? What's more, do you commit such stress sins? "If you're rubbing your hands in glee over your employees' work ethic, you're contributing to the problem," Sujansky says. "Insist that they take lunch breaks and vacations. After an all-nighter, give people a spontaneous day off to recharge. And practice what you preach: When people see you working like a Trojan, they feel a not-so-subtle pressure to follow your lead."
- Start a workplace "health club." Too much stress makes people sick. So if you have an office full of overworked, overwhelmed employees living at their desks and sucking down fast food, you needn't be psychic to predict what's going to happen. (Sick and/or absent employees aren't good for productivity or your health insurance plan!) "Make good health a workplace priority," suggests Sujansky. "You can do this in a formal way, such as instituting a wellness program or helping employees pay for a gym membership, or in an informal way, such as starting a lunchtime walking group and posting a healthy recipes bulletin board. You'll help employees cope with stress and also show them that you care about them as people, not just 'working machines.'"
"Stress is probably the central issue in today's work world," says Sujansky. "We're all trying to figure out how to get more and more done in the face of lean budgets, a global army of competitors and a 24/7 flow of information. That's why you must make the S-word a priority. Mastering it is the key to keeping productivity high--and keeping your company viable in the 21st century."
About the Author
For more than twenty-five years, Joanne G. Sujansky, Ph.D., CSP (Certified Speaking Professional), has been helping leaders to increase business growth and profitability by creating and sustaining what she calls a Vibrant Entrepreneurial Organization. Her expertise, insight, wisdom, humor, and practical solutions have made Joanne a highly sought-after speaker for keynote addresses, seminars, conferences and workshops. She has brought fresh concepts and effective techniques to executives and audiences in over thirty countries around the globe.