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Are your employees always stressed out?

Grace was so relaxed on our recent trip, something I wouldn't have imagined given her normal temperament. We can't always know what will be stressful for employees; stretch boundaries but watch where the threshold is so you can adjust before it becomes a bigger problem.

Grace was so relaxed on our recent trip, even resting her head on my shoulder as we took a motorized boat ride (she’s not a big fan of water). Her ease of handling this short holiday trip was something I wouldn’t have imagined given her normal timid temperament. We can’t always know what will be stressful for employees; stretch their boundaries but watch where the threshold is so you can adjust before it becomes a bigger problem.

Do you find yourself talking about how stressed out your employees always are? Or perhaps you, yourself, are always feeling under great pressure to perform? Equally as problematic is if you don’t think the pace is too crazy, but your employees do.

How do you view your work environment?

Some managers view on-going, hectic, harried environments as the equivalent to high-performance because they know everyone is always working hard to do their best. Somehow, it feels good that workers are so busy, looking productive, and that there is never a lack of work (good job security, right?). But too much stress, for too long a time, isn’t healthy. It’s not good for individuals and it’s not good for productivity or high quality outcomes, either.

Grace is a dog that feels a lot of stress and pressure, even in simple situations (of course, simple to me, but complex to her). Our home is pretty low-key. Not a lot of noise or commotion, and aside from the cats instigating a little sibling mischief with her, there aren’t many demands placed on her. Yet things like bikers on our road or wind whipping through the windows are seen as a threat by her. She is on constant vigil for some danger lurking to scare or harm her. What worries Grace doesn’t even register on my radar screen for concern.

Because we work hard enough for Grace to feel at ease in her own home, we don’t often travel with her, choosing not to torment her with additional worries in new places. However, we decided to give it a try for a few days when we visited friends in Maine over the July 4th holiday. And to our surprise and delight, Grace even seemed to enjoy it there. The car ride (usually a long and frustrating experience with her constant whining) was pleasantly quiet as she slept nearly the entire way. On our arrival, she explored the property, inside and out, and then we took a boat ride on the river. She sat in my lap, calm, collected, and serene, peacefully resting her sweet head on my shoulder. Ahhh, I thought, how nice is this!

Our decision to take Grace was based on several factors, though. We knew that the environment would be generally aligned with what was within her tolerance. We would have never exposed her to a crowded place with tons of people and small children, for example. She would have been a mess.

Grace provides a lesson for all of us. It’s ok to take calculated risks when expanding the horizons for your team. It allows them the opportunity to conquer challenges they may not have otherwise. But we can never be sure what will cause stress for another person. Our role as a manager is to be alert to what the other person is experiencing, and help address it quickly with them.

Working at a stress level that exceeds your tolerance shouldn’t happen

All employees should be held accountable to expectations that were established for them in performing their job. But they shouldn’t be working with a level of stress that exceeds their tolerance.

There are lots of ways to explore this together. First, be a constant observer of your team. These are some questions to ask yourself to see if problems might already exist:

  • Does each person have adequate time to complete assignments?
  • Are projects adequately and thoughtfully planned or are they haphazardly created without consideration for the bigger picture?
  • Does the employee feel he has access to the resources he needs to be successful?
  • Is there time allocated for maintenance and/or improvements for systems and/or equipment? (Ignoring systems will create failure at some point!)
  • Are employees constantly coming to you with concerns about project deadlines or the amount of work they are expected to complete?

If there is an isolated situation, it’s something to resolve with that employee. But if your entire team is constantly feeling overwhelmed, it’s a problem you have likely created, or at least are not addressing adequately.

Another excellent way to help identify stress in the workplace is to gain a clear and objective understanding of individual work styles with a good assessment tool. A ‘fast pace’ to one person can be very different than a ‘fast pace’ to another. An assessment will allow you to put the variables into a common language so it’s clear where everyone does their best.

Don’t let the stress get out of control. You can help prevent it. Your employees might like a shoulder to rest on occasionally!

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  1. Leslie Fish on July 10, 2014 at 9:29 am

    Once again, you’ve hit home with me. This time with a double. I have a cat that is very much like Grace. Our “princess” has only recently felt safe enough to venture out of the house after 4 years of sitting in the window and watching birds, chipmunks, and blowing leaves. A week ago the next door neighbor got a puppy, so now kitty sits in the door and sniffs and looks for long minutes before she ventures out.
    The double is personally with me. I’ve taken on more responsibility at work and feel slightly out of my element, too. Your bullet points to the managers made me think about what I needed to succeed and how to approach my manager to get it. Thanks!

    • Robin on July 10, 2014 at 9:42 am

      Wonderful insights, Leslie! I’m so happy the bullet points were helpful. And I hope your cat gets her courage to meet the puppy! That would be some interesting interactions as they both learn about each other. Take good care.

  2. Lisa Osthelder on July 10, 2014 at 10:16 am


    I love how you relate what is going on with Grace to our everyday work place situations that are stressful. Grace is so cute resting her head on your shoulder. Yeah Grace! If she can do it so can others. What a great role model she is.

    • Robin on July 10, 2014 at 2:37 pm

      You’re right, Lisa, Grace is a wonderful role model for us! I love your support of her. It was great that our friend captured such a cute picture, too, I’m very grateful to have it.

  3. Richard Giachetti on July 10, 2014 at 5:11 pm

    I just forwarded this to the CEO of our company. I’ll let you know on Monday if I still have a job!

    • Robin on July 10, 2014 at 5:27 pm

      We all want to hear that report!

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