With the pandemic still creating employment turbulence and inflation on the rise with pending recession fears, the stress in the workplace is at an all-time high. Managers and front-line staff are working harder and longer to compensate for at least a 20% shortage of employees, felt by all industries, from restaurants to airlines. But those of us steeped in the technology industry often believe that our work is so different from all other industries, and people in other industries can’t teach us anything about stress management. I was certain this wasn’t the case, and I set out to get some outside views.
One of the first people I asked was the owner of the nail salon I frequent. I didn’t want to ask leading questions, so I asked him what his biggest problems were as a business owner and manager. He immediately said his primary problem was lack of staff, so I urged him to give me his secondary problem, and he said one word, “stress.” We spent the next hour chatting about his stress (as the boss) and his staff’s stress. I came away with a beautiful set of nails and confirmation of my hypothesis that stress transcends industries.
I have identified three stressors—environmental, emotional, and physical. I have formulated an admittedly incomplete set of ideas to deal with the stress caused by these stressors, some based on my chats with others and some based on my own experience managing my technology consultant staff. I invite you to test and provide feedback, as we all need each other!
First, tackle the environmental stressors. If you sleep eight hours a day on average, you are left with 112 waking hours in a 7-day week. If you are at work for at least eight hours a day for five days a week, your physical space is your home for 36% of your waking hours - more than a third! Just as we work hard to create comforts for ourselves in our homes, we often completely ignore our workspace homes.
Take a hard and unbiased look at your (or your staff’s) work area for environmental stressors. Is the chair comfortable? Is there too much light for looking at monitors all day, or is it too dim to keep your mood high? Is your space too noisy or too quiet? Would you benefit from a standing desk
? Is management not willing to pay for any upgrades? Invest in yourself! I found standing, motorized desks for as little as $250, and super wide, refurbished monitors for just about the same. Recognize that your work and home needs your personal touch.
Second, tackle emotional stressors. Start by ensuring you and your staff are clear about who to go to for workplace issues and how to begin those conversations. Is that policy completely clear and consistently repeated? And don’t ignore things that should be addressed. Think of these emotional stressors like items in a suitcase you need to carry everywhere you go. When you experience a stressful event, and don’t have the opportunity to address it and have your say heard, you have to stuff that in the suitcase, making it heavier each time, which creates more stress. Eventually, the suitcase is so heavy that you either fling the entire case at someone, dumping all of your stresses on that one person inappropriately, or you simply drop the suitcase and quit carrying it – i.e., quit your job.
Addressing issues with a calm, private conversation is a way of unpacking items and lightening the load for yourself and anyone else involved. Take the time to talk through and resolve the stressful event, and you will build trust and respect amongst your coworkers and staff. To effectively manage staff, repeatedly and consistently communicate that your door is open and that you prefer they come to you rather than confide in a coworker. You or your manager can rectify the issue, the coworker cannot, and as an added benefit, you spare the coworker from sharing in your stress.
Finally, pay attention to your body. Sometimes stress you feel at work is a physical stressor, such as your eyes might be tired—you are hungry, but more likely, you are thirsty. Working in technology often means that we can go hours without our eyes leaving a monitor. Studies have shown that we blink significantly less often when using a computer monitor, tablet, or smartphone – any close-up screen. Keep some over-the-counter hydrating eye drops on your desktop (not in the drawer where you can’t see them!), and take a moment to use them as directed.
Another tip is to keep healthy snacks on or in your desk for quick pick-me-ups. Some of these should include nuts, which are high in protein and fiber, fresh fruit that doesn’t need refrigeration like bananas and apples, and of course energy or protein bars, which are plentiful at a low cost per serving. If you are watching calories, cut the bars in halves or thirds, and just have a small crunch. Wait fifteen minutes, and if you are still stressing out because you are hungry, and it’s not time for a full meal break, eat another half or third.
Most of us, across industries, are dehydrated, which is not only extremely stressful on our organs, including our skin and brain. It also makes us feel more stressed out emotionally. You can address your hydration issues with low-impact solutions like keeping a large reusable drink bottle on hand and topping it up with water on-site, eliminating your plastic bottle use. If desired, add some electrolyte powder. (I love the Electrolyte Recovery Plus made by Key Nutrients because it’s sweetened with Stevia.
) Take a sip when your stress level is rising, and that action will act as both a physical and mental break. And if you are looking for a non-jittery, caffeine-free energy boost, consider adding a scoop of D-Ribose powder.
My biggest message is not to ignore workplace stress but identify it, communicate it to appropriate people, look for reasonable solutions, and commit to using those solutions consistently. And when all else fails, get a manicure, pedicure or, even better—a massage.
Bobra is writing on behalf of the SCTC, a premier professional organization for independent consultants. SCTC consultant members are leaders in the industry, able to provide best of breed professional services in a wide array of technologies. Every consultant member commits annually to a strict Code of Ethics, ensuring they work for the client benefit only and do not receive financial compensation from vendors and service providers.