The distinction between acute stress and chronic stress is important. Examples of acute stress include the stress you experience after having an argument with an employee, delivering an important presentation, suffering through a bad day at work, or toiling toward a short-term deadline. These events are all short-lived. By contrast, chronic stress is ongoing and results from the constant stimulation of the body’s stress response.
It can sometimes be difficult to differentiate between acute and chronic stress, and in many cases, acute stress turns into chronic stress. The body is well-equipped to cope with acute stress. It can quickly adapt and recover. However, when stress becomes repetitive and prolonged, it takes a major toll on the body. Many of your bodily functions become overworked and may even begin to break down. Take a few minutes to reflect on the following questions:
- Do you find yourself getting into a conflict with the same employee each day?
- Do you face a constant pressure to perform?
- Do you perpetually feel inadequately suited for your job as a leader?
If you answered “yes” to any of the above, you’re likely experiencing chronic stress. As a business leader, your stressors are generally different from those experienced by the general working population. Here are the most common ones, according to the Center for Creative Leadership:
Trying to accomplish more with less than adequate resources in a shorter amount of time. Are you frequently trying to do more with less, and do it faster? Perhaps you’ve decided to open a branch of your business in another location but you don’t really have a high enough budget or the headcount to do so. Even if you have the necessary resources, you may not have sufficient time. If you’re leading a publicly traded company, you likely face high pressure to appease shareholders while trying to protect your company’s infrastructure and preparing your employees for long-term success. But it’s impossible to appease all stakeholders at all times, and you need to make difficult choices. Buckle up for the ride.
How do you manage this type of stress? It’s all about focus. Focusing on the task at hand by planning, organizing, and prioritizing can help. Certain behaviors like defining and clarifying task expectations and sticking to a schedule can also be a godsend. With increased focus, the stress caused by working on a difficult task can be reduced. Better yet, future stress pertaining to upcoming tasks can be minimized or even eliminated. You have permission to breathe a sigh of relief.
Dealing with the negative aspects of personal relationships. Strong interpersonal relationships are key to a thriving business. Poor relationships between you and your employees have many repercussions. They’ve been shown to lower job satisfaction and increase stress and depression. In fact, poor relations with the people you work with have even been shown to impact customer demand and service. It’s all a domino effect. When relationships are weak, projects and initiatives can suffer to the point of jeopardizing the company and its place in the market.
Relationship-building requires skill and constant attention. As Warren Buffett once said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” Relationships between you and your employees can be improved by learning how to better manage your staff and how to recognize and deal with conflicts effectively. Hosting or fostering team-building events to improve personal relationships in the workplace can also help.
Competition and lack of teamwork from your employees. “Toxic workers” are all too common in the workplace. They come in different forms. Overly competitive co-workers are one variety. They have a strong need to rise to the top and often do so at the expense of others. Is there someone on your team who constantly kisses up to you, often at others’ expense? Other toxic workers include free-riders who don’t complete their fair share of the workload. In either case, the results can be devastating and lead to high levels of stress for both you and their co-workers. Employees are 54 percent more likely to quit if even one toxic employee joins a team of 20 people.
Poor performance from direct reports. Poor performance is a stressor that affects employees and managers alike. Unfortunately, tackling poor performance is often fairly low on the agenda for many leaders. As long as employees are following employment law and company protocol, many managers adopt a laissez-faire attitude. The results can be crippling. Poor performance leads to reduced productivity, lower motivation and retention rates, and — you guessed it — stress.
While some performance issues should be dealt with by your HR department (misconduct or constant absences, for example), most should be addressed by the employee’s manager by setting clear expectations, providing sufficient training, and sufficiently motivating their employees.
Unreasonable customers. Managing customer relations is difficult. We’ve all heard that the customer is king. But customers can easily divert a business’s focus and cause undue stress. The most common source of stress from customers is unreasonable demands and expectations. The most effective companies not only meet the needs of customers but exceed them. They focus on the smallest details and create customer-centric cultures. When customer demands are too overbearing, they push back and look for alternative solutions.
You can learn to conquer chronic stress, but it will take a concerted effort on your part to do so.