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Dial down the stress meter

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in Leaders & Managers

If you manage other assistants, you may be craving higher productivity from your team. During an economic downturn, eyes are focused on return on investment (ROI) and measurable results.

If you’re a savvy people manager, though, you don’t want to saddle your strong performers with an extra layer of stress.

Consider these three approaches:

1. “Hey, Sarah, we’re having a bad year, so if you want us all to keep our jobs, you’re going to have to work harder than ever. Sorry, I know it’s tough, but that’s just the reality.”

2. “Hey, Sarah, I know there’s a lot of pressure on you now, on all of us, really, and I want to make sure you’re getting it all done. Let me know how I can help.”

3. “Hey, Sarah, I know there’s a lot of pressure on you now, on all of us, really, and I want to make sure you’re taking care of all the things that are important to you—not only at work but in other areas of your life, too—so that you don’t burn out. What small changes could you try here that would make things easier, so you’d have more energy to focus on performing well for our business? We desperately need your best efforts!”

What makes No. 3 vastly superior? According to Stewart D. Friedman, a Wharton Business School professor and work/life integration researcher, it acknowledges that the worker you’re speaking to has a life beyond work.

The more you can do this, he says, the more you’ll get out of a person when she’s at work.

Unlike option No. 2, the approach isn’t vague. It encourages Sarah to try small experiments, like shifting her schedule to avoid rush-hour traffic. And that has a positive effect on her work and her personal well-being.

— Adapted from “Dial Down the Stress Level,” Stewart D. Friedman, Harvard Business Review.

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