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While stress and work seem to come hand in hand, they don’t have to. Peter George shows us how to identify the signs of stress, and offers a mix of tried-and-true and quirky techniques to help keep the workplace stress-free.

At the end of the year, if you are smart, you will take a look back at the year just gone and evaluate how you and your business have performed. If you are extremely smart, you will not just look at the bottom line of your company, you will examine the inner workings of your business, how it is run, and how your business has affected your quality of life.

Each and every year two resolutions come to the fore among workers, particularly those that own their own business: improve work-life balance and better manage the stress levels of me and my employees.

Running a small business is one of the most stressful occupations there is, with the constant worries of cash flow, improving work processes, on top of the ever-present need to bring in new business.

It is around this time of year, though, that small business owners look back and realise that all of those resolutions they made way back in December have been forgotten; they are as stressed as ever, and their employees are working harder and longer hours than ever before.

If, however, you keep this checklist handy, you should be able to identify the reasons for stress, the symptoms and how to change the work practices of you and your employee’s to reduce your stress levels immensely.

We all know the signs of stress, but often we choose to ignore them, whether we see it in ourselves or in your employees. It is worth remembering them in order to identify when your star employee is about to crack under the pressure and leave you in the lurch.

Top 10 Ways to Know You Are Stressed

The amazing exploding individual. Perhaps the most common and obvious sign of stress is a short temper. If you or your employees seem to be yelling at each other on a daily basis, the chances are you or they are stressed.

The attention deficit disorder individual. A stressed worker, and that includes the business owner, is not a good worker. Stressed individuals are unable to concentrate as well as a calm individual.

Bags under the eyes. This one is a cliché, yes, but unfortunately it is true. Most of us cannot leave our stresses at the office, we take them home with us and dwell on the problems of the day, or the ones to face the next. Lack of sleep, though, is a vicious cycle: the more stressed you are, and the less you sleep; the less you sleep, the more stressed you become.

Increased number of sick days. This symptom can display itself in two ways. Firstly, stress can manifest itself physically by lowering the immune system and causing you to become sick more often. Secondly, many people deal with stress by simply ignoring it and taking a day off from work. Unfortunately for small business owners, staff taking sick days often increases stress levels for the proprietor.

Affecting external relationships. Snapping at the secretary, wanting to be alone at home or arguing about the little things. If you have noticed that the relationships you have worked so hard to foster and faltering because of minute details, you could be stressed.

Burnout. If you are usually an extremely detailed oriented person, as most business owners have to be, and you suddenly realise you just do not care any more, chances are you are experiencing burn-out; one of the most obvious signs of stress.

Smoke signals. We each have our own vices, and many people turn to alcohol or cigarettes in times of stress. Increased drinking and smoking can be an indication that a person is experiencing a period of increased stress-levels.

Outwardly expanding signals. Although not considered a traditionally harmful substance abuse problem, stress eating is something that affects a huge number of Australians, yet if you or an employee gains a large amount of weight over a short period of time, it can be an awkward topic to broach.

Strong or severe emotional symptoms. Stress can cause strong emotional changes, since it triggers the release of a lot of very powerful hormones and chemicals into our bloodstream. Examples include extreme anxiety or agitation, aggressive or violent behaviour, ‘withdrawal-isolation’ behaviours.

Your family. Oftentimes our best feedback mechanism is our family unit, whether it is your mother telling you that you look tired, your partner warning you that you are becoming snippy, or your kids wondering why they haven’t seen you in weeks.


Managing Stress

Identifying when either you or your employees are experiencing high levels of stress is just a part of the process. Learning how to manage stress is vital for your business. Apart from the obvious health concerns, a recent survey by human resources and recruitment firm, Talent2, revealed that 63 percent of employees would have no hesitation in leaving their job if it all became too stressful.

Sadly, though, more than 70 percent of people believe that stress comes hand-in-hand with work. It just does not have to be this way.

It would be a lie to say that there is just one way to manage stress. We are all individuals, and we all manage stress in different way. There are traditional methods, modern methods and some extreme methods, but none of them will solve the problems, they will act as a band-aid.

Some traditional methods include:

Identify. The modern workplace is, by definition, a high-stress environment. Emails constantly flood in, orders need to be completed immediately, everything is happening at a million miles and hour and everything needs to be done five minutes ago. Your palms sweat, your heart beats faster, your head start swimming in everything you have to do. Take note of this. Identify your symptoms, as if you do not, you will have absolutely no chance in managing your stress.

Make lists. You have a million things to do, yet you do not know what to do first. List everything in minute detail that you have to do. Do not just write ‘re-brand company’ on your to-do list. Break it down into the smallest denominator. When the list is complete it will be completely overwhelming: be prepared for this. Take some time to prioritise your list—colour coding helps many people. Once you have done this, begin to work your way down the list through the priorities. Be prepared to re-arrange this list throughout a working day or week.

Breathe. You and your employees will be unable to work effectively if you cannot see the wood for the trees. Take a step back, and literally take a few deep breaths. You will be amazed how different things will look when you just take a few seconds to re-evaluate. You can take this further and take time during the day or before or after work to meditate.

De-politicise the office. One of the most stressful parts of turning up to work every day is managing the personalities that work with you. This holds true both for the boss and for employees. Take some time to really speak with your co-workers and identify where the problems lie. Identify agendas, identify the hard-workers and reward them and coach the workers that need some help. Take the politics out of the office.

One of the fatal errors in business, particularly small business where there is no dedicated HR employee and the boss is expected to be everything to everyone is to treat the workplace and workers like a factory staffed by robots. We all need to have a bit of fun, and work cannot be a serious place all the time.

Some modern ideas include:

Plug and play the day away. Give yourself and your employees a good break by installing a video-game console in the break-room. A survey by Talent2 showed that 25 percent of employees would like to see this happen as it would give them a chance to zone out from their work for a short period of time and reduce stress.

Build the team. Oftentimes, feeling isolated ca
n be a major contributor to stress-levels. Feeling as though there is no one else who can help with our tasks, or not wishing to, or being able to, delegate can make things that much more stressful. If you have a team of employees, build up team morale and team spirit. For example, make an executive decision to close the office early on Friday and take the team for lunch. If you have a bit more of a budget, go paintballing, for example.

Managing stress levels, both your own and those of employees is a job in itself. It is not easy to do, and that is why people spend entire careers learning how to do it, yet small business owners are expected to be experts at it, almost over night.

In reality, you can identify those who are stressed, you can do all of the stress-management techniques that you like, however the only sure-fire way to alleviate stress is to solve the root problems. Change your work processes, hire another employee if necessary or bring on a business-partner to alleviate the load. All of these are easier said than done, particularly when you are in the business of running your business.

Peter George is a behavioural psychologist with recruitment firm, Talent2.

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