Managing Workplace Stress - 6 January 2009
There are few forms of stress more severe than torture, especially waterboarding. This is where the victim is chained to a table while water is poured over his face, into his mouth, and through his nose.
The feeling he endures is one of drowning and suffocation, so he’s convinced that death is imminent.
If you’re like most people, when you hear the word “stress”, you associate it with something negative. But Canadian researcher, Hans Selye, has discovered there are two types of stress:
Eustress – which is good because it creates a positive effect
Distress – which is not so good because it has a harmful effect
Waterboarding, and other methods of torture, fall into the ‘distress’ category, while ‘eustress’ interrogation methods include techniques such as offering bounties, providing police protection, and relocating informers to another country.
At work, the stress you heap upon your employees similarly falls into either the eustress category or the distress one. If what you’re providing is a welcome challenge that helps your employees to grow and develop, then it’s eustress. But if you’re providing the workplace equivalent of waterboarding, then you’re distressing them – potentially to breaking point.
The difference is determined by two main factors - expectations and resources.
Expectations: When your employees know what’s coming, it’s easier for them to mentally prepare for it. Make sure they have very clear expectations by providing clarity on precisely what their work pressure will be like for the following week or month, and understand that people tend to handle stress more easily when it’s not a shock.
Resources: Employees react to stress by either coping or adapting, so identify where each one belongs. The ‘copers’ need training, coaching, more breaks, and an approachable manager willing to listen. The ‘adapters’ need control over their work, flexibility in their schedule, to be matched to the right roles, and ramped-up recognition.
This is why waterboarding and other methods of torture lead to distress. With no expectation of what the duration and pain will be like, and with no resources whatsoever with which to cope or adapt, victims last an average of 14 seconds before confessing... or dying.
When your employees are ‘stressed out’, you shouldn’t automatically assume it’s unhealthy, because you’ll have some who’ll thrive on it while others will dread it. Just watch out you’re not waterboarding everyone.
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