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Positive Relationships Reduce Stress At Work

Positive Relationships Reduce Stress At Work

Stress is the number one source of dysfunction at work, ranging from discomfort, conflict, to burn out. You know how it is to come back home and spill out the acid you felt at work; it is common to complain about that employee who is not motivated and highly disrespectful; or to criticize the lack of empathy of your director who keep on loading your schedule without supporting you when needed.

Stress is everywhere: at work, in the streets, at home, with friends. It is as if the world has woken up with endless claims and complaints that you are the only one to face. There is no buffer, no time to settle, to digest the amount of tasks and goals and attitudes and demands that surround you.

Often, the first reaction to that stress is to blame the others, the system, the weather, the culture, and the difference. If things were different, there wouldn't be any stress... says the dreamer. In reality, things are so much more complex. A recent study from Norway of 3000 managers, conducted by researchers at BI Norwegian Business School (mentioned by Douglas LaBier from Progressive Impact), found 4 major sources of stress:

[Related: Let Go Of Interpersonal Office Tension]

  1. Time pressure and workload
  2. Emotional strain
  3. Role conflict between the demands from the top management and from the employees
  4. Role conflict between work and private life

Researchers identified these stress sources as the most significant:

  • The job itself (e.g. the work requirements facing the manager)
  • The manager’s own reactions to a specific job situation (e.g. anxiety for how people will respond, a feeling of fatigue or exhaustion)
  • How one handles work tasks that are challenging or straining (e.g. works harder, works overtime, takes work home)
  • Any conflict between the demands at work and family considerations / leisure activities

So far, the main "cures" suggested to deal with stress are self oriented: breath, move, do some sport, say no, sleep well, eat and drink less... These techniques are indeed very efficient and can be use simultaneously. But the problem is that they don't integrate the complexity of the context.

The stress at work or at home is a social matter; it arises from the increased amount of interactions in anybody's life. Stress comes from the fact that you are in contact with someone else and that someone else is closely linked to the process of achieving your goals, and this process is the same at work and at home.

To reduce stress, you can't only focus on yourself; you need also to focus on your relationships to others and to the system. Do you feel at ease within your company, is your role fulfilling, do you have a satisfying work environment, do you believe in the company's values, are your professional goals aligned with your individual goals, do you have gratifying relations with your colleagues, are you acknowledged, is your work properly recognized…?

It is so easy to see how things could go wrong after each of these questions, now think of the result when one thing goes wrong to each question at the same time. This is 'modern life' and it's challenges. No one has been prepared to it, and furthermore, we are using tools from the industrial revolution to deal with it, which is the same to try to open a bottle with a hammer, it breaks.

[Related: Stress Awareness: Inspiring Change From Within]

There are more subtle ways to reduce stress and the first one, that is also systemic, is to create positive relationships at work. It is a truism to say that if you have better relationships with your co-workers you feel better, but how many managers effectively dedicate time to it? To my experience, not that many managers, and not enough time.

The first thing is to put relationships at the same level as a goal or a task for two main reasons:

  1. You need the others to achieve a goal or carry out a task so they are as much important
  2. If you don't put importance to it you won't allocate the proper time and effort

Then, you need to develop skills, attitudes and mindsets that are new to the work environment but ancestral; like empathy, support, growth and learning oriented behavior. If you do so, you can play a basketball game by actually looking at your team, at the ball and at the opponent at the same time in order to achieve a specific score. If you don't, like it is the habit now, it is as if you play basket by looking only at the scoreboard, discarding your team players, your goal or you opponent. How stressful is that?

Sara Bigwood, Executive Coach PCC (ICF) | Author | Specialized in collaborative leadership


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