Christmas comes but once a year, which is a good thing, because along with getting married and going on holiday, Christmas is one of the most stressful events of the year: late nights, rich food, parties – and that’s just the kids. Add in clients needing work delivered before the Christmas break, and accounts needing to be finalised before year end and it’s clear why it can start to take a toll.
What about the things that cause us stress on an ongoing basis? A degree of stress is unavoidable, even necessary, but The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) recently reported that stress is now the number one cause of absence in the UK. So the physical effects of stress are clearly bad for business. However, it’s not just things like absenteeism and the longer-term health effects that we should be worried about. Stress affects how our brain functions and so can have a big impact upon our performance at work.
Although stress is undoubtedly a disease of our times, it isn’t a new one; the effects that stress has on our mind, and thus our bodies, were hard wired into our brains eons ago. One of the effects of a stressful situation is a very basic ‘fight or flight’ response, “There’s a wooly mammoth, shall I kill it or run away from it?” In effect we by-pass the more modern part of our brain, relying on habit and instinct rather than rationale. The more stressed we get, the less thought-through our reactions become. Sometimes this serves us well, just to get to the end of the day or week, but if the stress is more on-going, we are of course limiting our ability to do our job well, let alone do anything to deal with the causes of the stress or to shine in our roles.
Therefore it is worth considering what we can do to boost performance despite stress in the system around us. Below I use David Rock’s SCARF model to look at some of the things that may have caused our ancestors angst, consider possible present day parallels and suggest some steps to deal with them.
In the cave, position in the pack was all. The higher up the pecking order, the better you ate, and the warmer your bed. Today status is not just about stripes on the shoulder, it is also to do with if you are getting recognition for your work. If you work for yourself, and your status is hard to quantify, try setting your own realistic goals, or getting your status ‘kicks’ elsewhere, such as involvement with a sports team or voluntary work.
Today we worry about cash flow and downsizing, rather than if we have hoarded enough mammoth-meat to survive the winter. Consider what you can do to increase certainty; even if this is being clear about what is and isn’t known, and how some of the knowledge gaps will be filled.
We feel better when we feel empowered to make choices. Identify where you have autonomy and allow your teams to make choices such as setting priorities or defining their own ways of working.
We are social animals, our survival and evolution has always been dependant upon the group around us. Today the type and quality of our relationships has a massive impact upon our well-being and ability to do our jobs. So cultivate your support network and if there is a necessary relationship that causes you stress, step back and consider what you can do about it – a new approach from you could have a big impact on the relationship.
We are very sensitive to the nuances of how we treat each other within the tribe. Sometimes we may not like missing out on the meatiest bone, a pay rise or a promotion, but if there is clarity around the decision criteria, and we can – however grudgingly – see that the prize is deserved we are much more likely to accept it and move on, hopefully even offering congratulations.
Some of these may well seem out of your scope of influence, but it is worth considering where you can make small changes that could result in big benefits – for yourself and your team. You’ll reap benefits both for performance in the short term and health in the long term – whatever the time of year.
Rock, David, SCARF: a brain based model for collaborating with and influencing others. Neuroleadership Journal, issue 1, 2008
Goleman, Daniel, Emotional Intelligence: why it can matter more than IQ. Bantam Books New York 1996
The Author Amanda Holmes is a certified Executive Coach with almost 20 years of FTSE 100 experience in Sales and Marketing. Based in Malta, she works locally and internationally and is currently researching the potential for coaching to increase performance and resilience for international assignees. Contact Amanda on email@example.com or via http://amandaholmes.net