Benjamin Franklin once said ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’ That would appear to be the case when it comes to stress management, especially for those of you in management positions. Controlling stress levels will largely depend on your ability to prioritise tasks in a systematic way which prevents stress from building up in the first place. Whether you’re a new recruit or a seasoned manager, Tricia Cunningham recommends these 3 steps for stress management in the workplace.

Tricia, how can managers learn to reduce stress in the workplace?
In recent times with the downturn in the economy and the increasing need for people to be more productive at work, there has been a noticeable increase in the level of stress people are experiencing. Managers in both small and large organisations often feel pressure as a result of needing to get better business results with fewer resources, be they financial, human or material resources. Working with high levels of stress over an extended period of time can be very damaging to an individual. There are certain things outside a person’s control, about which they can do nothing, but there are many things they can control. The starting point for managing stress is with the individual refocusing and understanding what elements of their job they can control.

Step 1 re-focus
What are your core responsibilities? How will you be measured? What is it that you have to deliver on? And if that is in any way vague then a conversation needs to be had with your manager to make sure you are clear about your responsibilities, and what needs to be delivered on. It needs to be a joint agreement; it’s not about forcing something on somebody but rather having a discussion around it to ensure clarity and agreement on your ability to deliver what is needed.

Step 2 apply management tools
Use management tools to help you manage time and workloads more effectively. One such tool is Stephen Covey’s 4 Quadrants. This allows you to prioritise tasks based on 2 criteria – urgency and importance. Determine what is urgent and important, and what is important but not necessarily urgent, and therefore can be planned giving you more control.

The problem people often face is that they identify tasks that are important and not urgent, but do nothing to plan how they will be implemented. After a period of time passes they suddenly become both urgent and important which raises stress levels. We have a tendency to get addicted to the sense of urgency and we have to eliminate that addiction. We do so by ensuring that items that are not urgent but important are planned for well in advance and we work on executing that plan.

Covey's 4 Quadrants - 3 Steps for Stress Management in the Workplace

Step 3 remain aware of your own responsibilities
When people push you to do something, if your response is always to say ‘yes I’ll do that’ you need to remember that in saying yes you are saying no to something else. In saying yes to one thing, something else has to give. What are you saying no to? If something else gives way that is directly related to your responsibilities and the results you need to achieve, that will create stress for you.