HEALTHY CHRISTMAS TO YOU AND YOURS
RICHARD ELLIS SHARES SOME ADVICE ON HOW TO MANAGE WORKPLACE STRESS GOING INTO AND OUT OF THE SILLY SEASON.
Richard Ellis shares some advice on how to manage workplace stress going into and out of the silly season.
As the end of the year approaches the speed of activities seems to increase. We worry about the lack of time before we stop for the Christmas break. This added pressure we put on ourselves is a perceived lack of time rather than a real one, but one our brain nonetheless sees as real. Perception is the key here. If we allow the perception of a lack of time to become a problem it may very well become one. If we don’t then we set our brains up for a better outcome. In terms of our perception of stress, let me paraphrase from the TED talk by health psychologist Kelly McGonigal of Stanford University (look her up on YouTube): “It is only our perception of stress that is the killer.” If we believe stress will affect our health it could well do just that. If our perception of stress is something to be harnessed and used to our advantage or at worst, just managed, then our health outcomes could be far better. In McGonigal’s study the outcome for those that saw stress as a bad thing for their health was a higher early death rate than for those that did not. Perception is all very well but I think there are many more practical things we can do as business owners to manage the stress of the pending end-ofyear break which includes planning ahead. During my days in the retail trade – one particular sector which goes absolutely crazy in the last few days of the year – planning was the only way we got through the silly season unscathed. The planning of business activities required for December and January are crucial and a business imperative. This way a lot of the guesswork and long hours
involved can be done before the work needs to be completed. Planning, resources, stock, overtime, cashflow/reserves, supplier delivery schedules and lots more can be set in place so that the operation runs as close to clockwork as possible on busy days.
Everyone in each team or department can see what’s happening on a daily basis.
So what can be done to mitigate stress? Here are my top five tips from years on the shop floor: • Create a trading diary and actually fill it in, lots of detail. • Hold a short ‘action focused’ team meeting daily if
necessary. • Rosters should be documented at least four weeks ahead. • Totally clarify peoples’ roles – if extra duties are required. • Any ‘out of routine’ activities must be assigned to a person, e.g. late delivery unloading, extra cash collections. Trading diaries help take the guesswork away. Your planning is half done for you when you come to plan for the silly season as the diary will contain all the things that went well or not-so-well the previous year. Sales reports must accompany the diary. That way the Kaizen approach of continuous improvement is woven into the fabric of the business.
DIFFERENT FOLKS, DIFFERENT STROKES
Different personalities deal with stress in different ways. The leaders of businesses need to be aware of the different ways in which individuals handle stress. Some will coast along and never miss a beat. Others will waver and need some support in, either, systems like the diary (useful if people change roles) or talking through situations so they can verbalise the issue and process it in their own way.
Then there are the silent types who verbalise nothing and don’t ask for help. They need to be asked what help they need, and often need to be led through the difficulties of the silly season as they may not see a way through.
As Christmas approaches some businesses get busier and others actually quieten down. The busy businesses that know the pressure may need to consider ways in which they can support their team. Mindfulness is important. By that I mean having the ability to concentrate on the task at hand without interruption, which in a busy workspace can be hard to achieve.
I recently visited a shared workspace on Auckland’s North Shore where you can rent a desk by the hour – a hot desk!
There were cubicles throughout this space and various people, headphones plugged into their computers, were beavering away at their various tasks. I reflected that this was a form of mindfulness which allows the brain to focus on the job in front of it while listening to, I’m guessing, music.
The benefit of this is that the outside world is drowned out and the brain has less stimulation. As a result productivity improves and stress is lowered.
FIGHT OR FLIGHT
The more we bombard the brain the more the nervous system has to deal with and we overload our system to the point of, potentially, ill health. When the hypothalamus (the part of our brain that’s on guard) senses danger, which can be a form of stress (let’s say a deadline or increased workload), it sends a message to the pituitary gland which then signals our adrenal glands to pump, among other things, adrenaline and cortisol into our blood stream. Voila – you have fight or flight! Repeat this process over a longer period of time and the stress starts to become chronic. This is when health becomes truly affected. Hormones become unbalanced. Clever backup systems kick in, stealing sources of other hormones to pick up the slack when we become depleted of our original stress hormones.
This has to be identified in the workplace. If people are being affected to this degree then their health is being challenged. They need help.
Having processes in place to deal with these scenarios is important to the ongoing care of employees and business continuity.
Having programmes in place that help employees understand these bodily functions (so they can identify where their stressors lie and manage the symptoms) equips them with the tools to be a better employee and, in turn, the business benefits from this improved state of health.
This is a ‘ top down’ issue to be embraced by all senior leaders if they are attempting to strike a healthy balance. If they put processes in place to deal with stress and are seen to be living the values of these day-to-day, then it will filter down to staff more successfully.
Bottom line – the culture has to be right for these things to succeed. I’ve worked with companies that have set up wellness committees that are quite separate from health and safety. That is the umbrella under which all this sits, but the wellness of employees should be a focus all year round – not just for Christmas!
I strongly urge business owners to look at their culture. Their own health and the health of their team. What can you do to optimise these key elements?
Enjoy the end of year festivities. Celebrate success and celebrate health – both mental and physical. You never know who you may have helped today by having the right programmes or processes in place.