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Assesing Stress knowing what to look for in your employees

August 17, 2008

Stress Assessment

Many leaders operate in continually high-pressure environments, so they often don’t recognize their negative responses to stress. But because long-term consequences of stressful situations can be detrimental to your health and well-being, it is important that you identify when your reactions don’t help alleviate the stress that you feel. Consider the following descriptions of common stress reactions. How often do these descriptions match your responses?

The Time Bomb

Early signs: Doesn’t acknowledge low levels of stress. Lets stressful events pass. Swallows his initial reaction to stressors.

Consequence: Takes on more and more work and responsibility. No one around him knows that he is stressed.

Over time: More and more he sends signs of distress, such as an angry comment, refusing to help a colleague, withholding information.

The end: Eventually they explode with an emotional outburst. His resources for handling stress decrease because he damages his relationships with others.

The Critic

Early signs: Picks at the details unnecessarily. Finds something negative in just about everything. Makes small critical comments that may be couched in humor as sarcasm.

Consequence: Her negative behavior keeps people at a distance and decreases her access to social support.

Over time: A pall of negativity affects the working climate of the group or team and has a negative impact on its productivity.

The end: Eventually, the negativity bruises and batters what could have been effective relationships. Her stress increases because of a lack of social support.

The Self-Indulgent

Early signs: Not able to focus on work. Distracts  them self with other, less important tasks. Unable to remain productive.

Consequence: Feels guilty about his lack of productivity. His negative self-image adds to the stress he feels.

Over time: They retreat into them self and continue to distract them self with sensory pursuits like watching TV, drinking alcohol to excess, and overeating.

The end: Eventually, there sensory pursuits detract from the ability to cope and interfere with there recovery from the stressful situation.

Everyone Suffers

Early signs: Gives undue negative feedback to others. Passes stressful tasks on to others and takes on an “If I have to suffer, so should they” attitude.

Consequence: Her behavior alienates others, and it also creates stress for them.

Over time: The productivity of entire groups and departments in which she plays a role starts to erode.

The end: Her frustration brought on by stress and her inability to alleviate it emerge as aggressive behavior toward others.

The Yes Man

Early signs: Not fazed by stress. Maintains positive working relationships. Takes on more and more tasks and claims to thrive under stress.

Consequence: Others see him as being able to handle inhuman amounts of work, so he gets more work.

Over time: Continues to accumulate more work, more responsibility.

The end: Eventually turns into a ticking time bomb, a critic, a self-indulgent monster, or an ulcer giver.

When Stress Is Who, Not What

The source of leadership stress may be not only a what but also a who. You may experience stress from a boss, a peer, or a direct report. Each of these groups contributes differently to leadership stress.

Bosses as a source of stress. If you feel that your boss doesn’t support you or show enough respect for your authority, that can bring on a stressful situation. If your management style is markedly different from that of your boss, that can also be a source of significant stress. Think about your relationship with your boss. Does he or she

  • circumvent your authority by assigning work to your direct reports?
  • fail to include you in important decisions?
  • get in your way rather than back you up?
  • remain unavailable to answer your questions?
  • micromanage and get too involved in the details of your team?

Peers as a source of stress. Stress from peers feels very different from stress caused by a boss. Competition and a lack of teamwork are the primary sources of peer-induced stress. If your colleagues’ behavior discourages collaboration, that situation can lead to stress. Think about your relationship with your peers. Do they

  • compete rather than collaborate?
  • focus on their individual output and not on the group’s achievements?
  • act overly concerned with who gets the credit?
  • lack inclusion and trust?

Direct reports as a source of stress. Performance problems among direct reports are another source of leadership stress. Developing others can contribute to leadership stress, but having to spend time and energy dealing with performance issues is what really stresses leaders. If performance isn’t a problem, direct reports are less often a significant source of stress. Think about your relationship with your direct reports. Do they

  • lack commitment?
  • resist change?
  • fail to prepare and manage projects?
  • expect you to solve all of their problems?
  • fail to implement plans or complete tasks?

Use the Stress Source Worksheet to make notes on the different causes you think contribute to the stress you feel as a leader. Review the different sources, both job related and people related, to assess the amount of stress you have to manage.

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