The Dangers Of Second-Hand Stress
Emotions are contagious: just as the positive vibe from winning a Bid, securing a new client or negotiating a great deal are the things we all feed off at work, the negativity and feelings of despondency from stress given off by colleagues, and the wider organisation, can be devastating for people not even remotely involved in what is going on.
Second-hand stress is inevitable and inescapable due to the highly inter-connected lifestyles we lead and the way in which the pressure cooker of the working environment seeps into everything we do. This can come from conversations, body language and written communication and through social media. Not all stress is bad news, however: acceptable levels of stress will force you to perform at your best, push up your ability to reach the goal that you seek and it will produce better results, BUT only when the stress you are experiencing is at a reasonable level. It does not interfere with your thinking and health long-term, and where excesses in stress levels are temporary, until the task or job is finished.
So, what can managers do to reduce this contagion?
Identify the source
Find out what people are anxious and what is troubling them. It is no good being concerned about high stress levels in the team, you need to get in there and deal with the situation and not just watch it all unfold and come to pieces before your eyes! Get staff to describe what they are feeling, what their emotions are and try to find ways of coping with that situation. Providing a way for emotions to come to the surface will always help identify where the stress is coming from which will help you to stop it from infecting others around you.
The stress of others might not be a stress factor for yourself BUT you must show empathy for the other person’s situation. This will mean keeping your emotions in check and showing compassion will encourage positive conversations that reduces stress and creates openness. Being helpful and listening is a key ingredient in creating a far more productive and harmonious workplace.
Know who to avoid
it is not always possible to be totally compassionate towards the most negative and stress-generating individuals around you, so it is sensible and prudent to minimise your interactions with that person. This must be done with care and skill so that you do not deliberately single them out for limited interaction that others can see, and which will generate wider stress and uncertainty about your actions.
Positivity breeds positivity
Being surrounded by positive people creates an atmosphere of a strong, can-do, culture where goals are achieved and there is likely to be a strong push for continual improvement. Promoting optimism needs to be done in all areas of the organisation and with all members of staff. Always bear in mind that the most negative person in the team may be impossible to reach out to and change, but the team members in the middle, who can be swayed away from negativity, are where your attention should be focused. Having the only voice in the room creating and generating negativity is a certain way to create widespread stress, doubt and insecurity.
Always think Big Picture!
Personal stress is often wrapped up in an unhealthy fixation onto what are relatively small issues or events that infect and then distort our rational thinking. This is all about changing mindsets to look at the next level up in terms of goals and performance, trying to put the current issues in the context of a bigger goal and realising that dealing with these situations and feelings can be managed. Connecting the stress issues to wider career objectives is a way of realigning focus and bringing some context to the feelings of the stressed individual.
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