Learning to let go of stress

I am back at work after eight weeks off enjoying time with my children and a great summer. It feels great to be back doing what I love, working with teams to improve performance and culture.

Here’s what I am noticing, people are exhausted and it’s only February! In today’s economy, people are being asked to do more with less, this has been a theme for some time and it doesn’t look like it’s going to change. The impact is a rise of major health issues and a reduction of productivity in the workplace which affects both workers and businesses.

How do you navigate this when it often feels like you are powerless to do so?

Begin with a conversation, get together as a team and discuss your work load, business expectations and the reality of what you can deliver. Establish your current reality, where are you now, and if you keep operating the way you are, what does the future look like?

What can you dump, delegate or outsource. What do you need to keep? Improving communication with team members will ensure that you are not duplicating processes or working on tasks that are not important.

What are the conversations that need to happen with your managers and what conversations do they need to have with their leaders? The impact of maintaining an overworked pace is well researched. Stress leads to lack of sleep, which impacts not only health and wellbeing but also the ability to make sound decisions, which can have a costly impact on the business.

Family lives are put under increased pressure, resulting in more stress and anxiety and in some cases the breakdown of family units. Researchers testing drivers who were suffering from sleep deprivation (a symptom of stress) determined that they responded the same as drivers who had had two alcoholic drinks. This impacts effective decision-making and health and wellbeing.

There is a paradox here, and finding the balance is not always easy. People want to be stretched. The best team experiences that team members often share with me are ones where they achieved something they thought was not possible, usually with limited resources. Research by leadership and management expert Liz Wiseman supports this.

Wiseman’s research showed that “managers are utilizing just 66% of their people’s capability. In other words, the managers in our analysis pay a dollar for their resources but only extract 66 cents in capability — a 34% waste.

However, the costs of underutilized employees are far deeper than just the waste of payroll dollars. People who are underutilized by their managers described their experience as ‘frustrating’ and ‘exhausting’. Inevitably, the most talented employees quit, leaving you with an expensive turnover problem. The less confident staff often ‘quit-and-stay’, leaving you with a more destructive moral problem as disillusioned employees infect the culture.”

Team members like to be stretched. However, by overstretching and maintaining the pace, team members can burn out.

Grab a glass and fill it halfway with water, hold it, is it heavy? Probably not, is it heavy if you hold it for one minute, still not heavy? What happens when you hold it for an hour without putting it down? For two hours, three hours – it’s getting heavy to hold. Hold it for a day and you may need an ambulance!

It’s like that with our stress levels. The issue often isn’t the stress; it’s how long we hold onto it. We need to find ways to put our loads (stress) down for a while. Some tips to help you to do this:

  • Focus on what’s important and what you can influence, let go of what you can’t control
  • Talk to your business leaders about the impact on the business of not making sustainability an important team/business issue
  • Make sustainability a personal and team responsibility, look out for yourself and others
  • Keep communicating with team members/family
  • Find ways to work smarter
  • Say no at least twice a day
  • Get some sleep
  • Eat well and exercise

Pollyanna Lenkic is the founder of Perspectives Coaching, an Australian-based coaching and training company.


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