Don’t Let Stress Poison Your Work Environment

Raise your hand istress-263x230f this feels familiar:  you’re completely overwhelmed, frantic, and stressed to the max.  You have a never-ending task list and not enough hours in the day.  Inadvertently, you end up either burdening yourself to a breaking point resulting in poor work-product and even more stress or barking orders at your team further perpetuating the tension and negativity.

Unfortunately, many of us have been there more often than we’d like.  It’s times like these when we have to take extra care not to let our stress adversely affect our team.  When we radiate negativity, it’s bad for everyone.  Instead of letting that happen, here are a few tips for handling your stress and maintaining a positive team attitude in crazy-busy times.

First, take time to plan and prioritize.  It may seem counter-productive at the time, but sitting down and mapping out all of your tasks and their priority levels will save you countless freak-out moments down the road.  Use a “Task List” tool, whether it be on your calendar, phone, email client or good old pen and paper to capture everything currently on your plate.  Leave no task un-captured, no matter how trivial; this will help you avoid unplanned or unaccounted for work time.  This is also a good time to identify other people on your team that would be able to execute certain tasks.  Next, prioritize all of your tasks.  You can do this by importance/impact level or due date; use any method you prefer that results in a prioritized list.  Last, assign realistic timeframes to each task.  Will that memo take 15 minutes to draft or will it really take an hour?  By assigning time frames to your tasks, you’ll know if you need to delegate a task or communicate to management if something is going to slip.

Second, ask for and accept help.  When you’ve moving a million miles an hour, it seems impossible to slow down and ask for help.  It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking “It will take me longer to explain how to do this than to just do it myself.”  This is a mistake that we all make, and it’s easy to avoid.  Be clear on your expectations and take the time necessary to explain the task in detail.  By trying to do everything yourself, you are conveying to your team that you don’t think they are capable of helping or you don’t trust them enough to ask.  This results in a toxic, unconstructive work environment.  Learning how to delegate effectively is a life-changing skill that leaders should continuously work toward.

Third, communicate.  Don’t keep your team in the dark about how overwhelmed you are.  Chances are, they already know and will appreciate your transparency.  In fact, they will likely be eager to help where they can; take advantage of these opportunities to build trust and respect amongst your team.

While no “how to” blog will ever make your work stress magically disappear, these tips can at least help you avoid creating a poisonous work environment while managing that unmanageable to-do list.

Image courtesy of jesadaphorn/

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Hannah Moss

Great post, Darcy! One question: Often times, employees will try to hide their stress because they are worried that letting their boss or peers know they are overwhelmed may be perceived as admitting they aren’t up to the job. I used to have a very hard time getting my team members to admit when they needed help, for that reason. Do you have any tips for communicating your stress level in a way that might mitigate some of that fear?

Darcy Ziegler

Hannah, you make an excellent point! I’ve recently implemented forecast meetings with my client where we can discuss our workloads and then talk through realistic expectations. I think culture plays a big role here, too. If you can create a culture where saying “no” (or “not yet”) to tasks and asking for help is truly accepted and encouraged, I think it would go a long way in your team being willing to be honest about their bandwidth. And, as always, attitude reflects leadership. If your team sees you being transparent, they might feel more comfortable following suit. Thanks again for the insightful comment/question!

Amy DeWolf

Love this post – mostly for your point about delegating. This seems like one of the hardest things to do, especially for younger employees who are trying to do it all. I think the biggest thing, as you say, is understanding what you want done and then being clear in your ask. Also, being prepared that there will be hiccups along the way.