De-Stressing the Workplace
A Calming Theme
Work is stressful, according to the American Psychological Association’s most recent Stress in America survey, conducted last August. Work is a somewhat or significant stressor for 76 percent of Millennials, 65 percent of Gen Xers, 62 percent of Boomers, and 39 percent of Matures. The low percentage of Matures can be attributed to the fact that only 8 percent of them are employed full time.
It could be the work environment, pressure to be productive, or coworkers who are just plain uncooperative; whatever it is, American workers seem to be on edge. At least, that’s the assumption one can make when looking at some of the new business books that deal directly or indirectly with workplace stress. Increasingly, stress on the job is a topic business book authors are writing about in a variety of ways.
In her book Success Under Stress (AMACOM, 978-0-8144-3212-9), business psychologist and stress-resilience speaker Sharon Melnick writes that de-stressing requires three fundamental changes: “changing your perspective,” “changing your physiology,” and “changing the problem.” Melnick’s straightforward approach goes beyond the workplace, but chapters like “How to Stay Rational When Someone is Driving You Nuts” and “How to Get Other People to Stop Stressing You Out” are particularly valuable in dealing with coworkers.
For instance, one strategy the author recommends is learning how to influence people for their reasons. “The cardinal rule of influencing other people,” writes Melnick, “is to frame your requests in terms of What’s In It For Them (WIIFT). Everyone is motivated for his or her own reasons. Their reasons for taking action are not the same as your reasons for wanting them to take action. For strong leverage, figure out WIIFT!”
Melnick’s writing is level-headed, insightful, and instilled with positive energy. Each chapter in the book includes helpful examples, relevant techniques, useful tools, and action plans.
When it comes to tempering the bitchy co-worker, psychologist Meredith Fuller’s Working with Bitches (Da Capo Lifelong Books, 978-0-7382-1658-4) offers an eye-opening education. This gender-specific book identifies “the eight types of office mean girls” and how to deal with them. As fascinating as it is instructional, Working with Bitches analyzes not just the behavior of each type of difficult personality, but also the reasons behind the behavior—insight that is exceedingly valuable to the victim—as well as strategies for working with each type.
Fuller includes numerous real examples, collected from her thirty years in practice, to demonstrate each personality type in all its glory. The author’s descriptions are pointed and on target. For example, “the Narcissist,” writes Fuller, “makes a great first impression and ‘manages’ up brilliantly,” but she can make a coworker “feel exploited, hurt, patronized, belittled, ignored, unattractive in her image-conscious eyes, inconsequential, boring, or lackluster.” Fuller’s warning: “Never expect her to keep any promises—in fact, expect nothing. Get everything in writing—she loves to change her mind.”
Fuller draws the connection between “mean girls” and on-the-job angst with this observation: “If you are working with a bitch, the things that cause stress are magnified.”
Of course, workplace stress can just as easily be self-inflicted. It may be the result of “the negative voice of your subconscious … self-defeating feelings and thoughts that lead you into trouble and keep you stuck there,” write Tish Squillaro and Timothy Thomas in HeadTrash: Cleaning Out the Junk that Stands Between You and Success (Emerald Book Co., 978-1-937110-52-9). Leadership management consultants Squillaro and Thomas suggest that fear, arrogance, insecurity, control, anger, guilt, and paranoia “are the demons that plague business leaders most frequently, causing them to get stuck personally and professionally.” In a breezy, contemporary voice, the authors address each of these seven forms of “HeadTrash” individually. They use anecdotes, checklists, and quizzes, and make recommendations for how to overcome them. The authors point out that, while everyone has some amount of HeadTrash, when it goes unaddressed by leaders, “it can have a profoundly negative impact on them, their teams, and their whole businesses.” Sure sounds like a recipe for a stressful workplace.
Former CEO and organizational consultant Steven Snyder writes from an altogether different perspective in his book Leadership and the Art of Struggle (Berrett-Koehler, 978-1-60994-644-9). Snyder believes that leadership must be viewed through a “Struggle Lens” that “presents a new portrait of leadership … emphasizing the realization of human potential through the crucible of adversity.” Snyder asked scores of leaders to describe a time of great struggle in their careers and found that three defining elements formed a common thread across their struggles: 1) “Change plays a prominent role in leadership struggle.” 2) “This change creates a natural set of tensions.” 3) “The tensions throw the leader off balance.” Snyder’s writing is analytical, thought provoking, and relevant to the workplace. Sharing original stories of leaders’ struggles and analyzing them, the author helps the reader map out his or her own tensions, understand how to navigate them, rise above adversity, and ultimately discover a path to growth. Following Snyder’s guidelines should have a positive impact on relieving the manager’s on-the-job stress.
Each of these books approaches the issue of stress in an entirely different way. The first book focuses on tools for staying calm, the second describes strategies for dealing with bitchy co-workers, the third concentrates on internalized elements that could undermine success, and the fourth assesses the struggles all leaders experience. But together, these books share a common platform: to help managers and their reports alike cope with the challenging stresses of work. Clearly, the authors of these books believe more than a few deep breaths and meditation exercises are needed to de-stress the workplace—it takes targeted strategies to remain calm on the job.
Barry Silverstein is a freelance writer who specializes in business, branding, and marketing. He is the author of six business books.