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6 Ways to Weed Stress Out of Your Culture

Director of Technology at HNI

Many of the organizations we work with are in growth mode.  In that type of environment, resources are stretched thin, and so at times are the people.  Slowly, stress starts to seep in and becomes a part of the culture.  Once rooted, it’s hard to weed out.stressed_out

The results of workplace stress have been examined thoroughly – the question is, how can we reduce stress and still have a great and productive work day?  One low hanging opportunity is in controlling the false sense of urgency that we (and our customers) create.

As someone in the field of IT, I hate to say this – but technology is a big part of the problem

The cost of being always on

While having the freedom to work from anywhere at any time is empowering, it can easily devolve into an “always on” demand on employees’ time, and that’s not healthy.  Here are a few reasons why:

Reduction in employee morale.

Never having a “real” day off or vacation can definitely corrode anyone’s morale. Even the threat of being called at any moment when you are not at work can be daunting.  

In the short run (for an important project or client deadline), this is manageable.  If this is a constant pressure, however, morale will most certainly suffer.

Increase in employee turnover.

Increasingly, employees in high demand jobs are choosing to leave the workforce prematurely or find new jobs as the economy improves.  And it’s not just any employees leaving, it’s your best ones – the high performers have no shortage of options. 

Lack of engagement on truly important projects that move your business forward.

If you deal with the “important,” you can greatly reduce the “urgent”.  If I’m fixing small, isolated problems day and night, there’s a good chance time is not being spent on strategic projects.

Compensation and costs to retain.

In addition to the cost associated with employee turnover, employees will start to expect to be compensated more highly based on the demands of the job.  It is a great exercise to document the “cost” of keeping a customer -- you might be surprised to find that when time spent is considered, your profit margins for some are quite slim.

How to fight stress and the constant sense of urgency (real or created)

Are you looking for ways to reduce stress on your team and free up employees’ time to focus on what matters most?  Here are some ideas to get started:

1) Develop an SLA (Service Level Agreement)

Create an SLA so your internal and external customers and employees understand what issues are urgent and which ones will have to wait.  Make sure to have a communication plan so the customer knows when to expect contact.  That being said, make sure you are properly staffed to live up to your SLA or customers will being finding ways to jump the queue.

“But I can’t say no to the customer….”

A common belief. But actually you can, it’s just really hard.  Most people are reasonable, they just want expectations to be set. 

2) Make after hours support an “add on.”

Some customers and situations may require more hands-on service.  So charge for special off-hours services, and make the customer aware of these charges. This is a common practice in many industries, and if you manage expectations properly, it shouldn’t be a surprise. 

3) Automate and offer self-service options.

Exploring opportunities to automate and introduce self-service functionality should probably be #1.  More and more, customers are happy to self-serve off hours (or even during the day!) and in some cases, they actually prefer it. 

Many questions can be answered electronically or using a knowledgebase.  Anticipate what kinds of issues will occur and find ways to circumvent them or provide quick answers.

4) Create real on call schedules.

If you need team members to be available after hours, don’t skirt the issue.  Create a schedule that leverages different members of the organization to “spread the work around”.  There are also many inexpensive afterhours contact centers that can be used to take the initial call and disperse resources according to your SLA.

5) Develop a culture of respect for everyone’s time

Respect for time is huge -- not only after hours, but during working hours.  Many “emergencies” are caused by procrastination and/or lack of planning, a problem that is easily solved. 

One department’s lack of planning should not become another’s sense of urgency.  For example, a friend worked for a company where the marketing campaigns were planned (by necessity) 6 months ahead, but important aspects (often involving other departments) were not even started until a few days before.  If anything goes wrong in those last few days, the wheels would fall off. 

That company, not surprisingly, suffers from an ongoing sense of false urgency that is very stressful to teammates.  Imagine having to pull an all-nighter to meet a deadline due to lack of planning!

6) Make flexibility easy

For those who are in jobs that require after hours work and on call type activities, make flexibility “easy”. 

Employees with heavy workloads may be hesitant to take time off or flex hours, even if they begin to feel burned out from working long hours or dealing with demanding customers. 

“Early Fridays”, one long weekend per month (that’s planned) or the option to work some weeks with 10 hour days are not only great for the employee, but tend to encourage loyalty to the employer. 

Take the time to make the time and reduce stress

Think about the word “recreation.”  Those that don’t “recreate” are missing out on an opportunity to re-create themselves and step back from the day to day.  They fail to see the forest through the trees, often forgoing training to try to “keep up”.

Over time, your top performers and your organization will suffer if you don’t eradicate an “always on” mindset from your culture. 

Finally, take a moment to appreciate the employees on the front line.  They are the reputation of your company and sometimes make personal sacrifices quietly and willingly to help the mission of your organization.  Recognition is not expensive, and can go a long way toward employee morale.  


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Topics: Leadership / Strategy HR / Employee Benefits