Stress is a major problem for businesses and any organisations in which people are thrown together for a common purpose.
This is a complex issue which is developed in a number of papers on this site (as listed below).
Firstly, to what extent is the stress felt by people in the business created within the business and by the circumstances of the business? In other words, how much of the stress is a reaction to business?
Secondly, to what extent is the stress in a business imported by (particularly its key) people from their lives outside the business? In other words, to what extent is the source of the stress in the business nothing directly to do with the business.
These are not mutually exclusive and both can—and do—show up in businesses.
Further, to an extent, we are stressed at work because we choose to see a situation as stressful rather than as something else.
Finally, managers have to recognise that different people are stressed to different degrees by the same situations (this is partly explained by the previous point, of course).
It’s understandable that when a business is performing poorly, stress is created in the people in the business. Ironically, this is often a symptom of businesses which are actually successful: successfully providing services to satisfied clients. However, the organisation of the business has not kept up with the growth of the business, and its increasing lack of fitness of purpose adversely affects the staff and directors.
In the immortal advice of Darren Shirlaw, businesses in startup only need to do one thing and that is to get clients.
If the clients are not coming on board quickly enough, stress levels are likely to rise, not least because there are a number of ways this can happen:
Firstly, there is a need to learn more about running a business and to do it better (many business owners believe, for some reason, that the business can’t afford to spend money on training the owner to run it effectively; in truth, a business cannot afford not to be run by someone who knows what they are doing). This results in:
Secondly, there is a failure to apply crucial business processes well enough, particularly:
There is little to add to the obvious suggestion that, in both these cases, those in the business will simply have to acquire more skills and knowledge, bearing in mind that not all would-be providers of these skills and knowledge know enough about the business sector in question to be of much use.
Thirdly, the business has chosen inappropriate means of marketing itself. Cheap email campaigns will turn off prospective buyers if you are offering them a premium product or service. Worse, your target market will wonder what possessed you to approach them in that way. (The people such campaigns do appeal to will not, of course, be in the market for your product or service.) Again, getting some consultancy or advice is the only remedy but, again, it has to be remembered that not all would-be providers really know what they are doing (and some will just teach you how to market your business as if it were their business).
Fourthly, where client acquisition is part of the overall process offered by the business (as in my case, but also that of many consultants, coaches, advisers and so on to say nothing of marketing people), business people will benefit from networking better. This is a proven technique for getting warm leads and clients.
> Networking guide
> blog: Stop selling!—2
> A short piece about scarcity models
Stress can also erupt when people working together for the first time, or in a new context, get disillusioned with their colleague(s). This is always about relationship issues (never the business—that’s just the excuse for the argument).
> Stages of a business relationship
The business may actually be in one or other of the two transitional stages either side of the growth stage and defined here. If so, it requires exceptionally careful and aware management and leadership.
The solution to this is nothing less than a thorough overhaul of the business under the following nine headings: Brand, Pipeline, Change, Information, Communication, Process, Infrastructure, Plan and Leadership. Luckily, the overhaul needn’t be done as a big one-off exercise—in fact, it shouldn’t be. Rather, it should be an ongoing process (which comes under the heading Change). One hopes not all of these areas will need attention, but they will all need review to establish whether they do or not.
> Business life cycle
> Moving into maturity
Once again, stress can develop when people are working together (in fact, it almost invariable does). Whilst this may seem to be about the business, again this is always about the relationships between the people, both within the business and with clients, suppliers and the rest.
> Stages of a business relationship
Often the need to get clients, driven by negative beliefs about scarcity (possibly to the detriment of all else), and probably driven by memories of the hard time experienced in startup getting the business going, dominates the approach of the key people in the business.
In both cases (start up and growth businesses), whilst it is tempting to ascribe the cause of the stress to a somewhat abstract concept—the performance of the business—in truth the stress is created by the response of the people in the business to its performance. In many cases, time and resources are spent in the business when they would be better spent on the business.
The idea that people at work get stressed because the work creates the stress is almost comforting when placed against the alternative: that people at work get stressed because they are already stressed by the factors outside the work and they are simply importing these into the work place. This can happen in number of ways:
Firstly, the individual cannot let go of a real stressful event just because they have stepped through the office door. This might apply to a bereavement, serious trouble in a personal relationship, serious money worries and so on. It is only reasonable that the consequences of these events play on an individual’s mind wherever he or she is.
Unfortunately, while the individual needs help in dealing with them, the help that is needed has nothing to do with business advice or coaching: bereavement counselling, financial advice and marriage guidance are the order of the day. Some people will not admit they need help (they may even not be truly aware that they do), some people may resist the idea of help. If they cannot see that the consequence of this extends beyond their personal life to the business as a whole that can prove serious if perpetuated for any length of time.
For example, I have lost count of the number of occasions where a poor situation in a business is a reflection of a poor situation in the owner’s marriage. And, when the marriage is sorted, the business mysteriously takes off without any further intervention in it by either the owner or me.
True stories illustrating where the owner, or other key person, brings his or her own issues—effectively one or more stressors—into the business with a detrimental effect:
> Seeing the light
> How one client got out of his own way
> Too busy
> Email blizzard
> High anxiety
This is about personal attitude: the beliefs which an individual holds about stress. It is often helpful for them to reposition stress as something more useful. I must stress (ahem) that this is only possible to a degree—ultimately severe stress is severe stress. But, for those people who have never thought of considering that some stress may be something more benign, the following model should be of help:
> Stretch, don’t stress
by Jeremy Marchant . © 2016 Jeremy Marchant Limited . published 24 april 2014 . extended 23 january 2016 . this page will be extended further . image: Free images
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