Are You Stuck in the Middle? How Today’s Busy Managers Can Avoid Stress and Burnout

By Dr. Rhonda Savage

Are you waking up at night with workplace scenarios playing through your head? These are tough times, but there are definitely ways to cope. What will give you the cutting edge? Leadership laced with humor, sensitivity and a great attitude!  After all, managers are dealing with so much stress these days. Their employees are worried about layoffs, and salary cuts prevail. Cuts in worker hours are shrinking paychecks. In addition, more work is piled on existing workers rather than hire new ones.

Caught in the middle of it all are the managers. They’re the ones who are faced with the need to double the impact of the business and increase productivity, while at the same time downsizing their teams and keeping the top producers happy!  As a manager stuck in the heart of this stress and chaos, you’re likely facing the possibility of burnout from both ends. Before getting stuck, remember that tough economic times call for tough leadership and management strategies!  Leadership doesn’t always have to be on a large scale to matter. In fact, it’s often the small things that matter more to the success of your employees and the company.

Go back to the basics. Get to know your company and your employees. Stay up to date on industry knowledge and trends. Be clear about your company’s goals, scheduling and production. Work a day a week on the production floor and know first-hand about your team’s concerns.

Push yourself forward and get advice from others. Seek out mentors in your world because leadership is taught; it is not innate. Managing others is a different skill set than performing a task-oriented job. Your mentor will encourage you to read and open your mind to change! The burning question is: Are willing are you to change?

Get an outside opinion. Ask your employees for honest feedback! Effective managers “wear their rank well,” which means that they view and use their responsibility as a leader with humility, never abusing the leadership position the company has given them.

Be humble. When was the last time you asked questions about your leadership ability? Ask your team: “What are my strengths, weaknesses? What do I do right, what do I do wrong? What should I stop doing? What should I never stop doing?”  And say: “P.S. You won’t get fired for answering honestly!” We’re all human, and during tough times it’s easy to make a mistake. A strong leader acknowledges an error or wrongdoing. If you want to be a better leader, learn to apologize.

Be fair to your team … especially if you were once “one of them.” Managers must confront uncomfortable issues and handle them in an efficient and balanced way.  What do people look for from leaders? They want a leader who is fair, consistent and holds everyone to the same level of accountability. As General Norman Schwarzkopf said, “You don’t have to be liked to be respected. And to get respect, you must give respect! You lead by example!” Don’t ask your team to have their desks and workplaces organized and clean when your desk looks like a bomb’s gone off! Also, personal use of the cell phone or internet during business hours sets a poor example!

Be a good listener – and a good communicator. Managers who are able to listen to both sides of the story will fare well in the workplace. Exemplary leadership means constantly refining your communication abilities.

Your employees will not hear your message the same way. Do you think you’re over-communicating? Research has shown that as leaders, we actually under-communicate by a ratio of 1-10!  While you may feel like “you’re beating a dead horse,” your employees may need to hear the same message in different ways to truly hear it! On the other hand, if you’ve been very clear about your message and someone isn’t listening, remember the wise lesson of experienced horsemen: “If the horse is dead, get off!” As a manager, find different ways to communicate with your team through texting, memos, e-mails and one-on-one conversations. Communication is difficult to do well; don’t give up! 

Be enthusiastic and have fun! During tough times, it’s easy to get bogged down by all the negatives in the workplace. You can’t laugh and hold tension at the same time. Laughter softens how people feel and opens the door for learning. At the core of a manager’s culture is a “can-do” spirit that welcomes challenge. Does your “can-do” spirit shine through?

Know when to make hard decisions. Leadership isn’t always easy, and during tough economic times, it means making tough choices like knowing which performers can be salvaged and which ones need to be let go.  If you do not make the decisions, you’re not leading, you’re following. If you have a hard decision to make, make that choice tomorrow! Sit down tonight and write down the steps you need to take to implement the decision. Talk to the boss. If you come to the same agreement, make the decision and move forward.

Bonus Tip: It’s too late – you’re well on the road to stress and burnout. What next?

  • Make a stress shred list!  Write down the names of people, worries, pressures and concerns that are adding to your stress and then shred it!

  • Manage your time. Write a list, in descending order of importance, of what you need to do each day. Set limits for yourself and learn to say, “No!”

  • Find peace in deep breathing exercises: Sit straight up, close your eyes and relax. Find a positive object to focus on, then inhale deeply. Hold the breath for eight seconds and then slowly exhale.

  • Treat yourself to self-massage: It’s fun and free! Focus on creating firm, circular massage to your forehead, cheeks and neck.

  • Laughter: Humor is first aid for the soul. The best laughter for all is when you poke fun at yourself!

  • Run! Walk! Get outdoors! Exercise every morning and you’ll go to work with a fresh perspective. If afternoons are better for you, treat yourself to an outdoor session after lunch or after work.

Stress is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to make you tense, irritable, upset and unhappy. Even though times are tough, continue to be excited and motivated by your dreams, not pushed by your problems! Managers have a tough but exciting role – to face these challenges head on, you have to be a better leader. All of that begins with developing your skills and character, through small, daily changes and actions.

Read other articles and learn more about Dr. Rhonda Savage.

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