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How to Manage a Stressed Colleague

How to Manage a Stressed Colleague

Take positive steps when managing a stressed colleague

The Times

I’m managing someone who claims to have stress and is working reduced hours, but I think they are pulling the wool over my eyes. As times get tougher, the rest of the team are becoming increasingly suspicious and resentful.

This will come as no surprise to an increasing number of managers. As times get tougher, organizations can increase the pressure without even knowing it, and, for some people, symptoms associated with stress will surface. Managers should beware, however, that for some employees, suffering from stress is the new black.

For them it is a badge that can differentiate them from others, drawing sympathy and understanding inside and outside work. It is a big attention-getter. For others, and I would argue a much smaller group, it is a real problem, quite often not generated initially through a workplace issue, but which pressures at work can make worse. The challenge is to work out into which group your employee falls as both behave similarly.

Get an external assessment

Even in a small business it is essential to have access to a medical professional to whom you can refer staff for an independent assessment. A local family doctor will do this for you and it is worth the investment. You want to know whether there is anything substantial happening to merit time off work or erratic performance. If there isn’t, you have a straightforward performance issue and manage it as such. Establish goals, be clear on expectations, set timescales and spell out the consequences for failing to deliver.

Focus on performance

This performance-focused approach works just as well to support stress-reduction. Stressed people end up doing less and less as they worry more and more about what they have to do. Strip the role back to a few clear and simple tasks and set sensible timescales. Don’t think a year ahead – think a month or two ahead and put in place regular progress reviews. Manage this closely and supportively but always with the view to achieving results.

Without breaking confidentiality, find a way of letting the team know what you are doing to support a return to full performance and ask for their support and understanding. Find a way of not handing out additional work to the team: creating a stressed team is no solution.

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Set a review period

Be clear about how long you will allow performance to remain below standards. No organization can carry a substandard performer indefinitely. Decide how long you will invest in rebuilding performance. Halfway through, do an assessment of progress and, if little improvement is evident, start planning a more significant change. Team morale saps quickly in these circumstances and needs to be watched carefully.

Act in a person’s best interest

No organization is a replacement for a medical or social service. In the end, if it really is too stressful for the individual to carry on in the role and the impact on others is negative, then look for a role that is less important or intense.

If there isn’t one, support the individual in leaving the organization. Ultimately, they will benefit just as much as you.

Christopher Bones is Dean of Henley Business School at the University of Reading.

Courtesy of © 2008 YellowBrix, Inc.

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