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Overload & Stress - Part 2

Yesterday I was commenting on how a big part of stress for me is getting that sudden burst of work that leaves me so far behind it seems the only answer is to just work harder - but that doesn't often work.

I think we should all manage our own careers, tasklists, and stress - but what role does the manager play?

One part is that if you take my advice and decide to just take a break, it's very common for the manager to want to deny the break 'because you've got so much on your plate'. You can show them my blog post, but I suspect that won't change their minds! The alternative is to take a couple sick days anyway, and that works.

Another part is that they aren't managing well, and I'm as guilty of this at times as anyone. Assigning tasks isn't simple, and has to take into account skills, recent projects, review and career goals, other team members...and ideally, the stress/rest level of the person being given the task. One of the evil paradoxes is that managers tend to give the hardest/most important projects to their best people - part compliment, part realism, but over time the best people get tired and cranky while the less talented ones are cruising along happily. It's not always easy to tell, as a manager you definitely wish for a gauge on their forehead that will tell you their mood and energy reserves, but you have to infer it and that doesn't always work.

It can also be a case of not managing well when you're not holding them to intermediate goals, letting the deadline (and the stress) build up to the last minute. Yet another instance is giving them multiple things to do and not setting real priorities - is it this one or that one?

Perhaps the toughest part on both sides is when someone tells you they are stressed. Sometimes that's a nice calm conversation, sometimes it's work not quite as good as usual, sometimes it's a screaming fit. Most of us don't recognize the magnitude of the stress, we don't like to admit that we are stressed, and we definitely don't want to tell our manager (who is just supposed to know). Once we know someone is stressed, are we in a calm place to hear and respond - or is more like "we're all working hard right now"? And if that isn't enough, managers also report to someone, and that someone may not be as enlightened, causing a mildly complex problem to be that much harder.

I was trying to think of an analogy, and my first thought was that there is only so much gas in the tank - but that's not a good match. I think maybe better is oil changes. You can put off an oil change for a while, but do it long enough and real damage can result, causing more downtime than if you just took the car out of service for the couple hours needed for the oil change. The question is 'how long is too long', and that's where being human we tend to stretch it right to the edge.

Don't expect your manager to manage your stress, or even to care. Don't get me wrong, it's great if they do, but you have to be set to survive bad managers, or at least managers that don't read minds.


I'm Andy Warren, currently a SQL Server trainer with End to End Training. Over the past few years I've been a developer, DBA, and IT Director. I was one of the original founders of SQLServerCentral.com and helped grow that community from zero to about 300k members before deciding to move on to other ventures.


Posted by Steve Jones on 25 March 2009

I think you definitely need to recognize when the stress is building and let your manager know. A good one will work with you, a bad one might not care, but you've let it out. At least you have a place from which to pursue further actions, and perhaps reassess if this is the job you want to be in.

Posted by Roy Ernest on 25 March 2009

Steve, I agree that a good manager would work with you. The average and bad ones are always on the look out for keeping Business owners happy.

And that is what is happening here in my work. Now I am reassessing if I want to continue here. The probelm right now is the tough economy.

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