Stress affects everyone, but it’s easy to forget that. Once you get sensitized to it, it’s amazing to pick up on the behavioral changes that happen to co-workers under certain kinds of stress. We may consider their issue to be stressful, but we don’t get to decide. Don’t dismiss their reaction or trivialize it, it’s real to them – and so to you.
Let’s start with a review of common stressors:
- Lack of sleep (late night break/fix, sick kid, etc)
- Unfair situations (why does my team have to do this work, why doesn’t team X?)
- Getting married, divorced, etc
- Financial problems
- Having to do work that they aren’t comfortable in
- Dealing with new team members (or any type of change)
- Pressure (deadlines)
- Frustration at short term/inelegant solutions (especially us IT geeks!)
That’s certainly not all of them, but you can see that not all are work related. Some resolve quickly, others may last a year.
Stress can lead to the “fight” response,which can mean them fighting with you to the point – if you let it – that they’ll fight themselves right into being unemployed. In the worst case that may be necessary,but more often you have to let them vent, or at least give them time to get back to center. If you fight back, which is a natural response, it will just escalate.
When I see people under stress I try to understand why. From there sometimes I can help them reduce it by showing them a different view, or by talking about doing things like taking a walk, or writing the email and deleting without sending. Sometimes they are closed off and when they are, you just have to hope that you can find someone else they trust, or that it works itself out. You can’t always remove the stress for them.
Criticism is hard to deliver on the best of days, my rule of thumb is deliver it quietly and simply, because most people (including me) just don’t like being criticized. It’s hard to know what’s best, but I’ve taken to scheduling a meeting that clearly indicates “let’s spend a few minutes talking about problems/challenges with x”. That let’s them know it may not be the most positive conversation, gives them some time to gear up their own stress management techniques. Just don’t do it a week ahead of time! A couple of hours notice is great, certainly same day. Don’t have them sweating about it across other meetings and a night at home. I should add that you can tailor this based on your relationship with them, if you know you can do a drop in and work it into a conversation it feels less formal, less threatening.
All it takes is seeing them as people under stress. If you can learn to spot that, you’re going to reduce your own stress and do a lot better job of keeping good people on the team for the long term.