02 Oct 2017 19:48 IST

Welcome to the ‘pressure cooker’ workplace!

In these stressful times, there’s no substitute for knowing when to slow down

Many years ago, I received a cute birthday greeting card (e-greetings were not yet in vogue). The face of the card read: ‘If you are calm and composed when others are agitated…’, and the page inside completed the sentence with: “. . .maybe you don’t understand the situation’! This aptly summarises the stressed lives we lead.

While the reasons for and responses to stress may vary, stress has become an epidemic in every occupation. It has invaded our lives so thoroughly that some corporates have come to believe that stress is synonymous with productivity and is necessary if you want to succeed. I, too, have experienced stress for many years during my corporate life.

Busting myths

As I brood on the subject, I recall reading some good advice on managing stress from Ricardo Semler, the maverick CEO of Semco Corporation, in Brazil, where democracy at work is taken to new levels, with employees determining their own salaries each year. Semler writes in Harvard Business Review on how to manage stress. Here is some of his wisdom. It all begins with busting five myths:

- Results are proportionate to efforts.

- Quantity of work is more important than quality.

- The present restructuring/scheme of things requires longer working hours temporarily.

- No one else can do it right. The truth is, you are replaceable, as everyone will discover within a week of your funeral!

- The problem is urgent. The difference between ‘important’ and ‘urgent’ is the distinction between thoughtfulness and panic.

Beat the heat

Semler also offers a few brilliant cures for beating the stress:

- Set an hour to leave office and obey it blindly.

- Take half a day on a Saturday to rummage through the mountain of paper (mails, today) in your office and put it in three piles (folders):

o Priority items that require your personal attention. If you put more than five or six documents (mails) in this folder, start over!

o Items that require your personal attention, but not right away. Using this folder is tempting because every paper/mail fits in it! If you have subordinates who are 70 per cent ready, farm it out to them.

o Everything else goes in the third folder.

- Buy another waste-paper basket. Toss out each item from basket one and ask yourself, “What is the worst thing that can happen if I throw this out?”. If you don’t tremble, sweat or grow faint, put it in the second basket.

- Don’t rush to every lunch and meeting invitation. Transform meetings into phone calls.

- Spend half a day every week away from work, to think.

- Occasionally close your door; even if you follow the open door policy.

These words of wisdom come from a leader who runs one of world’s best managed companies. At the end of the day, it is only with discipline and an acute sense of awareness that you can deliver more while leading a stress-free life. Work-outs are good, but there’s no substitute for knowing when to slow down and doing so.