How much stress is caused by factors that may be outside a manager's direct control, such as offshore outsourcing of jobs? I studied that. Interestingly enough, somewhere in the neighbourhood [of] 40 percent of the impact is caused by on-the-job stress; 60 percent is caused by personal, life experience stressors. The manager can, of course, deal more directly with the on-the-job stress things. You can't eliminate them, because deadlines will always exist, customer demands will always exist. But you can deal with some things like unreasonable demands. You can deal with expectation by having the [worker] set the goals and the deadlines, or at least participate in that setting, rather than just dictating. One of the most effective techniques in levelling the stress is participant management - let your people participate in the process. You pay them a lot of money for their brain power and it's kind of foolish to ignore it.
You're obviously sensitive to the issue of stress, but let's say another manager isn't, and the employee is worried about his stress level. How does that employee communicate his concerns about excessive stress to his manager? You can, of course, try to talk to your manager, and your manager may be sensitive to it if it's brought to them. Many companies have employee assistance programs that are private referral - they can go talk to someone who is a professional in dealing with stress levels and get help without the company being aware that they are fighting that battle. And one of the big problems, I think, is a lot of the very serious stressors are also very personal. If you have a serious disease you may not want to tell the people at the office if you can avoid it. IT workers have people problems just like everybody else and then we layer some of the other problems of the IT environment on top of the people problems.
For IT workers who don't deal with their stress levels, what are there risks? The higher your stress level, and the longer it stays that way, there are serious medical risks. If you have a high stress level, you have an 80 percent chance of contracting some significant illness in the next two years [and] your chances of being sick are much higher. If you're sick, your stress level will go up again and you may be too ill to be able to perform the job.
How did you get interested in this? Many years ago, I went to a stress management session [at an IT user conference] and the speaker scared me to the point that I decided that I better get my stress levels under control. And so I started a process to do that, and as I did that I became interested in the subject of managing stress and have pursued for it for 25 years.
What are a couple of simple things that an IT person can do to get better control of his/her stress level?Easy things. Exercise - and that doesn't mean you have to run a marathon, but walk, ride a bike, walk your dog. Other things you can do are learn to relax, learn meditation, learn breathing exercises, participate in your religion - all of those things are very effective stress managers.
Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.