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Author: Rowena Heal

5 Ways Project Managers Can Use Stress to Their Advantage

What does swearing, kissing, chewing gum and eating garlic all have in common? Well, apparently they are just some of the more unusual ways you can quickly reduce your stress levels.

In the workplace, chronic stress impacts around one in five people and is thought to cause 105 million sick days each year, at a cost of some £1.24bn to UK business. The full scale of the issue is not really known, however, as according to one poll in 2010, many people who take sick days due to stress admit lying to their employer.

For project managers, workplace stress can either be a motivator or a major inhibitor of your team’s productivity. Below are five simple ways you can turn stress into an advantage right now.

1. Increase your team’s stress tolerance

Control the flow of smaller, manageable amounts of stress to help increase your team’s tolerance to future problems. This can help strengthen their abilities to handle tougher issues more effectively and when chronic problems arise they will be more aware of the impact, quicker to respond and much more effective in controlling it.

Don’t be afraid of sudden increases in workload or new, unplanned projects. Instead use them as opportunities to help your team enhance their abilities to handle pressure and achieve better results.

Introducing them to basic stress-reduction techniques such as mindfulness and better time-management skills at the same time will also help develop key coping strategies. Just make sure you communicate with your team and install processes to help them tackle the problem together.

2. Learn what disrupts your daily workflow

When you are stressed you tend to strip out what is not immediately important so it’s a good idea to learn what is necessary and what is not. Stress can help uncover the smaller, more annoying distractions that fill your team’s usual routine and damage productivity.

Far from being a positive interruption to your daily working life, emails can be an addictive disturbance. You wouldn’t sit by the door at home waiting for the postman to arrive, so don’t let your team get obsessed with every email and with zeroing their inboxes. It doesn’t work, and it’s a waste of time.

You can set limits by restricting the use of email outside of work after hours and encourage teams not to check or reply to anything outside of normal working hours. From a team management perspective, it means you never really know what your team’s capacity is.

Make sure you are also using an effective time and work management platform and email archiving tool to take out the headache once and for all.

3. Give passionate individuals the chance to shine

Everyone is different: some people are useless before 10 am but happy to work until 7 pm, others are early birds that are great at 8 am but flag around 3 pm. Recognizing this, and giving people the options of how best they want to work, can work wonders for office attitudes, approaches, and staff morale.

There has been a lot of debate about changing to a three-day weekend or installing a half-day Wednesday. In October 2014, Travelzoo polled 2,000 people in the UK and found that 63% of working adults said they would rather work four 10-hour days than the traditional working week. Psychologist Dr. Linda Papadopoulos assisted in the study and said: “Businesses should afford their staff enough time to be individuals as well as employees, so they feel valued, leading to greater job satisfaction, engagement and overall happiness.”

4. Bind your team together

Too many managers just delegate the work they either don’t have time to do or don’t want to do. Instead, find out the interests of your team members and work to engage them. Try and bundle some of the work up into a complete mini-project?

You can then use it to engage an employee’s interest and enhance their learning. Is there someone who really wants the opportunity to prove themselves? Your team won’t grow unless you challenge them with positive and exciting projects, let them be accountable for their successes and failures, encourage their creativity and help expand their comfort zones.

5. Encourage your team to reach higher

If managed properly, stress can be a great motivator. Short bursts of acute stress can be positive and invigorate your team. If your team is chronically stressed however, and let’s face it your stress might be making them stressed, you can count on one thing – their productivity taking a nose dive. People are not motivated by graphs and spreadsheets showing how well you’ve done. Make thank you part of your vocabulary.

Teambuilding exercises and corporate activity days have a really bad reputation as a complete waste of time and only serve to bring people together in hatred of you as their manager. Schedule in a regular team catch up where you don’t talk about work. Long-lunch Fridays are popular to promote team bonding where you can discuss the successes and failures of the week.

Getting creative with stress can bring your team together as an effective unit, increase their focus, enhance the quality of their work, make office life more fun and reduce any negative impacts. As an effective team leader it falls to you to use stress, not ignore it.

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