How To Manage Stress At Work? Where Does Your Anxiety Come From and How To Reduce It

Oct 26, 2023, Written by Jim Miley

How To Manage Stress At Work

Building a business is hard work. Whether you start from nothing or take over a large team, there are headwinds, rough seas, and obstacles you must overcome to succeed. It’s not for everybody.

But I believe most people who set their mind to running a business are ready for the challenge; moreover, it’s the challenge that fuels their desire to run the business. It’s often a “put me in coach” mindset where you want to take on the challenge, engage in the competition, and prove yourself worthy. 

Building a business can also be stressful. Stress can have tangible adverse consequences for both your mental and physical health, some of which you have likely experienced personally.

Anxiety, fatigue, trouble sleeping, poor diet, weight gain, substance abuse, mood swings…. We’ve all been there in one way or another.  

Hard Work Is Not The Problem

It’s common for people to attribute their stress to working hard, and while excessive work beyond your capacity can cause stress, I believe it’s more often a symptom than a root cause.  

Hard work alone moves us to fatigue and needed rest. After a good run of hard work, I’m often okay to skip the cocktail hour and hit the sack. On its own, hard work doesn’t really put me in a bad mood or leave me feeling anxious, but quite the opposite. I often feel accomplished and ready for a good night’s sleep.  

Most people have experienced periods of plain hard work in their lives where they wanted the struggle, embraced the work, and felt gratification over anxiety as the product of the work. The point is that work alone won’t necessarily drive us to anxiety or worry.  

There are other factors that, when added to hard work, tend to make us feel anxious or unsettled.  

What Causes Work Stress?

I have a tale of two work cities. My early career work city was an international manufacturing firm. I had clear objectives, good data on my performance, and a culture of collaboration all around me. I worked hard for a number of years, had children, bought a home, and battled in a highly competitive market. I loved it and rarely felt stressed.

I was thrust into the second work city as a result of a series of rapid mergers involving my employer. The second work city was an international manufacturing firm in the same industry and markets as the first city, just “bigger and better.” However, the merger integrations brought other factors into the equation; my business objectives were no longer clear, we had horrible performance data, and the culture rapidly became territorial and combative. Internal threats were as ominous as competitive threats. Seven-day work weeks, four hours of sleep, and high stress became the norm.  

I’ve had a lot of years and gained experience to reflect upon the tale of these two work cities. The products, markets, customers, and often co-workers were the same between the two work cities. One city was hard work without stress; the second city was hard work loaded with stress.  

Before I move too far along, I want to say I stayed the course in the second city of stress, thrived, advanced, and felt good about the many professional conquests there. It provided much of the learning I can share now. 

What is the main difference between the two work cities? Information.  

It’s easy to lose sight of the root cause when you’re in the middle of a fight. Every issue you battle can look like a root cause or critical problem. A negative culture can feel like the most important need to improve. A lack of clear goals and objectives is a common place to focus. Maybe you just need some time off to relax?  

The vast majority of our issues in the city of stress were rooted in poor or no business information we could reliably use to make decisions.  

How To Manage Stress In Your Business

Making good decisions is easy with good information.  

The problems we had in the city of business stress were directly tied to a lack of business system integration. We had no reliable sales data, financial statements, performance to objectives. We didn’t know how we were doing individually or as a team. Financials were restated with regularity. These issues scared people and made them defensive, which, like a scared dog, ultimately made them aggressive to protect themselves or their division.  

The city of business stress taught me that I wasn’t stressed by hard work or making hard decisions. I was stressed by not having the information I needed to make good decisions.  

“Flying by the seat of your pants” without reliable business information is the major cause of stress that many business owners fail to recognize. Many have grown accustomed to making decisions by trusting their gut and don’t notice that the decisions have grown to require better information.

Small businesses have the same concerns as large corporations just scaled down to their size. If you don’t have good business information each month, you don’t have the information you need to make good decisions, and you have stress. We intuitively know the decisions have consequences but too often fail to stop and ask what information we need to properly evaluate the best course of action.  

I have had quite a few clients with no clear records of where their cash was going. They could see a paper profit or loss, but it didn’t seem to affect how much cash was actually in the bank.  

Some clients are shocked when they see details of accounts receivable with their best customers having large balances way past due.  

Employees who don’t have clear goals and objectives are at greater risk of underperforming. We set ourselves up for disappointment and associated stress if we don’t provide good information to our employees on what they need to specifically accomplish each period. The employees will be stressed, and their lack of focus on the goals we haven’t communicated makes the business owner stressed.  

Information You Need to Make Decisions and Reduce Stress

  • Monthly Sales Target
  • Monthly Sales by Customer
  • Monthly Income Statement
  • Monthly Balance Sheet
  • Monthly Cash Flow Statement (Sources and Uses)
  • Monthly Accounts Receivable Aging
  • Monthly Payroll
  • Current Year Monthly Budget

The above list of reports is a must-have for a business owner to make good decisions. There are other pieces of information required for a given unique industry or business type, but the items in this list are the basic elements required for you to have good information with which you can make good decisions.  

When you have good information, you can make good decisions, and then you can get a good night’s sleep without the stress that comes from uncertainty.  

If you already have all of the listed information reliably coming to you, congratulations on being positioned to make good decisions.

If you’re in the crowd of business owners who feel constant stress and wonder how to reduce it, ask yourself what information you need to make good decisions and get back to enjoying your work.

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Jim Miley

As a Business Coach, Jim brings a broad background of operational and sales management skills and expertise to help small business owners grow their business and reach their highest potential. He has 30 years of field-proven professional experience.

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