The expectation of an easy, predictable, problem-free existence has never occurred in the lives of any of us
It turns out that stress is the new manager in companies. Some believe that it is up to us to manage our own well-being, but end up seeing how often the situation gets out of hand by letting the mantra of positive thinking reign. At the same time, we do not understand and address our emotions well. These emotions themselves, fed by expectations, lead to the slippery slope of complaining about being stressed. Emotions and desires are the building blocks of our lives and depend on the values and responsibilities that we take. They are the ones that can turn the stress game in our favor.
Let’s first examine how we set our expectations. Don’t you think that a lot of people expect life to be a beaten track on which they can trundle along at a steady pace? And because this expectation does not come true, they live in chaos and tension. The universal law that it is up to everyone to find, walk, shape, determine and build their life, encounters a great deal of resistance nowadays. The expectation of an easy, predictable, neat, problem-free existence, where no surprises can be found, has not been empirically supported in the lives of any of us so far. But we insist on it being the opposite and willingly invite stress, driven by fear of failed expectations. The fear of personal and general failure in our work prevents us from welcoming the many and unexpected tasks that may arise. As a result, we get surprising projects, new responsibilities, changed deadlines, nervous colleagues. And now, the question of how to deal with this arises. A few years ago, Google examined its managers‘ attitudes and found three successful strategies – they meet with their employees often, show interest in their personal lives, and ask a lot of questions instead of just demanding things. Such a network between people is impermeable to fear, and these people build up the skills to share said fear and to ‘respond’ to it. Fears in good hands can even be useful – they are an early sign of problems within the organization and somebody’s disproportionate expectations. Stress makes us synchronize our wishes with the real skills that we have. It gives us a reason for deciding what we need to undertake in order to make our skills suit our desires – or to pre-program them. If we set our expectations according to the logic of the desires-skills-role in life, we will deal with events more consciously and more adequately. It is very important to check this trinity regularly.
Look at job offers; notice the environment that managers build up – an environment in which the idea that employee benefits are there to eliminate all possible inconveniences, an environment in which the lie that everything will be alright thrives. Having supported the unrealistic expectations of a life that will run smoothly, backed up by impeccable processes in the company, managers are puzzled to find out that employees are still unhappy and stressed. Managers then try to treat stress with goodies, teambuilding and drumroll reminders of the mission of the company and thus feel satisfied with the re-creation of their companies … until the stress rollercoaster retakes them. ‘We give more and more, but they get used to it quickly, they want more and they are still not pleased’, they say. Well yes, after all we are the ones who create this whirlpool, aren’t we? Is there a success formula that can help us keep our heads above the water? The appropriate environment is one in which stress is literally diluted in unfiltered life experiences – such that reflect life as it really is. Such an environment is one in which mistakes are part of everyday life. Make sure that people are not afraid of trying, and make sure that they don’t think that the only acceptable result is one which is perfect and that there is no other option. Employees will then be willing to try, and if they are loyal and in line with the company’s values, their efforts in trying will be constructive, regardless of the mistakes they make. Another important thing: people’s efforts pay off when they are able to co-lead their direction together, instead of merely receiving motivational programs.
The second key issue to address is how to perceive emotions – stress at work is not only because of the work itself. It is related to how people recognize and perceive their emotions. They need a supportive environment in which both “good” and “bad” emotions are allowed. The best environment is one in which problems are treated sincerely and with respect due regardless of them being positive or negative. The teams that manage to cope with emotions are the ones who ask themselves “What does this experience bring to me?” instead of “Let’s be positive and hate stress’. In the teams in which people are ‘allowed’ to experience their emotions, employees are committed, capable, constructive, and thriving in their organization as much as they can. First, allow yourselves as leaders to be vulnerable. Show how you feel – a necessary step towards you managing your emotions, and not your emotions managing you. Do not worry that your employees may not be feeling good today or that they may be cross. Instead, target your abilities toward recognizing the reason for why they feel this way – whether the environment in the company is not supportive or it is because of the personal (dis)ability of people in the team when it comes to managing their lives. Intervene in only one of these cases. Think about what the work environment is. Give yourself time to better understand it before moving on to yet another motivational program.
Another important thing you can do – decline the invitation to be positive, it’s a sure way to invite stress. Being positive is the new form of political correctness. Diversity in companies is quite fashionable nowadays: in gender, in the percentage of employees with disabilities, in various other ways. But nobody talks about the diversity of emotions! Today, sustainable business is interpreted in the context of how much we give to the environment and nature. But how much do we give to ourselves and how? Is this really not relevant to a sustainable company? Why isn’t there a variety of emotions – are emotions good and bad only? Unfortunately, yes. Managers who deal with stress so dedicatedly, actually do this with the tacit recognition that there are bad emotions. Then rolling the stone of bad emotions outside the gates of our company turns out to be Sisyphean labor. Yes, we like the feeling of joy and progress, we do not like that of insult and disappointment. Emotions need to be experienced, and in fact, they control us, and not the opposite. We can only make space for them and perceive them – adequately or not. It turns out that often if we cannot let in emotions in our hearts (and the heart of our team) fearlessly, we prefer to accept that “positive” is the norm. This norm allows us to disperse the effects of not being able to deal with our emotions.
We live in a world where we are always to blame for something, and we need to compensate for this- emissions, harmful effects, discrimination, inequality. We try to compensate for emotions as well, and this most often leads to stress. Stress is the modern wind farm, one which allows us to compensate for the otherwise ‘normal’ for our health carbon emissions – in our case, ‘negative’, but actually normal emotions. In this way, we lose our ability to deal with the world the way it actually is.
This article was written by Klimentina Rasheva, Managing Partner at Denkstatt Bulgaria