Informal Peer Support

Yesterday I spoke at a conference where the audience was fun, positive and energetic. You’d never guess that they are managers in an agency that is dealing with details of horrible trauma on a daily basis. And because they are managers, they are stuck in the middle between the front line employees and the executive level, which (as anyone who has been in mid-level management can tell you) is a lonely job. There is a high level of organizational stress because of trying to juggle many competing demands from case-load to administration, and from managing human resources to dealing with external agencies that sometimes work at cross purposes.

Being the only manager in a satellite office magnifies the feeling of being alone and feeling a lack of support at times. That’s why this conference was so healthy and positive for these managers. It gave them an opportunity to network with other people that are in the same boat. The theme of the conference was Resiliency, and I really believe it boosted the resiliency of the already very resilient group. And not that I want to downplay my own contribution to the conference, but I think the part that provided the most value was the networking. Not because they need to trade best practices, but because of the support system it provides. The managers, who are normally on their own, now have a group of peers that understand exactly what they are going through. That is often better than a professional counsellor. These managers get each other. They are able to vent and have their feelings validated by others that know exactly what they are talking about. This is extremely healthy.

Just knowing that you’re not alone and that there are others who are there to listen and who really understand your struggles, can have a significant impact on lowering the amount of distress that you’re feeling.

Peer Support doesn’t have to be a formal program to have a positive impact. Sometimes having a glass of wine together after the days sessions, and venting together and laughing together can provide a huge psychological boost.

I really hope they stay in touch with each other, and continue to be an informal peer support network.

“Multiple Competing Complex Demands”

Dr. Linda Duxbury, a researcher and professor at the Sprott School of Business has conducted research on what causes the most stress in policing and found that it’s not much different from the private sector. The majority of stress doesn’t come from the operational aspects of the job, but the organizational aspects. Sure there is traumatic stress and vicarious trauma, but the day-in-day-out stress from office politics and other administrative demands is much more common and has a more detrimental effect on the most people.

Multiple competing complex demands is a good description of the work environment that we all live in now. I believe it is one of the most demanding times in human history because of the barrage of information and the expectation to be ever available. Many people complain of stress caused by the sheer volume of work, the multiple demands, too many responsibilities, unrealistic deadlines, pressure not to say no, increasing complexity of tasks, understaffing, constant sense of urgency, and on and on.

“Doing more with less” is a bad cliché these days, and it’s not sustainable over the long term, unless employees learn how to manage work-life balance and build their personal resilience.

Great organizations realize that they need to support and take an active role in helping their employees achieve balance and resilience. Unfortunately there are many organizations that don’t understand the cost, and continue to burn-out their people.

I suggest that you don’t leave it up to your organization though, and that you take personal responsibility to learn the factors that build resilience and implement these factors in your daily life. For example: have a trusted friend to confide in who can support you, try to see the humor in difficult situations and don’t take yourself too seriously, find meaning in suffering, quiet your mind and body through breathing exercises, and don’t neglect your fitness.

One of my quotes is “In today’s world resiliency is power”. What I’m referring to is the personal power it will give you. I believe that in the current relentless and demanding environment, resiliency is the most important trait you can develop to help you achieve long term success in any field. Multiple competing complex demands aren’t going away, so by working on your resilience and work-life balance, you will have the advantage at work, and will create a rich and meaningful life!

Open Door Fallacy

The concept of the “Open Door Policy” is good in theory and an improvement over times when leaders were not available and not approachable. In many cases the concept has gone too far though, and many leaders now think they should always be available.

I recommend closing your door and not taking calls for an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon. It’s easy to see that by closing your door it will prevent interruptions and increase your efficiency. However there are additional benefits, such as lowering your stress level.

I’ve read various articles that explain how to deal with interruptions by kicking people out of your office in a polite way, or how to hang up on time-wasters without them knowing you’re trying to get rid of them. It’s much easier to avoid those distractions in the first place. Set a standard at your workplace. “Between 11 am and noon everyday my door will be closed and I’m not taking calls.”

Research shows that the more control you have over your work, the less stress you will have. Don’t let other people determine when you will deal with issues. By taking control of this aspect of your work, you will reduce your stress.

There are other ways it will relieve stress as well. It’s all about what you do when your door is closed. The first practical thing is that you will get your work done faster, and we all feel less anxiety when we can check off an item on our list.

Beyond that it gives you time to analyze what else is causing you to feel tense, and you can plan your response to those issues. It will give you time to center yourself, do breathing exercises, listen to classical music, meditate, or any other relaxation technique that you prefer. I just encourage you to pick one and actually do it! It will help you get in flow and achieve your peak performance.

Overcome the urge to always be available. Some guilt-free alone time at work is good for you and good for your business.