The stresses of the modern project manager are colossal and immeasurable on the basis of how they can affect performance and effect mental well-being. Within the project management community, I do believe we have undergone a fundamental shift in workplace culture in the last number of years. And part of this shift in culture is one of where we are content to see folks under stress due to the pressures of project delivery. Regardless of the causes, the presence of some kind of stress and pressure is actually a fact of life for a lot of professionals. It means more work for employees and more pressure for everybody from top to bottom. Today, the ability to cope with stress is vital in the project community, but let’s face a simple fact in that not everybody is able to adapt to the stresses and pressures associated with it.
So is Stress Management now becoming the Soft Skill of 2018. Let me ask this another way, should we start to focus on methods and means of managing our own personal stress levels as a priority and by doing this, does it allow us to be better Project Managers. I think the simple answer is YES. The assumption here is not to remove the stress, that would not make sense. The assumption here is that we develop our own capabilities to deal with the levels of stress that are often placed on us.
Based on this, what would you say is the most important soft skill? Is it teamwork, is it conflict management? These are all very important but none of these could possibly be accomplished if you cannot cope with work stress. A lot of the stresses are good for us such as the short deadline, the client problem, the system failure, the sudden departure and the coping strategies that come with these. These are positive and great challenge and excitement when all of these place stresses on us. These types of stress are character building, good for personal development and to our overall benefit. However there are project stresses that cause emotional upheaval along with a whole host of things that can impact on what we do. These situations can evolve into tempers been seen, arguments developing and people getting physically and mentally tired.
The causes of these negative project stresses can be experienced everyday and with are common place within our own lives. By looking at stresses in the project environment there are cases where it is problematic. Without effective stress management, there comes a point where most people crack under the pressure. Examples of project stress sources can be as follows :
- Too much work to do in too little time: – There are too many deadlines places on the project at one time. It becomes a continual deadline focus with any release.
- Unexplained increase in the project workload: – There is a sudden shift in the level of the workload from the project and there are too few resources to cope with increasing workload. While the increase in workload is understood, the rationale behind why the workload needs to be increased without the resource allocation is not understood.
- New responsibilities with too little time to adapt: – When new roles are assigned, there should be a focus on the time involved to develop and understand the role. Struggling to adapt to new roles is a core source of project stress with too many tasks for one person
- More telling than selling: – In the project environment, there can often be a feeling of a lack of guidance or support from colleagues or line managers. There is more telling and management going on than selling and coaching.
- Emotional stability for the home place: – Often overlooked and sometimes not recognised, the problems at home can spill over into the workplace. There is always a time and a need to be a friend foremost and then a project colleague.
Putting it all together, stress is a major cause of mental illness and one that we must all take seriously.
When it occurs, project managers should be to the front in attempting to manage, deal with it and be proactive. How to do this you may ask, well this is where we reverse our five bullet points into actions:
- Tip 1: – Give people a break to catch their breath
- Tip 2: – Explained increases and rationale in the project workload
- Tip 3: – Give the time and space for people to adapt to new responsibilities
- Tip 4: – Do more selling than telling
- Tip 5: – Provide the ‘shoulder to cry on’ when needed
Yet when stress becomes too much, there are significant costs to your project. A study recently reported the cost of stress to the UK economy was €7.7bn and some 10 million workdays were lost due to stress in the same year. Too much stress is no good for anybody, yet we cannot eliminate stress from our workday and we can do with it is attempt to help. Let it be the new soft skill of 2018.