Stress is caused by not knowing what the hell is going on

You are probably not working hard enough. It’s no use fooling yourself about how tired you are, or how stressed you are. Neither fatigue nor stress are caused by hard work. Think back to a time when you last worked like hell – and achieved something. Did you feel stressed? More likely, you felt physically tired, or even exhausted at the end of the day or week, but after a good night’s sleep you were ready to go again. Hardly the same stress that now wears you down day after day. I say you’re probably not working hard enough, because the stress that you’re experiencing is caused by anxiety rather than hard work. It flows from the uncertainty of not knowing what the hell is going on, or where in hell you’re going. I will prove that to you shortly.

But first, back to my premise that you’re not working hard enough. Do not confuse long hours with working hard. In some companies there seems to be a culture of “long hours”. If you’re hoping for advancement, or just plain worried about keeping your job, you may feel that you have to hang around until the boss leaves – just to show him you’re on the team. Meanwhile, he’s hanging around because he doesn’t want to get home too early while the kids are still running riot. On the other hand, you may work in one of those illogical environments where the measure of performance is input i.e. hours, rather than outputs – what you actually achieve. Your stress stems from not knowing what is happening. Being in the know does not mean being well connected to the grapevine. In fact, the quality of information that flows down the grapevine is generally poor. It raises more questions than answers, and is probably a main cause of your anxiety-induced stress. What you need is quality information about the company that you work for and the industry of which it is a part. And you need to work hard at getting it. Can you answer the following?

• Name the customers that contribute 50 percent of your company’s profits (Obviously you can’t do this if you’re a retailer selling food through large outlets for cash, but in that case you need to be able to profile your main groups of customers)
• Which companies in your industry together have 80 percent of the market? Are they expanding or contracting their operations?
• What technological developments are taking place in the field in which your company’s product competes? Remember how the fax replaced the telex?
• What is changing in the nature of the work that you do? If you are a rep on the road, can your clients effectively be serviced by a telesales operation? Are there changes in technology that will enable your work to be done by less skilled (lower paid) people, or will your company need fewer people at your level?
• What would it cost your company to get an outsider such as a consultant or sub-contractor to do what you do? What do you cost your company?

The point is that as an employee, you need to regard yourself as a business within a business. Your employer owes you nothing other than a cheque – if you provide value. As a good “business” you need to provide outstanding service and value for money. You can do this by establishing exactly what it is you have to deliver, rather than just doing time. Finding this information may be hard work, but it will partially reduce your anxiety / stress. I say partially because you could be doing an outstanding job and still find yourself out on the street. Unfortunately, this often happens. To deal with the stress of this possibility, you also need to look at the total environment in which your employer operates. This will also take work. Reading widely in trade publications and the financial media and finding out things yourself will take effort, but being in the know will allow you to plan ahead. Changes can provide opportunities if you’re ready for them.

Get tired by working hard at the right things. Don’t get caught with a warehouse full of telex machines!

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