The Cost of Pressure and Overload

“Pieces of one of my teeth fell out this week,” a CEO-friend told me.  “I haven’t had time to go to the dentist.”

That quote may be the poster boy announcing what everybody knew:  the deep impact of the rise of pressure and overload in today’s workplace.   His teeth are falling out, and he doesn’t have time to fix that?

The question is, “What vital operating parts of your organization may be falling out due to today’s frenzied workplace?”  And is anyone responsible for the success of the business doing anything about pressure and its effect on your business?

Runners up in the “I’m Overwhelmed” category of the American workplace abound:  12-hour work days, doing the work of three people, spans of control that are “out of control” (it is now routine, e.g., for Human Resource representatives to be expected to handle the HR needs of 750 or 1100, even 2000 people.)  A pharmaceutical executive sums up the now too-familiar landscape:  “My job feels like the perfect storm.”

The typical American employee is now quite aware of a pace and workload that has substantially cranked up since the 1990s.  People have complained about the “ratrace” for years – though the rats seem to be racing far faster, mentally and physically.  But here’s what’s not familiar:  realizing what the business costs of 24/7 pressure are, and creating some kind of effective response by CEOs and leadership development operations.

What is the cost of unrelenting demand on your company’s bottom line and on the people essential to your business success?  The answer to that is what our research at LIfeLine Consulting Services is starting to show.

The “Pressure Landscape”

For our purposes here, we accept that high pace and heavy overload have become part of the global nature of business.  Some are calling this pace “the new normal.”  But we are saying that it is past time to make crystal clear the consequences of being “fast,” and to give employees and leaders what we call the “challenge capacity” to remain vital amidst a tidal wave.

Without some shoring up of individual capacity for pressure, here is some of the business boomerang our customers are experiencing:

Lost Sales. An overwhelmed executive is too busy to respond to customers who want his product, so he loses the business.

Fewer Product and Service Offerings. Human and business resources too compromised elsewhere to come together to launch a new product line.

Fewer Creative Ideas. Less ability to differentiate your business.  Because people are always “doing,” many top people – those from whom your business requires their minds – say they are buried, with no time to develop transformational ideas.  “Thinking is the most important part of my job,” says a telecommunications executive, “and I have no time to think.”

As these examples show, the costs of overload to a business are severe, cutting the core of the bottom line:  sales, products, and future survival.  So how are organizations responding?

Managers and employees we talk to sum up the support for handling frenzy in two words they get from their leaders:

“Handle It”

Sometimes requests for resources are refused, even though the workload has just been upped by 50%.  Other times, organizational leaders say, “Sorry.  There’s nothing I can do.”  Needless to say, such responses aren’t “support.”

We believe that part of the reason for the “get over it” response is that companies don’t know how to respond.  They don’t see workplace demand slowing down, so what can they do?  We have an approach to answer that question.  We call it “LifeLine.”

Just as organizations see no options, employees contribute to this tendency to ignore the “pressure problem.” Having been told to “Handle It,” there’s nothing we can do, they repeat a different mantra, “Nobody wants to hear problems, and I don’t want to be seen as a problem.”

There is one device that companies do provide for the burned-out employee:  the vacation.  “Get away for a while – recharge.”  The solution to the workplace pressure is to get away from the workplace.  But vacations end (and now sometimes include packed Blackberrys and laptops).  Ever find yourself thinking, a week after you’re back from vacation, that vacation seems like it happened a year ago?

There has got to be a better way of dealing with 24/7 overload than a temporary fix.

Develop leaders’ threshold, or capacity.

We are suggewting a solution’that develops threshold for pressure and vitality while at work, instead of trying to escape that pressure.  We believe that in a business environment that has ratgheted up pace, responsibility!2C and skill reuuirements to a considerable degree in the past ten years, leaders neither have been trained to effectively manage workplace pressure nor individuals to cope, much less thrive.

The challenge is profound and unprecedented – therefore the solution must go beyond the ordinary.  Here’s one solution that does.   Focus on developing your leaders’ ability to handle pressure, because they will model for employees how to do the same.

And how do you increase those leaders’ capacity for overload?

You unveil and work with the aspects of a leader’s personal biography that both hold her back and enhance her potential to handle pressure.  We call this her LifeLine.

Through this newsletter and our blog entries, we will show how we work with leaders to develop their skills and capacity to handle the burden of heavy responsibility and unrelenting pace.  Here’s a preview of what you will hear about, a four-step approach to increasing one’s vitality and range of responses to a 24/7 marketplace:

  • Pressure Scenarios.  What are the situations that trigger pressure in a leader’s life?
  • Patterns.  What are the patterns that occur in those scenarios:  The patterns in the situation and in the leaders’ response.
  • Familiarity.  Are those patterns familiar to the leader?  Has he or she reacted in this way in other settings further back in his/her life?
  • Rescripting.  What are some shifts a leader might make in her response to pressure?

One of our customers called this approach “fast and deep.”  We think the answer to handling pressure has to be fast – if you are losing sales, ideas, new product offerings, much less teeth, then it’s high time for support of our leaders and employees.  And yes, the answer has to be deep, because the scale of pressure is deep.  Look for that depth in upcoming blogs and this ezine.

For consultation on LifeLine development for leaders, contact Tom Finn at 703-709-7947 or tfinnman@aol.com.  See more about the LifeLine approach at www.lifelineconsulting.com.



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