Managing Your Stress Level

“Every problem or situation that causes stress can be effectively handled if you remember to approach it one step at a time.”

Stress comes in many packages. In an era of change, including mergers, consolidations, downsizing, right sizing, or just plain getting out of the business, it is difficult to avoid a lot of stress. This is especially true for managers.

There is no easy solution for handling stress. It can result from many sources and not all are business related. My personal experience has been that work-related stress is magnified by family, health, and religious problems. This article is not intended to deal with non-business stress causes, but work, family, health and religion are all important aspects of our personal lives. One way to visualize the importance is to picture a four-legged stool. If any one leg is not solid, the stool will wobble or topple. Maintaining a solid family or home situation, keeping yourself physically fit and well connected to your religious beliefs all contribute to your ability to effectively deal with stress at work.

What is stress? In my view, it is the anxiousness you experience and feel when you have too much to do, or when there are too many new experiences for you to process. You may not know which way to turn. You may not be making your production or profitability goals and you’re feeling the heat. You may have a task to do that you don’t like, don’t do well, or don’t want to do. You may have to counsel someone who is under-performing, or who needs to be put into another position or terminated.

In short, stress is an inevitable part of daily business life. It results from a myriad of tasks, issues, and responsibilities that managers must deal with effectively. There are probably all sorts of ways to cope with the challenges of the mortgage business. Some ideas and hints are explored in the following paragraphs.

Reduce Stress
Everyone has experienced business issues, challenges or problems that initially appear overwhelming. There are situations that seem so big that you want to avoid them, run away, or at least “think about them” for a long while. There can be challenges in mortgage lending that appear so big that you don’t know where to start.

Every problem or situation that causes stress can be effectively handled if you remember to approach it one step at a time. It is always important to break any challenge or formidable task into bite-sized pieces. It is amazing how stress can be reduced when the tasks before you are broken into manageable portions. In my view, this is the only way to tackle difficult problems. This piecemeal approach reduces the degree of stress felt by the manager, and by the team involved in the task at hand.

Planning Reduces Stress
It should come as no surprise that the most difficult issues and challenges, especially those you don’t really like or want to do, need to be planned out and thoroughly thought through. This does not mean endless analysis without getting after the problem. A “never act” approach that resolves the situation only creates greater stress. What is needed, is a plan proportional in content to the magnitude of the challenge.

What I advocate is a written plan that addresses the situation. Understand what the real issues or challenges are and what approach you want to take. As you lay out the actions necessary to accomplish the goal or resolve the issue, you begin to realize that it really can be done. You also better understand the need for such action(s). The result is much less anxiety and stress for you and your employees, that is if you explain the situation correctly, openly, and honestly.

Set Expectations
A big cause of frustration, anxiety and stress is not knowing expectations. A manager has a responsibility and obligation to be certain that employees know what is expected of them. Too many times new and existing employees do not clearly understand their job requirements, and are not provided an adequate orientation. Stress on the employee and manager can be avoided, and goals more easily accomplished, when a proper orientation that details expectations is delivered.

In tough times or changing market conditions, particularly when it becomes necessary to change employee roles and responsibilities, it is especially important to make sure everyone knows what is going on and what is expected of them, both individually and collectively. Troubled market conditions create a variety of employee concerns, and without clear direction and performance expectations, employee morale and work performance will decline.

Lack of communication and miscommunication is by far the greatest cause of frustration in the workplace. During times of change, particularly when people are, or may be losing their jobs, it is critical for managers to communicate clearly, honestly, and frequently with their staff. This includes listening to employees to understand their views and perceptions of the situation. Everyone must know what is going on. Never forget that few employees can afford to lose their jobs. It doesn’t take much of management failing to communicate about the company’s strategy, plans for the future, and financial health, before the fear and stress of losing a job is too high and employees begin to look for new employment.

Keep the Whole in Mind
As a manager, it is important to regularly step back from the current business situation and determine what is in the best interests of the company. In times of market downturns, managers must remember that individual decisions belong in the context of the overall company, its direction and health. For example, decisions made to reduce staff or change responsibilities for specific employees are done to maintain the financial health, or long-range stability of the company.

Keep in mind that failure to make these changes can jeopardize employment opportunities for other employees. Remembering what you are in business to do, and that your decisions affect the lives of those who remain a part of the team, can help relieve some of the stress and anxiety created by the decisions you, as a manager, must make.

There are many joys in management and in being a manager. However, there are also responsibilities that create stress. Maintaining a balanced personal life and taking on challenges one step at a time can be a big help in reducing stress. It also helps to size issues and prepare a plan of action that is proportionate to the size of the issue or challenge at hand. Set expectations to avoid ambiguity among employees and managers, and communicate, communicate, communicate. The more difficult the situation, the more important it is to communicate to everyone openly, honestly, and completely.