Always try not to over-stretch the resources of your business. You may push to the limits but be very careful or you will create an overly stressful work environment. Then, the problems may really start and one of the first casualties could be productivity.

In smaller businesses it is not uncommon to exist within the delicate balance of cash flow with very little room for manoeuvre. The temptation, even the obligation, to stretch your resources that little bit further can be over whelming. It is all too easy to take on that one extra contract that may bring the house of cards crashing down. Here we discuss some methods for anticipating the potentially serious problems that can occur together with a few techniques to help manage them.

The signs to watch out for are various but always revolve around reading your colleagues and employees state of mind. Although this sounds a little far fetched to some, rest assured that we do this all the time, though mostly in a social or family setting:

For example, when something is concerning your partner, their behaviour changes, quite often in subtle and hard to spot ways. However, we pick up almost immediately that something is wrong, or at least not right! The longer we are together the easier it becomes to spot when the mood changes for the worst. In fact, we don’t even have to have been together for years for this ability to almost read each other’s thoughts to have begun to develop.

The same process occurs in the work environment, colleagues you see every day have a certain character, each very different from the others. We naturally learn to read their moods and idiosyncrasies as we work alongside them. All we need to do is to pay attention to these signals and then it is almost always very easy to spot when something is just is not as it should be.

When the pressure and the stress reach a certain level, things begin to change. No two people begin to show these symptoms as the same time so it is forgivable to miss the earliest signs. However, always try and be aware of the changes in the work atmosphere, the first indication that there are problems brewing are always very subtle but may manifest within yourself as an odd, not quite right, feeling. In other words, always pay attention to your own feelings and instincts.

The problems invariably begin when you yourself are under so much pressure and stress that you will fail to spot even the most obvious signs of discontent and the general erosion of motivation. Perhaps this sounds familiar to many of you? I know that at times I have been so wrapped up in my own problems that I failed to be aware of these changes until very late. In fact on one occasion several years ago, it took one brave soul to verbally protest about their unhappiness, the person in question was always one of the quietest workers in the office, so the fact that they felt they had to speak up, immediately made me take notice.

How do we deal with the situation where the pressure of work, in this case, the sheer volume of work, starts to become unbearable? Communication and information are probably one of the most important methods for controlling a potentially dangerous level of stress in the office. Hold regular team meetings, both formal and informal. Keep the meetings as short as possible. Preferably for these situations, try and avoid formal meetings altogether. Let your colleagues know what the priorities are clearly and coach them regularly with stress management techniques. We will discuss more of these techniques shortly.

Above all, you yourself must try and remain calm and professional even if inside you feel that you are under more pressure than everybody else. Drive for efficiency at all times, it is far too easy to lose precious capacity by allowing time consuming work to be done with very little added value. For these tasks, keep things minimalist; while the pressure is on, good enough is good enough! You can always come back and improve things later.

Remember, there is always a way, mostly. If the team can remain calm, focussed and motivated then the team as whole can absorb more pressure. That includes taking the pressure off of you; if you yourself can have a bit more breathing room then you’ll find that, obviously, it will be much easier to be able to stand back and analyse the overview.

What are stress management techniques? There are so many that I won’t detail everything I can think of here, but mostly they are just common sense. For example, take a break and make sure your colleagues also take breaks regularly; a five-minute walk around the car park talking about anything but work can de-stress the work environment significantly. Surf the Internet occasionally; share the news, jokes, and silly YouTube videos with your colleagues. In short, enjoy life, as there is a lot more to it than just work.

Think about why we read a book or watch a movie, we use these as an escape from reality for a short while. When we stop reading or the movie is done we normally gain a new perspective about our own problems. Be they financial, personal or worries about our children. Our minds relax and let us see things from different points of view.

When I lived in Scotland, I loved to go climbing and walking in the mountains every weekend that I could. Sitting on top of a mountain watching the sun come up filled me with a calmness that was difficult to find in my normal daily routine.

Everyone will have his or her own natural techniques for dealing with day to day stress, the point is that it doesn’t really matter how the stress is dealt with as long it isn’t allowed to build up to detrimental levels.

Finally, let’s return to the route cause of the situation, our over-whelming work commitments. Sadly, in today’s economic climate, we often have to take on more than our current capacity can safely handle. There is really no avoiding these situations, the best we can do is to plan for the additional stresses and pressures as best as we can.