In 1990 employees at Symphony Capital Management, a financial-planning firm that's part of Chestnut Hill Financial Group, were working 12-hour days to keep up with booming business. That effort took its toll. Stress ate at workers and set the whole office on edge. Mark Donohue and Keith Greenfield, partners in the Chestnut Hill, Mass., firm, have since hired more support staff, but to address the immediate problem, they contracted an expert in stress reduction.
A counselor from Kathleen Greer Associates in nearby Framingham met one-on-one with those who wanted help. The firm charged $75 an hour and made visits as needed, spending about one to two hours per visit -- cheap, Symphony's partners believe, compared with lost productivity and burnout. "In the long run, I believe it pays back 10-fold," Greenfield says.
The counselor helped Symphony deal with the pressure inherent in a fast-growing business and worked to eliminate unnecessary stress -- such as that caused by artificial deadlines. Now Donohue says, "If I promise it in 10 days when I should have said three weeks, that's mismanagement."
Clara Kana, a financial-planning manager at Symphony, says that just by acknowledging the situation, the company improved it. These techniques, taught by the counselor, helped further:
When work panics you, take a five-minute break, then return and prioritize tasks.
Distinguish between deadlines under your control and those that depend on coworkers. Help others manage their time -- perhaps meet with them every Monday morning to discuss priorities -- but don't take on any responsibility that properly belongs to them. "Now I tell people, 'I need it by Monday, otherwise I may not get to it," Kana says. "Before, no matter how late I got it, I'd turn it around, at risk to my health."
Leave work at work. Use a planner to write down the next day's priorities; change clothes as soon as you get home; take 10 minutes to chat with your family before starting dinner.
Take 12 minutes daily to relax your muscles, slow your breathing, and stop thinking. Greer gives clients audiotapes to guide their meditation. Calming music can serve the same purpose.
Sugar, alcohol, and caffeine make it harder to deal calmly with stressful situations, so cut down. "This morning I spent one hour doing yoga," Donohue brags, "and I had no caffeine!"* * *
Have you noticed, in yourself or your employees, frequent illness, declining performance, or irritability? All may be signs of burnout. Kathleen Greer, the counselor who helped Symphony Capital Management deal with stress, recommends You Don't Have to Go Home from Work Exhausted , by Anne McGee-Cooper (Bantam Doubleday Dell, 1990, $10).* * *