“Managing stress into and out of the silly season”

by Nov 25, 2018Wellness0 comments

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Check out my latest editorial featured in NZ Business Magazine this month. Download the PDF HERE or read the article below!


As the end of the calendar year approaches the speed of activities seems to increase as we find ourselves worrying about the lack of time before we stop for the Christmas break. This added pressure we put on ourselves is a perceived lack of time rather than a real one but one that our brains nonetheless see as real.
Perception is the key here. If we allow the perception of a lack of time to become a problem it may very well become one. If we don’t then we set our brains up for a better outcome.

In terms of our perception of stress as the health psychologist Kelly McGonigal of Stanford university (I highly recommend you look her up on YouTube) put it in her TED talk, I paraphrase ‘it is only our perception of stress that is the killer’ if we believe it will affect our health it could well do just that. If our perception of stress is something to be harnessed and used to our advantage or at worst, just managed, then our health outcomes could be far better. In her study the outcome for those that saw stress as a bad thing was a higher early death rate than for those that did not see stress as a bad thing for their health.

Perception is all very well but I think there are many more practical things that we can do as business owners to manage the stress of the pending end of year break which includes planning ahead.
During my days in the retail trade, one particular business which goes absolutely crazy in the last few days of the year, planning was the only way we got through the silly season unscathed. The planning of the business activities that are required for the December and January months are crucial and a business impetrative. This way a lot of the guess work and long hours involved can be done before the work need to be completed. Planning; resources, stock, overtime, cash flow/reserves, supplier delivery schedules and lots more can be set in place so that the operation can run as close to clockwork as possible on the busy days. Also everyone in each of the teams or departments in the business can see what is happening when and how on a daily basis. 

So what can be done to mitigate the stress?

Here are my top 5 tips from years on the shop floor:

  • Create a trading diary – and actually fill it in, lots of detail
  • Hold a short ‘action focused’ team meeting daily if necessary
  • Rosters should be documented at least 4 weeks ahead
  • Total clarity of peoples roles – if extra duties are required
  • Any ‘out of routine’ activities must be assigned to a person e.g. late delivery unloading, extra cash collections

Trading diaries help take the guess work out of next year. Your planning is half done for you when you come to plan for the silly season as the diary will contain all the things that went well or not so well the previous year. Sales reports must accompany the diary. That way the kaizen approach of continuous improvement is woven into the fabric of the business.

Different personalities deal with stress in different ways. The leaders of businesses need to be aware of the different ways in which their team will handle stress. Some will coast along and never miss a beat. Others will waver and need some support in either systems like the diary, useful if people change roles, or the person needs to talk through situations so they can verbalise the issue at hand and process it in their own way. Then there are the silent types who verbalise nothing and don’t ask for help. They need to be asked what and when they need help and often need to be lead through the difficulties of the silly season as they may not even be able to see a way through it to the other side. All organisations will have, most likely, all types so leaders need to tune into these using situational leadership for each.

In the hectic work world as Christmas approaches some businesses get busier and others actually quieten down. The busy businesses that know the pressure this time of year will bring may need to consider ways in which they can support their team. Mindfulness in their work will be really important. By that I mean having the ability to concentrate on the task at hand without interruption, which in a busy work space can be hard to achieve. I recently visited a shared work space on Auckland’s north shore where you can rent a desk by the hour – a hot desk!

There were cubicles throughout this space and various people, headphones plugged into their computers, were beavering away at their various tasks. I reflected that this was a form of mindfulness which allows the brain to focus on the job in front of it while listening to, I’m guessing – music.
The benefit of this is that the outside world is drowned out and the brain has less stimulation and as a result productivity can be better and stress lower. The more we bombard the brain the more the nervous system has to deal with and over load our system to the point of, potentially, ill health. When the hypothalamus – the part of our brain that is on guard, senses danger which can be a form of stress – let’s say a deadline or increased workload it sends a message to the pituitary gland which then signals our adrenal glands to pump, among other things, adrenaline and cortisol into our blood stream. Voila – you have fight or flight! Repeat this process over a longer period of time, perhaps a couple of months and the stress starts to become chronic. This is when the health of the person in question becomes truly affected. Hormones become unbalanced. Clever backup systems kick in stealing sources of other hormones to pick up the slack when we become depleted or our original stress hormones.
This has to be identified in the workplace if people are being affected to this degree then their health is being challenged, they need help.
Having processes in place to deal with these scenarios is important to an organisations ongoing care of its employees and business continuity.
Having programmes in place that help employees understand these bodily functions so they can identify where their stressors lie so they can manage the symptoms equips them with the tools to be a better employee and in turn, the business benefits from this improved state of health of its team.
This is a top down issue which must be embraced by the owners, managing directors, general managers – all senior leaders in the business if they are attempting to strike a healthy balance. If they are putting processes in place to deal with stress and are seen to be living the values of these day to day then it will filter down more successfully. Bottom line: the culture has to be right for these things to succeed. I have worked with companies that have setup up wellness committees that are quite separate from health and safety. That is the umbrella under which this sits but the wellness of the businesses employees should be a focus for every organisation all year round not just for the Christmas – like the puppy!!

I strongly urge you as a business owner to look at your culture. Your own health and the health of your team. What can you do to optimise these key elements?
Enjoy the end of year festivities – celebrate success and celebrate health both mental and physical; you never know who you may have helped today by having the right programmes or processes in place.


Richard Ellis is a health coach who runs workplace presentations and programmes

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