Stress Isn’t Always a Bad Thing. It’s All About How You Handle It

It’s like going to the gym – we intentionally stress our muscles so that they become stronger.

Stress has a bad reputation. But not all stress is bad. Some stress can even be good – you just have to be intentional in how you handle it. It’s like going to the gym – we intentionally stress our muscles so that they become stronger.

Mike Preston, Deloitte’s Chief Talent Officer, knows a thing or two about creating a culture for people to unlock their full potential. I spoke with him recently about good stress, bad stress, and keeping bad stress at bay.

Jen Fisher: What’s your view on stress?

Mike Preston: The right kind of stress—in the right amounts—can spur people’s creativity and enhance their performance. The trick is the “right kind” and the “right amounts.” When stressful situations last too long, people often get less productive. And that’s when people can become less engaged and much less happy – and not just at work. It’s important to recognize stress and make sure that you have built in time for recovery.

JF: What role can an organization play in helping their people manage stress?

MP: First, you have to understand what your people are experiencing. Meet them where they are in life’s journey. Do they need more flexibility? Do they need more time with their family after the birth of a child or to take care of a family member? More time away to truly unplug? With calendars full of back to back meetings, it’s important that you have a culture that supports daily recovery as well. Empowering individuals and teams to focus on their unique well-being needs and to support each other can help give everyone peace of mind.

JF: How do you mitigate stress?

MP: I try to stop stress before it starts. I have a morning ritual of quiet reflection. Before I check emails or hop on a conference call, I sit quietly with my latte and take on an attitude of gratitude, and I look forward to starting my day this way every morning over a cup of coffee—it clears my head and gets me focused. Then I start the day on my terms. That helps me feel more in control when the inevitable challenges arrive out of the blue.

JF: What can individuals do?

MP: What works for one person might not work for somebody else. But the bottom line is you want to find what works for you and build habits into your day that can help you get centered, even if only for a few minutes. Start building those habits as soon as you can – by taking a short break for fresh air, stretching, or meditating/practicing breathing. If you work as part of a team—as our people do—then make it a team effort. Maybe instead of going out to dinner together, you meet up for a work out. Or as a team leader, suggest taking a walk together and see the sights of the city you’re working in. Sleep is also really important – try to get eight hours a night.

JF: It sounds like you’re saying to have fun.

MP: That’s part of it, for sure. We all need to recognize when it’s time to take a break. While some stress is good, we need recovery to perform at our best. When our people can be at their best, our clients get our best, and everybody wins.

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