Managing stress in the workplace


Anyone in a stressful job can burn out.

And we do burn out.

What is your unique situation?

Do you know the stresses in it?

Can you take control of them before they control you?

There exist various causes of stress at work.

Some of them include:

  • Difficulty obtaining information required to do your job
  • Reticent or uncooperative bosses, clients, customers, co-workers and subordinates
  • Canceled projects—after the work’s done
  • Unreasonable or unclear deadlines
  • Unwieldy tools or equipment for which you have received little or inadequate training
  • Office politics
  • Occupational injuries

Burnout is a situational problem.

It is not an individual failing.

Most stresses leading to burnout are caused by organizational and environmental problems.

Some stresses can be changed; others cannot.

Many unchangeable ones can be borne if there are sufficiently significant rewards. These are the ones we accept as ‘part-and-parcel‘ of the job—but only when we’re paid for tolerating them.

What we need to do is distinguish between the ones we can solve and those we have to live with.

For stresses that can be changed, take action.

The more control we have on them and the more we can set our own limits, the less likely we are to burn out.

For problems that cannot be altered, cultivate support groups.

Gather sympathetic peers, use stress-reduction techniques, and extract pleasure or meaning from some aspects of your job viz. look on the bright side.

Take up problems that can be rectified with your manager.

Phrase the problem in a non-blaming and non-threatening manner. Suggest one or more solutions. Be involved in the solutions.

Be confrontational if your manager cannot be your buffer. You have to be firm and set boundaries and insist on the information required to do your work.

Avoid judging co-workers.

Express your appreciation of them at every available opportunity.

Ask for feedback; offer to give it.

Include a healthy dose of praise with diplomatic, constructive suggestions.

Allocate time in your busy schedule for rest, relaxation, recuperation and exercise. You are not a machine and neither are your colleagues.

Enjoy the inherent joy in your work; seek not just the extrinsic rewards.

Should you leave or stay?

If none of the above works, focus on your long-term goals.

They can help you quit when the time is right, by providing a vision of a happier future.

Finally, beware of overwork and the resultant occupational injuries it can bring. Seek medical help when needed. Remember, prevention is better than cure.

(Adapted from Chapter 18: Hazards of being a Tech Writer of Janet Van Wicklen’s Tech Writer’s Survival Guide)

Traditional versus nontraditional projects

Executive View of Project Management

Old View

New View

Project management is a career path.

Project management is a strategic or core competency.

We need our people certified as PMP®s.

We need people certified in project management, business processes and possibly other areas such as program management and risk management.

Project management is a process for executing work.

Project management has evolved more into a business process than a pure project management process.

Our project managers need traditional organizational behavior training.

We need specialized training in organizational behavior, including such topics such as virtual teams, stakeholder relations management, and managing diversity.

Traditional versus NonTraditional Projects

Managing Traditional Projects

Managing NonTraditional Projects

Single-person sponsorship

Governance by committee

Possibly a single stakeholder

Multiple stakeholders

Project decision-making

Both project and business decision-making

An inflexible project management methodology

Flexible or “fluid” project management methodology

Periodic status reporting

Real-time reporting

Success is defined by the triple constraints of time, cost and scope.

Sucess is defined by competing constraints and value.

KPIs are derived from the earned-value measurement system.

Unique value-driven KPIs.

Source: Project Management: A Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling and Controlling by Harold R Kerzner (11th edition).

Crisis Projects: Project Management Implications

Crisis Projects: Project Management Implications

  1. Leader of the Crisis Team

  • Rare that a project manager leads a crisis team.

  • Decisions made are not the usual decisions made by a project manager.

  • Project sponsor will assume dual role and be leader of the project team as well.

  • Leader of crisis team will have complete authority to commit corporate resources to the project.

  • Project manager, as we know it, will actually be an assistant project manager.

  1. The Crisis Committee

  • Composed of the senior-most levels of management.

  • Should have multi-functional membership.

  • Project managers and assistant project managers report to the entire membership of the committee.

  1. Crisis Communications

  • Leader of the crisis team will be the primary spokesperson; responsible for all media communications.

  • Media cannot be ignored and has the power to portray the company as victim or villain.

  • Senior-most levels of management especially executives with professional communication skills must perform crisis communication with the media.

  • Corporation should speak with one voice. Be swift, honest, compassionate, open, sincere in responding to the victims and their families.

  • Information must not be withheld. It may be considered stonewalling.

  1. Stakeholder Management

  • Identify all parties affected by the crisis.

  • Each stakeholder can have different interests namely, financial, medical, environmental, political or social unrest.

  1. Assume Responsibility

  • Company must accept responsibility for its actions (or inactions) immediately , and without being coerced into doing so.

  1. Response Time

  • Usually a small window of opportunity where quick and decisive action can limit or even reduce the damages.

  • The media views quick response favorably.

  1. Compassion

  • Respect for people mandatory irrespective of who was at fault.

  • Emotions of victims and their families expected to run high.

  • Public expects company to demonstrate compassion.

  • Be on the scene of the disaster as quickly as possible.

  • Delay may be viewed as lack of compassion or , even worse, that the company is hiding something.

  1. Documentation

  • Decisions need to be clearly documented for legal reasons.

  • Project manager and associated team members should possess strong writing skills.

  1. Capture Lessons Learned

  • Capture lessons learned from both internal and external crises.

  • Examine risk triggers, develop risk management templates and a corporate credo.

Source: Project Management: A Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling and Controlling by Harold R Kerzner (11th edition).


Project Office and Business Case Development

Project Office and Business Case Development

The Project Office needs to become an expert in business case development.

Most project managers are appointed after the business case is developed.


  1. Project manager may not be able to contribute to the business case.
  2. Project might not be approved and/or funded and it’s an added cost to have the project manager on board early.
  3. Project is not well-defined yet. It may be too early to determine who would be the best choice for project manager.


  1. The project manager ultimately assigned may not have sufficient knowledge about assumptions, constraints, and alternatives considered during business case development. This could lead to a less than optimal project plan.
  2. Project charter–prepared by someone else—may not have all the necessary assumptions, alternatives and constraints.
  3. The earlier the project manager is assigned, the better the plan and greater the commitment to the project.
  4. Business case development often results in a highly optimistic approach with little regard for schedule and/or budget. Pressure is then on the project manager to deliver–irregardless.


  1. Project Office should develop expertise in feasibility studies, cost-benefit analysis and business case development.
  2. Templates, forms and checklists should be readily available to help in business case development.
  3. Project Office becomes a practical support to the sales force in making more realistic promises to customers and aid in generating more sales.

Source: Project Management: A Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling and Controlling by Harold R Kerzner (11th edition).

Quality Circles

English: Every project is implemented under th...

English: Every project is implemented under three constraints, scope, costs and schedule. The diagram shows quality as the fourth constraint or as a result of the three aforementioned constraints Project Management (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Quality Circles — small groups of employees who meet frequently to help resolve company quality problems and provide recommendations to managers.

Meet frequently either at someone’s house or at the plant before work begins.

Identifies problems, analyzes data, recommends solutions and carries on management-approved changes.

Success heavily dependent on management’s willingness to listen to employee recommendations.

Key elements of quality circles:

  • Team effort.

  • Completely voluntary.

  • Trained in group dynamics, motivation, communications and problem solving.

  • Rely upon each other.

  • Management support active but as needed.

  • Creativity encouraged.

  • Management listens.

Benefits of quality circles:

  • Improved quality of products and services.

  • Better organizational communications

  • Improved worker performance.

  • Improved morale.

Source: Project Management: A Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling and Controlling by Harold R Kerzner (11th edition).