Relax Already!

You've been working all day and, once again, you'll be eating a lukewarm takeout dinner at your desk tonight. And what about that one manager of yours who's been calling in sick lately, not to mention the recent conflict between two of your clerical staff?

You're stressed, they're stressed. Who isn't stressed at work? From personnel shortages and encroaching competition to difficult customers and office politics, on-the-job and personal stress can lead to serious problems at your pool and spa dealership. When you work to manage and prevent your own stress, however, you can help your employees do the same, through education, communication and changes in company policy and benefits.


Workplace stress costs American businesses billions of dollars a year in absenteeism, staff turnover, errors, accidents and theft. A search of the Nexis/Lexis newspaper article database using the term "workplace stress" returned more than 1,000 articles in the preceding 90 days.

On-the-job stress isn't limited to workplace issues. Violent world events, the fear of terrorism and a faltering economy, as well as personal stressors, such as family and financial problems, can also negatively affect one's physical and mental health, and work performance. Sometimes we forget that employees have lives outside the workplace. When we can't leave our troubles at home (and who among us can always separate work life and home life.), we usually bring them to work.


Stressors can be positive (a wedding, a new job) or negative (divorce, death of a loved one). Since each of us reacts differently to them, one person's catastrophe is another's opportunity.

By definition, stress is a mental or physical tension or strain caused by your perception of an event (stressor) that, in turn, triggers physiological, biochemical and psychological changes in the body. These changes made sense for the earliest humans, who relied on their fight-or-flight response to help them escape predators. For them, a complex set of physical responses was set in motion, designed to increase their chances of survival.

This survival mechanism still exists in us today. In emergency situations, the body's release of adrenalin and cortisol hormones works to speed up the heart rate and supply extra glucose for energy (to flee or fight that enemy), and thicken the blood so it would clot more easily (in case of injury). These hormones also suppress the immune system (but scientists still don't know why).

A healthy body can normally handle a big jolt of stress, now and then. But continued or frequent exposure to stressors releases more cortisol, weakening your immune cells and inviting illness. A near-constant increased heart rate raises your blood pressure, forcing your heart to work harder at pumping blood and oxygen throughout your body. This could lead to a heart attack. Other negative effects include headaches and muscle aches, exhaustion, insomnia and anxiety.


Be aware of workplace stressors that can affect you and your employees. The most significant one is a sense of a lack of control, or feeling powerless to change a given situation. Change itself, favorable or not, is another, along with workload, whether too little (boredom) or too much (exhaustion). Job politics can be stressful when you refuse, deny or respond ineffectively to the "game." Interruptions, conflicting demands, procrastination, ineffective delegating and poor organizational and time-management skills only add pressure to one's workday.

As owner or manager of your business, some stressors belong mostly to you, such as worrying about the competition, wearing too many hats and dealing with a personnel shortage. As "top dog" of your company, you may have no one to talk to about all this stress, causing you more stress.

Meanwhile, your employees can always commiserate with each other about:

• Physical and mental demands.

Long hours, heavy lifting, boring tasks, demanding responsibilities, prolonged standing or sitting, and repetitive-motion tasks create stress. So does inadequate training.

• Other people. Difficult customers can make anyone tense. Working with a diversity of people who may not like or understand each other can lead to conflict.

• Work environment. Bad ergonomics, poor lighting, insufficient ventilation, inconsistent or uncomfortable temperature, noise, lack of privacy and unsanitary conditions are all stressful.

• Changes in duties. Learning new skills can be overwhelming, and even a welcome promotion can be stressful when a new manager faces jealousy or resentment from former peers.

• Boss's attitude. Any anger you may feel only rubs off on your staff, but they're likely to feel that anger if you don't show them enough respect and recognition.

• Job dissatisfaction. We spend at least half of our waking lives at work. That's too much time to feel unhappy. An employee looking to quit won't perform as well, or may take time off to seek out another job.

• Unstable staff. If you're forced to lay off staff, what could be more stressful than a reduced work force for you and job loss for your employees.


If you want to manage stress, begin with yourself. Maintain a positive attitude, since the way you perceive stressful events determines how well you'll deal with them. Adopt a healthful diet, exercise and get plenty of sleep. Establish a supportive network of friends and family, and balance out your life with activities that have nothing to do with your spa and pool business.

While you're getting your own stress under control, help your employees manage theirs by:

• Encouraging open communication. Invite staff to talk about their stress, and really listen to them. Show concern and promise confidentiality.

• Offering employee assistance. Send staff to a stress-management seminar and provide a list of community mental health services. Fund an employee assistance program for free, confidential guidance.

• Lightening up. Encourage a relaxed and casual atmosphere. There's nothing wrong with mixing business and pleasure. Humor can be a powerful antidote to stress, and people who have fun at work are less anxious and more productive.

• Being generous with benefits. Offer a solid medical plan, contribute to staff's gym memberships and day care, and provide flex-time and job sharing. Stock vending machines with healthful snacks.

• Providing boundaries, support and trust. Offer job predictability with written company policies and procedures, and job descriptions. Provide effective training, and show your appreciation with praise and incentive programs.

• Giving appropriate responsibility. Let employees have input into what they do and how they perform their jobs. Invite suggestions on how they can better contribute.


You may not be able to influence and overcome every stressful situation, but you can take charge over how you respond. When you successfully manage stress, you embrace:

• Control.Know what you're able to change, and accept what you can't.

• Challenge. View stress as an opportunity for creative problem solving.

• Community. Work with others to make those changes, from talking openly with staff to forming committees.

Learn to manage the stress in your own home and work life, and help your employees manage theirs. Sure, it takes time and effort to educate yourselves and carry out the changes to ensure a more stress-free workplace. But isn't your business — and your health — worth it?


  1. During your commute, bypass news radio and listen to music you really enjoy.
  2. Create an appealing work space. That might mean fresh flowers, photos of loved ones or sports memorabilia, depending on your taste.
  3.  When appropriate, learn to say no to others and yes to yourself.
  4. Cut down on coffee, and drink more water during the day, to keep your body hydrated so your mind stays alert.
  5. Stop periodically to stretch and move around. Walk down the hall instead of picking up the phone. Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  6. Pause to take several relaxing, deep breaths, exhaling slowly.
  7. Relax your eyes by closing them or focusing them in the distance.
  8. Stimulate peripheral vision by tracing a horizontal "figure eight" with your eyes.
  9. Keep one of those squishy, rubbery, apple-sized stress balls handy for especially stressful times.
  10. Every day, find something to smile and laugh about, and invite others in on the fun.

— C.S.

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