The research work of Kelly McGonigal reported in The Upside of Stress (2015), offers some counter-intuitive advice on what to do when you are under the most stress.
It appears we can make a significant impact on how we respond to stress by reaching out to help others when we are most under the pump.
This doesn’t mean our own work disappears or our inbox magically shrinks, but that our physical and mental response to our own stress eases.
The origins of this approach may be found in the research on the positive benefits of giving.
We feel better, are happier and our quality of life is improved when we are given the opportunity to display generosity. The act of helping someone else in need does help us, almost regardless of our own circumstances.
Further evidence of this phenomenon can be found in crisis situations. Victims of natural disasters who may be badly injured will reach out to help other injured people rather than trying to escape or help themselves.
Even in these most dire of situations we have an almost innate desire or need to help others.
The organisational implications of this need to help others are significant. Imagine a workplace where people are regularly reaching out to help others under stress - where the major drivers are to support others, even when our own workload is peaking.
We would all be more willing to help others if we were confident in the knowledge that others will come to us, offering to help, when we needed it most.
Adopting such behavioural norms may help to reduce overall stress levels and instill a better quality of work life.
One more small step in the next 24 hours
Take the opportunity to offer help and support to a colleague who is stressed under the weight of a heavy workload.
They are likely to deflect by offering a polite thank you before declining on the basis that you have enough on your own plate.
Persist and do what you can to ease both their actual work and their perception of their stress level.
By role-modelling this behaviour on several occasions, you set up the opportunity to have a conversation with your team about how such actions could help everyone.
Share some of the research on the benefits of giving and how the environment could be much more positive with everyone actively supporting each other.
What impact could this action have on your leadership success?
How likely is it you could implement this action successfully?