|“I can manage the work and the activities but it’s the people I find difficult to deal with!” – words uttered by Project Managers with sensitive souls the world over
Author: Fay MacDonald 7th December 2011
There are times when a sensitive soul will blossom and times when they will at best struggle, in the middle become extremely stressed and at the worst will become ill with stress.
Pushed into the Battleground of Large Complex Projects
Humans mostly wish to avoid pain. People with physical sensitivities / allergic reactions typically avoid settings which will inflict pain or life-threatening conditions, for example: nut allergies which can bring on anaphylactic shock or cat/dog hair allergies which can bring on asthma attacks.
Yet it appears that many people with emotional sensitivity don’t seem to feel able to apply the same level of caution to their emotional health when faced with the opportunity for a huge challenge, e.g. a large complex Project. At work they may be driven by fear of losing their job in a difficult economic climate.
In recent years this has happened to a large number of people who have come from operational type roles with little change day-to-day. They are suddenly forced into working on or with Projects which require massive changes and which they personally are not equipped to deal with.
The Projects are tough and can feel like battlefields with no cease-fire or even a break in the firing until the Project delivers and is closed down. There are:
- many plates to spin;
- many conflicting deadlines;
- many conflicting agendas and politics.
This is not the natural home for the sensitive soul, but the alternative option of leaving and looking for other work may seem even worse. So they try to stick it out.
Projects demand: Resilience – Skills – Knowledge – Confidence
However, a sensitive soul will typically fold and find themselves under undue stress. This can happen whether it is only the work element which is pressurising them or it could be an amalgamation of many stressors, including family / home life or other life factors.
There are many areas in Projects which are going to cause stress to sensitive souls, for example:
|No.||Criteria / Skill||Project Need for Skill||Aptitude of Sensitive Soul|
|1||Chasing overdue work||High||Low|
|2||Presenting at Board Meetings||High||Low|
|3||Delivering bad news||High||Low|
|4||Challenging others views||High||Low|
|5||Answering challenging questions on delays||High||Low|
|6||Answering challenging questions on risks||High||Low|
|7||Answering challenging questions on issues||High||Low|
These Projects really are not for the faint hearted!
Stress is now the commonest cause of long-term sick leave
Work stress changes our bodies…and studies show link to Coronary Heart Disease
In the recent report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) the results of studies (from nearly 600 people) indicate that stress has overtaken conditions such as repetitive strain injury and cancer as the reason for employees with long-term absences from work.
It is reported that this is found to be higher in the public sector where there are enormous amounts of change programmes, projects and restructurings taking place.
This survey has been run annually for 12 years and it is the first time that stress has reached the top of the charts.
Regarding the assessment of factors causing stress, a new category was added this year to ascertain whether the biggest effect is from ineffective management or organisational change in the public sector or the quantity of change in this sector.
Frequently little regard has been given to providing change management workstreams within projects and programmes due to in-experience of the teams running them or simply a lack of budget. The more sensitive souls / less-skilled and robust people have been forced into managing complex business process and IT change Projects which they are ill-equipped for.
Mostly, people in operational type roles, have chosen this type of job / career route as they are not people who like lots of change. To throw them into roles which are contrary to this like asking them to swim out into the sea in the freezing cold winter and then just leaving them there and still expecting them to do their job which is back on-shore.
A study in the European Heart Journal in 2008 focussed on more than 10,000 civil servants. The findings indicated that irrespective of the kind of job or level of seniority that employees under 50 years of age who said that their work was stressful were nearly nearly 70% more likely to develop heart disease than the stress free.
The main report commented on the biological mechanisms that link stress and disease – this happens irrespective of the lifestyle factors involved (e.g. diet, exercise).
Stress affects the regulation of heartbeat and also affects the release of hormones with noticeable spikes in the levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Other studies have indicated that stress at work and working long hours typically reduces the healthy lifestyle factors such as eating healthy foods and taking exercise and instead results in more fast foods, drinking alcohol and smoking. All of which have an additional contributory factor regarding heart disease. A bit of a catch 22 going on here.
Many organisations are now introducing stress policies which is going some way to address individual cases. However, it would be fantastic if this could be managed up-front in planning of Projects and Programmes, rather than as a clear-up exercise when casualties fall by the way-side. The up-front work is ensuring that change management is planned for and managed well and that the overall Project Manager is experienced and robust enough to manage a large complex Project which will have challenges. It is not acceptable to take junior managers and throw them in at the deep end.
The real sadness in all of this is that so many people are not recognising early enough that changes need to be made either in their own situation or in how they are managing others.
Stress is a slow progressive health and life stealer, sometimes people don’t know the true damage until 15 to 20 years later…when it really is too late to do something about it.