words of wisdom from a systems engineer

Success with stress

This is a copy of a post I wrote for the Rackspace Talent blog. Much of it probably applies to the job of a system administrator, so I figured it would be a good idea to post it here as well. Let me know what you think!

sledgehammer hitting a keyboardAlthough Rackspace has one of the best work environments of any company I’ve worked for, there are plenty of opportunities to become stressed.

Stress can come from a variety of sources. Some of the obvious ones involve dealing with outages or tight deadlines, but there are some that aren’t so obvious, such as maintaining the customers’ trust and interpersonal issues.

There’s one thing you must remember: stress doesn’t have to rule your life. I’ve learned (and sometimes stumbled upon) some good techniques to prevent many of the negative effects of stressful situations at work and they’re definitely worth a try.

Know what you’re up against

It’s hard to battle a source of stress if you don’t know why it’s bothering you. Take the problem you’re facing and break it down into pieces. There are going to be some things you can and can’t change. Put the things you can’t change aside and focus on the things you’re able to change. As you tackle the list of things you can change, you might find ways to work around the things you can’t.

Interpersonal issues are easy

Stress that comes from dealing with coworkers may seem insurmountable at times. However, this type of stress is easily fixed and it normally stems from insufficient communication or conflicting goals. There’s an informal policy I’ve had on most of my teams called “Take it to the Racker” and it’s been quite successful. The basic idea is that if you have problems with another Racker, whether it’s something personal or work-related, take the grievance to them directly (in private, of course) and find common ground.

More often than not, this process leads to a good work relationship. It also improves communication drastically in the short term and it generally lasts if the people involved keep up the communication over time. I’ve seen Rackers who are so upset that they refuse to sit next to each other and after this process, they’re eating lunch together and working on the same projects.

Don’t fight your battles alone

Your best resources for fighting stress are all around you. Lean on your manager or your coworkers for help. Remember what your mother always told you: a trouble shared is a trouble halved. Your coworker might have a solution to a particular problem which frees up an hour for you each day and allows you to work on other projects. Your manager might not know that a particular task doesn’t fit your strengths and they might be able to provide you with another project that plays to your strengths.

Is it possible to reduce your stress level to zero at work? I don’t think so. However, you should always have a goal to reduce it when it makes sense.

As always, I’m interested to hear your comments. Which stress-reduction strategies work best for you? What is the source of most of your stress?