Doing more with less

Graeme joined my Resilience workshop in Seattle a few weeks ago and we struck up a conversation over lunch. Graeme’s a middle manager in a large telecom company and while he enjoyed his job before the recession, the last few years have been, to use his words, “a nightmare on wheels”. “My company downsized 10% of our people in just 3 years,” he explained. “There’s still the same amount of work to do each day – just a helluva lot less people to do it.” It was easy to see that Graeme was frustrated and angry, and easy to understand why.

A week later I spoke to a group in San Francisco and had a déjà vu experience with Janine; a middle-level manager in the pharmaceutical industry. Janine’s organization had cut costs to the bone to get through the recession, leaving 15% of their staff downsized in that wake. Janine told me, “I’m working the equivalent of two and a half jobs these days, picking up the duties of the people who lost their jobs. Once upon a time I would have complained. But now I lie awake at night in fear that I’ll be next. So I shut up, get up, and put in my 10 to 12-hour day.”

For two decades now we’ve been pressured in our jobs to meet the same standards (same projects brought to completion, same deadlines) with tighter budgets and fewer people. But with record numbers of downsizings and lowered consumer spending, the recession truly ushered in the era of “do more with less!” And it’s taking a toll.

My research shows that we’re more angry, frustrated, and anxious in our jobs than we’ve been in living memory. We’re less satisfied than we’ve ever been, too. 75% of us report being ‘stressed to the max’ and we’re one straw away from the proverbial broken back. So what can we do?

The first step is to identify the most stressful times of your work day and monitor how you feel at those times. Use the Stress Tracker and find the patterns in your emotions. Everyone is different – having to do more with less made Graeme angry but Janine anxious. The Stress Tracker feedback will guide you to understand what emotion you feel and why.

The second step is to check out your Icebergs. Icebergs are large belief systems about ourselves, our world, and how we should be in the world. Having to do more with less is an infamous trigger for Icebergs, so when we’re in the midst of stress, day in and day out, we’re sure to smack into our Icebergs sooner or later.

This was certainly true of Melanie, who came to my workshop in Washington, D.C. just last week. Melanie is a technician in a government department and, by all accounts, very skilled. She takes great pride in her work. Melanie told me, “Used to be that I could take the time to do a job right. I never took short cuts and always made sure I did the best quality work I could. But now with the cuts in government funding there’s so much pressure to get as many jobs as possible done, regardless of whether the repair will hold or not. It just kills me to do things half-baked.”

Melanie’s Iceberg, looming under the surface of her conscious awareness, is that “I should get everything done perfectly.” This Iceberg, developed in childhood, worked well for her when her performance was judged on the quality and durability of her repairs. But in the era of “do more with less”, that’s no longer the coin of her realm.

Are emotions and Icebergs getting in the way for you or making a bad situation worse? Track your stress to recognize your emotions and think about what your icebergs might be and how to navigate around them. And remember, even in the midst of ‘do more with less’ stress, we can feel better with a few simple techniques that can take the edge off that stress.

Andrew Shatté, meQuilibrium Chief Science Officer