Job Stress Management:
Other Wiser Ways of Working

A number of companies are leading the way toward helping their employees develop better job stress management techniques. Here are two excellent examples of this process in action.


Herman Maynard was a manager in DuPont’s Cable Division. In 1988 his business unit’s desire for performance had reached the point where high levels of stress were having a detrimental impact on employees’ health, performance, and families.

With a clear understanding of the relationship of stress on individuals’ and business’ health, the division worked together to develop a way to reduce stress, improve performance, and develop a healthier life-work balance. What they established were three overriding priorities that guided the decision making and work for the members of the division. Perhaps they can help guide you too. Here are their job stress management strategies:

  1. Safety, Health, and Family
    If there was a question of whether or not to drive at safe speeds, get the needed amount of exercise or sleep, attend a child’s school function, or work on business, the individuals were expected to first care for their own and their family’s physical and psychological needs.

  2. Learning
    The second priority was for each employee to spend a minimum of 20 percent of their “at work” time learning. Learning could involve any subject the employee chose, and any learning process the employee selected.

  3. Realizing the Business Mission
    The third priority was for employees to better understand the mission of the company. The more they understood the big picture, the more they would feel empowered regarding their particular role in the business.

Though many people in the division believed this was a wise plan, it was so radically different than the cultural norm that it was still met with a high level of disbelief and skepticism. After allowing a three month settling in time for employees to fully believe that leadership was actually serious about this, the organization began to more closely measure the impact of the new job stress management strategy.

What they found was that there was a dramatic increase in creativity, innovation, and productivity. The up front price was for management to give up control and risk anarchy. Yet in the long run, the results were inspiring, and employees acted even more responsibly in how they used their time and spent money. The division sent a clear message that each individual was valued and trusted first as a person, and second as a contributor to the business. And people lived up to this trust.


Another approach to implementing better job stress management is being explored at Hewlett-Packard, whose leadership has formally endorsed alternative work schedules. At the company’s financial services center in Colorado Springs, thirty-eight people out of a team total of sixty chose to work a four-day, ten-hour schedule instead of their regular eight-to-five, five-day schedule. Their experiment showed these results:

  1. Overtime was reduced by 50 percent.

  2. Productivity -- transactions per day -- exceeded that of colleagues who remained on the typical five-day, eight-hour schedule.

  3. Customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction increased.

These results speak for themselves. Not only are Hewlett-Packard schedules flexible, but so are work locations. As technology continues to advance, working from almost anywhere has become possible. At present, between 10 to 15 percent of H.P. employees telecommute. According to Lew Platt, Hewlett-Packard’s CEO, who has outspokenly supported H.P.’s life-work balance initiatives, this means that, “the focus really does have to be on accomplishments and meeting objectives. It’s no longer on `face time,’ and I think that’s good. It suits the world in which we live.”

This is not to say that companies will not resist such changes. As Platt acknowledges, “Cultural change is the most difficult change of all, especially in organizations that are led by a generation of managers who had at-home spouses and were willing to sacrifice much of their personal lives for their careers.”

He tells the story of one senior manager who had a meeting with his staff to discuss work-life balance. The meeting started at 5 P.M. and ended at 9 P.M.--and he didn’t see the irony! Platt believes that though change in job stress management strategy is slow, it is happening, and he is championing the vision of “an environment that encourages employees and managers to work together to achieve common company objectives for business success, while creating opportunities for balancing work with other life activities.“

[Adapted from the book "Living in Balance" by Joel Levey
and Michelle Levey]

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