HBR Guide to Managing Stress at Work: A book review by Bob Morris

HBR Guide to Managing Stress at Work
Various Contributors
Harvard Business Review Press (2014)

In fact, this material can help almost anyone manage stress almost anywhere

This is one of my most popular reviews, perhaps because of pressures and stresses caused by COVID-19. Perhaps until now you were not aware of this book. If so, I hope it is helpful.

I focus on one the volumes in a series of anthologies of articles that first appeared in Harvard Business Review. Having read all of them when they were published individually, and then most of them in a previously published anthology, I can personally attest to the high quality of their authors’ (or co-authors’) insights as well as the eloquence with which they are expressed. This collection has two substantial value-added benefits that should also be noted: If all of the articles were purchased separately as reprints, the total cost would be at least $120; also, they are now conveniently bound in a single volume for only $13.99.

That’s not a bargain; that’s a steal.

Those in need of managing stress more effectively and/or helping their direct reports to do so will find the material in this HBR book invaluable. Authors of the 20 articles focus on one or more components of a process by which to find their triggers, harness their adrenaline, and renew their energy.

The articles are organized within four Sections: Managing Stress in the Long Term, Balancing Your Job with Everything Else, Managing Stress in the Moment, and What Your Manager or Company Can Do. At the conclusion of each Section, several practical “Tips” are included, contributed by participants in a HBR LinkedIn chat with followers of @HBRexchange on Twitter. For example, there are 21 on managing stress in the long term (Pages 47-53), five on balancing a job with everything else (83-85), nine on managing stress in the moment (113-115), and 11 on what a company or manager can do to help employee manage stress (137-141). All of these tips are practical, do-able, and validated by extensive real-world experience.

Here are four brief excerpts that are representative of the high quality of all the articles:

“We all recognize the signs of stress: fatigue, poor judgment, a negative outlook, irritability, loneliness, an inability to relax, too much or not enough eating or sleeping, nail biting, neck pain, and an increased reliance on caffeine and alcohol. And we all know what we’re supposed to do to reduce stress: Get more sleep, exercise regularly, set priorities, work more efficiently, and limit our caffeine and alcohol intake…The challenge is to manage the fine line between positive stress, which makes us productive and happy and negative stress, which leaves feeling overwhelmed and unwell.” from Stress: Make It Productive, Not Destructive, Gill Corkindale

“Working within a specific and limited timeframe is important because [begin italics] the race against time keeps you focused]. When stress is generalized and diffuse, it’s hard to manage. Using a short timer frame actually increases the pressures but keeps your effort specific and particular to a single task. That increases good, motivating stress, while reducing negative, disconcerting stress. So the fog of feeling overwhelmed dissipates, and forward movement becomes possible,” from A Practical Plan for When You Feel Overwhelmed, Peter Bregman

“So why is sleep one of the first things we’re willing to sacrifice as the demands in our lives keep rising? We continue to live by a remarkably durable myth: Sleeping one hour less will give us one more hour of productivity. In reality, the research suggests that even small amounts of sleep deprivation take a significant toll on our health, our mood, our cognitive capacity, and our productivity. Many of the effects we suffer are invisible. Insufficient sleep, for example, deeply impairs our ability to consolidate and stabilize learning that occurs during the waking day. In other words, it wreaks havoc in our memory,” from Sleep Is More Important Than Food, Tony Schwartz

“Many of us sit behind our desks and stare at computer screens far too much of the day. Although concentrated work can be beneficial to our jobs, it can be taxing on our bodies. The following yoga exercises [illustrated within the text] will help you relieve any tension you might feel after too many hours of poring over spreadsheets. The poses also provide long term benefits with regular practice. Each pose takes fewer than two minutes to complete, and you can the whole series in just 10 minutes — but I promise you’ll feel the effects long after,” from Desk Yoga: 6 Poses You Won’t Be Embarrassed to Do — Even in an Open Environment, Linda Steinberg

The other 14 articles are also of superior quality. Obviously, it remains for each read to determine which subjects are of greatest relevance.

To harness adrenaline and renew energy within their workplace, all organizations need effective leadership and management at all levels and in all areas. Moreover, as William James correctly advises, “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” Although we cannot always control what happens, we can control how we respond to what happens to us. Years ago I realized that most limits are self-imposed and I think the same is true of most stress. Moreover, I think we have it within our power to determine if stress is positive or negative. For individuals as well as organizations, measurable improvement of stress management must be continuous. The material in this book can make a substantial contribution to achieving that worthy objective.


Be Excellent at Anything: The Four Keys to Transforming the Way We Work and Live

Tony Schwartz with Jean Gomes and Catherine McCarthy

The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal

Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
David Allen

Slowing Down to the Speed of Life: How to Create a More Peaceful, Simpler Life from the Inside Out

Richard Carlson and Joseph Bailey

18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done

Peter Bregman

Nine Things Successful People Do Differently
Heidi Grant Halvorson

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