As a father of three children, including my three-month old son Charlie, I’m a big fan of the new NBC show Up All Night that deals with working parents struggling to balance family and careers.

Focused on the holidays, the most recent episode played off the stress of the season to great comedic effect. Amid the laughs, however, I realized that the stress of the season only adds to federal employees’ (and their leaders’) ongoing pressures stemming from the budget cuts, pay freezes and other potential setbacks on the horizon.

No doubt these events can take a toll. As a federal leader, you set the tone for your team. If you’re stressed, your employees will feel the pressure. Ultimately, that will have a negative effect on the folks at work and probably even at home.

Managing workplace stress requires focusing on the issues that you can control. Here are a few ideas I’ve picked up from colleagues and executive coaches over the years that may offer some benefit during these crazy times.

You’re stressed. Admit it. Admitting you have a problem may be the first step of any self-help program, but there’s a reason that’s the case. If you’re tired, anxious and irritable, that’s a sign that you’re feeling stressed. Once you recognize these warning signs – and own the stress – you can manage workplace situations more effectively. 

Identify and avoid your triggers. Any time I start to see these warning signs in my own life, I know I’m not getting enough sleep. I also know that if I get more rest, I will awake feeling better prepared to handle my work. Multiple assignments, an approaching deadline or a difficult co-worker also can lead to increased stress levels. Once you know your triggers, you can prioritize your tasks and reorganize your schedule to do what is necessary and to put off what can wait. Avoid scheduling meetings back-to-back or trying to fit too much work into one day. 

 Relax. Think about those things you enjoy most. Make time for a workout, read a book, go to the movies, or spend more time with family and friends. If you’re seeing the signs of stress affecting members of your team, it might be a good time for a team activity such as coffee or a lunch. Whatever you do to relax, you must find some time to balance the stress of work with your personal pursuits. Leave work a little earlier on some days to make the commute easier. Right now, making my baby boy Charlie smile wipes away any stress I’ve accumulated throughout the day.

Seriously, relax now.  When stress sneaks up on you during the day, take a break to clear your mind. Go for a walk around the building or outside. Grab a bottle of water, a cup of coffee or a soda. The longer you give the stress a chance to build up, the more likely it is to become a problem.

Resolve conflicts. Part of the stress may relate to tensions with particular employees or members of your leadership team. Try to eliminate the aggravation through constructive engagement. Avoid the emotion and anger, and deal directly with the issues by finding common ground where agreement is possible. If a conflict cannot be settled, try to get beyond the issues even if you still disagree.

This is far from an exhaustive list of strategies for dealing with stress. If you have your stress under control – or you’ve seen others who handle even the most difficult situations with grace – please share your examples by adding a comment below, or by sending an email to me at

More from On Leadership:

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Rocking the boat in federal agencies

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