How financial professionals can keep stress at bay

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Work stressBy Robert Half International

Stress is a constant in the lives of many financial professionals. Multiple deadlines — from the monthly close to tax filings and quarterly financial statements — often mean working in a continual state of urgency.

But it’s not just the nature of the job itself that can be stress-inducing. According to an Accountemps survey, 41 percent of financial executives said trying to balance work and personal responsibilities is the greatest source of workplace stress. Office politics or conflicts with co-workers was cited by 28 percent of respondents. Surprisingly perhaps, only 16 percent said staying current with changing financial regulations was a primary stressor.

Even if the constant demands never seem to cease, you may be able to find ways to manage them better. Consider these six suggestions:

1. Understand priorities. Although everyone seems to want things “by close of business,” this expectation isn’t always realistic.

When you’re asked to perform a Herculean feat — especially one that comes out of nowhere — ask a little more about what’s needed and how you can be accommodating without ditching other personal or work obligations. It may be that your manager really only needs one critical piece of information rather than an entire report, or maybe you can break a project into stages. By understanding more about what’s needed and when, you can often lower your stress level while ensuring your ability to deliver.

2. Ask for what you need. Don’t be afraid to request additional flexibility. Perhaps you can join a conference call from home while you wait for a plumber or work from home one day a week to complete a regularly scheduled task. Considering the time involved in commuting in many cities, your boss may very well be receptive, especially if you make it clear what you plan to accomplish while telecommuting and then deliver on it.

3. Give yourself a break. Consider a self-imposed “timeout” from your work schedule, even during busy periods. To force employees to better manage stress, one high-volume accounting firm closes its office at 5 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays during tax season. Even if your employer doesn’t mandate such a practice, recognize that you may need to adjust your intensity level on your own sometimes.

4. Take it outside. It’s not unusual to feel added stress if you’re cooped up in a cubicle for 10 hours a day with hardly a glimpse of the outside world. A change of scenery may help you re-energize.

If you need to meet with a colleague to discuss a business matter, consider taking the discussion outside the office rather than to the conference room. Sit in the city plaza with a cup of coffee or take a brisk walk and exchange ideas. You’ll return to the office feeling less stressed, and a new setting may be just what’s needed to stumble upon a breakthrough idea.

Similarly, don’t hesitate to break away for lunch. Even if your to-do list exceeds your available time, it can boost your productivity to get out of the office briefly rather than eating at your desk and trying to power through.

5. Avoid the superhero syndrome. Recognize that your powers are not superhuman, even if you will them to be. Be realistic and speak up if you simply can’t take on another project. Let your boss know that you are willing to help, but you may need to shift some responsibilities to accommodate the new request. Your boss would rather know up front that you have too much on your plate than to have a project fall through at the last minute.

6. Book a vacation. If it’s been a while since you’ve taken time off, start planning your next extended break from the office. Your manager will likely be supportive: Most managers realize that vacations are good for morale and productivity.

When you do plan time away, try to truly unplug. Set up your email and voice mail to let others know you’re out of the office, and establish an alternate contact for urgent matters.

In any fast-paced, deadline-driven field, stress can easily get the best of you. You may be able to prevent it, though, by taking some of these simple, but effective, steps to regain balance in your work life.

Robert Half International is the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm with a global network of more than 400 staffing and consulting locations worldwide. For more information about our professional services, visit www.roberthalf.com. For additional career advice, view our career bloopers video series at www.roberthalf.com/bloopers or follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/roberthalf.

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