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Stress For Success (Managing Purchasing Stress in a Changing World)


F. M. "Mike" Babineaux, C.P.M., A.P.P.
F. M. "Mike" Babineaux, C.P.M., A.P.P., Senior Business Specialist, Strategic Sourcing and Supply Chain Management, FedEx Express, Memphis, TN 38118, 901/224-4988,

86th Annual International Conference Proceedings - 2001 

Abstract. Stress is a naturally occurring phenomenon in purchasing today. Research indicates an increase in stress-related diseases as a result of work places saturated with excessive change and chronic tension. If you're feeling burnout, you may be a victim of stress. This condition adversely affects purchasing people personally as well as professionally, but it need not be your undoing, if you manage the stress created by our changing world.

Objectives. The objectives of this presentation are to increase your awareness of personal stressors and the way you react to those stressors. We will also expand your repertoire of skills to manage the stress of a purchasing profession.

Everyone is, to a greater or lesser extent, likely to suffer the unwanted effects of too much pressure at work. But everyone has a personal best level of stress at which they can work and live most productively and enjoyably. Purchasing people without some stress are unlikely to be particularly effective. While a degree of stress is generally good for all individuals, the problem is when stress levels are not recognized or are allowed to get out of control.

What Is Stress? Stress can be simply defined as a response made by people to demands placed on them. Everyone needs a certain amount of stress to remain healthy, alert and be productive - so not all stress is bad. It is when demands and pressures are prolonged or excessive that individuals find their ability to cope challenged. This creates a vulnerability that can manifest itself in a range of ill-health effects for the individual and can have negative consequences on the effectiveness of a purchasing department.

What Are The Sources Of Stress At Work? As in many organizations, purchasing people face factors such as change, insecurity, increasingly demanding targets and resource constraints which can be stressful for individuals. The challenge for all of us is to ensure that individual and organizational responses to these factors recognize and attempt to alleviate their potentially harmful effects. Some of these potential stressors are described below.

Changes In The Nature And Structure Of Work. Purchasing departments are having to change and adapt in order to maintain and improve their effectiveness. The pace of that change is believed to have quickened considerably in recent years not least due to new technology. Periods of considerable change or uncertainty have created particular stresses on many purchasing people. Change can originate from within the organization and from outside and it needs to be carefully managed and controlled. It may be difficult to see how we can avoid the stresses that result from externally imposed change, but even in these cases, there is usually a considerable degree of internal control over how change is actually managed.

The Social Environment At Work. Emotional well-being is an important part of general mental health and the nature of interaction between people at work plays a significant part in determining levels of self esteem. Working relationships may suffer from personality clashes and pressure of work for example. Assertive behavior, consideration for others, openness and integrity, harmony and respect for diversity can all help to promote a positive social environment which will enhance mental well-being and lower stress levels at work.

Cumulative Stress. Often stress can build up unnoticed over a period of time. Many mildly stressful situations, while not threatening to mental well-being in themselves, can contribute to a cumulative effect which could ultimately damage the individual's mental well-being. Examples of these cumulative effects include the sequential effects of repetitive tasks, unrealistic or unnecessarily tight deadlines, work or information overload, work underload, people not feeling "involved" or "in control," concerns about job security, career development or proper training.

Extended Affects. Stress-related problems are rarely confined to the individual concerned. The effects may be felt by all around, for example through impaired relationships with suppliers and internal customers. Although purchasing managers try to avoid dealing with it, all too often they find themselves faced with an emotional buyer who is simply too stressed-out to function normally. The result: a time bomb waiting to happen.

When taken by surprise, a manager often doesn't have time to prepare a reasonable, rational response to an emotional employee who suddenly creates an "out-burst" in the workplace. Managers must learn to prepare for an outburst and become familiar with an approach to deal with them, such as;

  1. Calmly acknowledge the employee's behavior. Don't overreact.
  2. Tell the employee how his or her behavior affects the situation at hand.
  3. Rationally and calmly decide whether or not to continue the discussion.
  4. Suggest a way to resolve the issue.
  5. Offer support.

For example, if an employee suddenly creates an outburst, your best bet as a manager is to acknowledge the employee's behavior, first by referring to the employee by name and then by saying, "I can see that you are very upset". At this point the best way to manage a situation is to listen, listen, listen and listen, and then follow steps 2 through 5. You may then just find yourself, in the long run, with a happier, more productive employee after he or she has been able to express their feelings.

Response Variations. Taking appropriate action requires a range of responses. This presentation considers what we can do to reduce and prevent undesirable stress at work. Researchers for years have been intrigued by the fact that certain people seem immune to stress, despite major disruptive events taking place in their life, while others appear to be stress-prone over what many consider minor disruptive events.

Stress-prone people generally look at problems from a more negative viewpoint and with a more helpless attitude. They often feel guilty or anxious and often don't expect things to get any better. In contrast are stress-hardy individuals, who view problems as a challenge and derive a sense of meaning when handling stress.

What is the difference between these two types of individuals? It appears that deeply ingrained patterns formed through childhood and our "way of thinking" about situations and events are, in part, to blame.

Following are four approaches that will help us think differently about the problems we face each day and how we can better handle the stresses they create.

  1. Social Connection--health experts have continually emphasized that a solid social "network" is important to both your physical and mental well-being.
    1. Cut TV consumption by 50%.
    2. Write a letter or call/visit a friend.
    3. Devote some time to a religious or other community organization.
    4. Set a specific time each week for a family meeting to talk about problems, concerns and accomplishments that have recently taken place.

  2. 15-minute stress-reduction program.
    1. Find a quiet, comfortable place where you can sit uninterrupted for 15 minutes.
    2. Close your eyes and focus on the sensation of the air as you inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth.
    3. Close your eyes and focus on the gentle rising of your chest and abdomen as you inhale and exhale.
    4. Don't struggle with your thoughts. When your mind wanders, just let the thoughts go and, after practicing this approach, you will be able to concentrate more on listening to your body than your thoughts.

  3. Initiate an exercising program.
    1. Set realistic goals for an exercise program. As we all know it is impossible to get in shape overnight.
    2. Select physical activities that you enjoy, as you integrate your exercise into your daily activities. Most of all remember to have fun when exercising. Viewing exercise as torture defeats the purpose.

  4. Get a good night's sleep.
    1. Avoid caffeine at least three hours before bedtime.
    2. Relax for at least 15 minutes before you go to sleep. (You may want to try the 15 minutes of stress reduction in No.2 before you go to bed. If you practice this approach for a week, it is amazing what a good night's sleep you will begin having.)
    3. Be sure you have a comfortable mattress and your sleeping area is dark, quiet and well-ventilated.
    4. Rule of thumb is that if you are not asleep in 15 minutes get up and return to bed only when you are sleepy. Your body will sleep when it is ready.
    5. Your sleeping area should be for sleeping. Consider it your "central sleep center".

Follow these steps and within 30 days you should begin to feel less stressed out and more relaxed.

Good luck, and if you can think about your problems differently and utilize many of the approaches listed above, you are sure to reduce your stress load both in work and at home and feel better about yourself overall.

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