Stress Reduction Specialist

It's a well-established fact that people don't perform well when they're stressed. To keep their employees healthy (and productive), companies are increasingly turning to stress reduction specialists.

If you've ever been scared, you know how it feels. Your heart races, your breathing speeds up and you can feel adrenalin coursing through your body.

This is the good old fight-or-flight reaction. Your body is ready to fight off an adversary or run like crazy.

All this internal hubbub is great if you're facing down a lion that thinks you'd make a tasty lunch. It's not so great if you're at work.

Unfortunately, your body doesn't know the difference. If it senses you're under stress -- any stress -- it starts sending out these chemicals.

It doesn't know that what you're scared of isn't being eaten, but of giving a talk in front of 20 people, or of having an important meeting with your boss.

"Stress is the number one leading claim for long-term disability benefits, both in Canada and the U.S.," says David Granirer. He gives workshops to businesses about relieving stress.

Businesses are listening. People who are stressed are sick more often, stay sick longer and are more likely to burn out and quit. People are also less productive when they're stressed: they make more mistakes, have fewer good ideas, and are generally less productive every day.

No one can afford to have a whole company full of people not working at their best. So businesses are bringing in experts who can teach them how to eliminate stress in the workplace.

Some Different Approaches

There's no single way to alleviate stress, and different entrepreneurs rely on different approaches. Granirer uses humor. "I'm a trainer for [a crisis center]," he says, "and I'm a stand-up comic."

Laughter, like stress, changes how our body works. "They've done studies that show laughter reduces stress," explains Granirer. "Your blood pressure drops, and the physical act of laughing contracts and releases tensed-up muscles.

"It also stimulates the thymus gland -- the master gland that helps boost your immune system."

So laughing is actually good for your body. It reverses the physical effects of stress.

Martha Burgess got her start through acting. As a director, actress and acting coach, a friend asked her to coach some executives on how to present themselves in business situations. Before she knew it, Theater Techniques for Business People was born.

Burgess soon found she had to deal with the stress issue before she began teaching anything else. "You can't teach people if they're stressed out. You have to deal with the stress first."

Stress can be a real liability for executives, especially when making presentations or meeting other business people.

Under stress, Burgess explains, "people make inappropriate movements and give non-verbal cues" that undermine their whole presentation. "You can't fake not being stressed."

Dean Haislmaier of PeopleMax comes from a more conventional business background. "I had my own real estate business for 25 years, then I got a graduate degree in educational psychology."

His hands-on training as an executive, combined with his knowledge of people and psychology, form the basis for his programs.

The Secrets of Stress

When we think of stress, we think of ringing phones and screaming bosses and deadlines. That's not the whole story.

"Burnout and stress aren't the result of overwork," says Haislmaier. "People love to work -- if they have some purpose. Giving meaning to work is the key to reducing stress."

Making employees feel needed and valued is one of the best ways to combat stress. If an employee feels their opinions and skills don't matter, they just drag themselves to work every day, feeling miserable and unappreciated.

And being miserable is very stressful. It's also counter-productive, since no one does their best work when they're miserable and don't care.

This kind of stress can't be solved with a few jokes or a massage. It's an ongoing problem.

Haislmaier believes many of the stress reduction techniques used by some companies "aren't long-lasting because they address the symptom instead of the cause."

Everyone agrees the best way to cure this kind of stress is to treat the whole company. "I start with communication techniques," says Haislmaier.

"A lot of managers have only one way of dealing with a problem: they only have one arrow in their quiver." Often, that arrow is belligerence. One of the things Haislmaier has to teach, for example, is "that disagree does not mean dislike."

Burgess takes a similar tack. "Instead of the old model of having one leader telling everyone else what to do, we're training people to be a company full of leaders."

Though he uses humor as a medium and a stress reliever, Granirer agrees this is just the starting point. "I use interactive exercises to teach them some skills for communicating effectively."

Once companies learn to value their employees and listen to their input, everyone feels better. They have less stress, like going to work and feel like they're part of a team. Not surprisingly, their productivity and creativity increase as a result. Everybody wins.

The expertise of stress reduction specialists is in demand, as stress seems to be a huge health problem in the U.S.

How to Do It

As you can see, people come into this business from wildly different backgrounds. Burgess advises that anyone who wants to get into the field should get some experience in stress management themselves.

"There are lots of techniques for handling stress -- meditation or visualization, for example. So, go and participate and find out what works for you. This way, you know what the benefits are and how it really works."

Granirer says, "My counseling and psych background has really helped me. I've done lots of group facilitation, which I combine with my skills as a comic." He suggests newcomers take comedy workshops and courses on communications to learn these skills.

Haislmaier says any courses on educational or organizational psychology are a good place to start. "But not clinical psychology -- watching rats run around a maze isn't much help."

And if you're helping business executives, it helps to have been one.

"Getting a sales job is great training," he says. "You have to learn to read people, to deal with rejection, deal with pressure, and just pick yourself up and keep going."

This hands-on experience brings a dose of reality to his courses and workshops. "I lived it for 20 years, so I don't just sympathize with the people I teach. I empathize."

Once you have the skill, you have to create the business to go with it. "Any experience in marketing is really helpful," says Granirer. "Once you have the skills, you have to know how to package them."

Of course, if you're going to be advising and training people, you have to have some people skills yourself. "People don't want a boring guy giving statistics and facts," says Granirer, "especially for a laughter workshop."

Once your business is established, fees vary depending on the length of the workshop, how many people you train, and how in-depth the course is.

"You may not work all the time," says Granirer. "But when you are working in this business you get paid really well.

"Speakers can get anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 for a 45-minute keynote address. A half-day workshop runs anywhere from $500 to $1,500, or even more."

Burgess gives longer three-day workshops and charges $3,500. Haislmaier does several different kinds of consulting services, but says it averages out "to about $100 an hour." So the business, once you have a reputation, is fairly lucrative.


Not too long ago, most businesses liked to see some stress in their employees. After all, if you were too relaxed, it was assumed you just weren't working hard enough.

But now evidence shows that stress on the job isn't a sign of success -- it's a sign of a problem. And it will eat away at the effectiveness of the employee and the business.

So it's no surprise that more and more businesses are turning to stress reduction specialists to get the competitive edge they need. And if they can have a few laughs along the way, well, that's even better.


Mind Tools
Check out the section on how to recognize and master stress

National Speakers Association
An organization of professional public speakers

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