It seems no matter what we do, stress is an inevitable part of life. And this is especially true when it comes to work. Whether you’re stressing about finances, promotions, deadlines or a difficult colleague, there always seems to be something in the workplace that adds to our woes. 

And sometimes, that difficult colleague is actually our boss. 

When I think back on the stories I’ve heard about best and worst bosses on the Best Boss Ever podcast, stress always creeps its way into the conversation. There are typically two ways this goes: someone complains about a “stress enhancer,” which almost always aligns with tales of “worst bosses ever”—and there are the “stress relievers,” who typically fall into the “best boss ever” category. 

The reason for this is simple: When an individual is stressed out, “worst bosses” perceive that stress as a way to drive productivity. And sometimes, even with those we’d call “good bosses,” leaders need their team members to mirror their own stress to show that they’re engaged and that they’re taking the project or task seriously. 

For these types of leaders, there is an assumption that those who are really stressed are more engaged, which means they’ll better perform and/or work harder. 

But I’ve found that to be completely untrue. 

Stress levels are often more about an individual’s ability to manage workload, emotions and time, than how much they care about a particular project. There is also no indication that a person’s stress level is at all connected to their ability to deliver high-quality work. For some, stress does improve productivity. For others, it can cause burnout and disengagement. 

And “best bosses” know this. They’re often focused on directing stress away from their team–sometimes to their own detriment. They want to alleviate stress and let the team focus on doing their best work, without the worry and distraction that comes from worrying and being distracted.

Risa Crandall talked about this on episode 35 of the Best Boss Ever podcast. She told me a story about her best boss, who stepped up in a big way as a “stress reliever” when they were on-site for a big client presentation. The boardroom was double booked, so the client moved Risa and her boss to the company cafeteria to go through their pitch. Almost immediately, the cafeteria began to fill up with employees on their lunch breaks. The noise grew, as did the distractions, but at that moment, Risa’s boss made eye contact and gave Risa that “I got you” look. The two tag-teamed the presentation from that point on, delivering flawlessly. Even the client noted afterwards that they didn’t know how they did that, and complimented Risa on not getting flustered. 

In that situation, a “worst boss” would have left Risa to figure out what to do on her own, giving her an “oh sh*t” look, possibly enhancing her stress. A “good boss” would have maybe provided a look of encouragement, but would have neither reduced or enhanced the stress. But here, this “best boss,” knew it was her role to relieve some of the stress in this situation, step up and support her team member. 

What do you think? Have you worked for a stress enhancer or a stress reliever? Join me on LinkedIn and let’s continue the conversation. 

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