So far in this series we have talked about pretty much every possible source of work stress pertaining to your terms and conditions, employment and other people. What if you have an actual work content problem that is keeping you up at night though? A problem you are responsible for, which you don’t know how to solve?

Some of these can be doozies. If you are in a position of genuine responsibility, and the organisation is struggling with something serious YOU have to find a solution for (cash flow; declining sales; diminishing customer base; rising costs, bad publicity etc.), this can be very difficult and stressful.

So, how to tackle it?

  1. Is the problem clearly defined? Are you very clear what the problem is, and what is causing it? Can you re-define the problem another way? For example, weak cash flow could be due to over-investment in something, but could be off-set if sales increased. What are the pushes and pulls creating the situation?
  2. Get a team on it. Unless you are a one-man band then even if you are a CEO or Director it is usually not for you to solve single-handed. If this problem is business- critical, then get more than one pair of eyes on it.
  3. How many options do you have for solving the problem? Well it’s not enough – get more! Virtually no business problem is unique these days, and there are endless case studies and reference studies available. Can you find a parallel, even if, or especially if not in your own industry? And then find some more.
  4. No-one in your organisation has any ideas? Go seek someone outside to either help or model
  5. You know what the answer is, but don’t know how to get there, or don’t have the resources? Is there a massive blocker of some kind? Work on this. Get creative and question all your assumptions about what can and can’t work in your organisation. Often one of the biggest blockers is inertia, but other people have over-come this, so can you.
  6. Don’t lose hope. Find some inspirational stories about bigger, badder problems people have solved. Get some perspective.
  7. Once you have plenty of options you can evaluate them – the how can often be a lot easier than the what.
  8. Key point – taking vigorous and creative action to deal with your problem will diminish your stress. If you know you are doing all you can, and you are starting to see a way forward, you will feel better. In the unlikely event that a solution really cannot be found (perhaps because you are over-ruled by someone with a higher level of authority or some other factor out of your control), then you can let go. You will know you did everything you could and on this occasion it just wasn’t enough. If you could do no better, you could do no better. There comes a point where you just have to forgive yourself and move on.
  9. Key check – could anyone else do better? Who? What do they look like? What characteristics do they have that you do not? Can you get such a person involved?

Did you find this article useful? What work problems are you struggling with? What action have you taken to try to find a solution? Leave a comment below, and let me know.

Till next time!