Who Ya Gonna Call? Stress Busters!

Feeling anxious or overwhelmed by your work? Can’t sleep? Got the blues? Got body aches and pains? Yelling at your spouse, kids, or co-workers for no apparent reason?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above, there’s a good chance you’re seriously stressed—and you’re not alone. JCK‘s new national survey of scores of retail jewelry business owners and managers finds two in five (44%) say they’re “highly stressed” in their daily work, and almost three in four (70%) experience high stress during holiday sales periods.

“For business owners, unrelieved work stress is a real problem, and it’s increasing,” says Dr. Robert Farra, Atlanta, a stress expert and family therapist. For retailers like jewelry store owners, managers, and employees, the pressures can be even greater, says family business and retail jeweler consultant Paul Karofsky, because “there’s a sense of urgency in retailing and special stress-creating situations” involving customers and security concerns.

Various studies find most owners and managers believe doing business is more stressful today than it was five years ago, a finding confirmed by jewelers who responded to JCK‘s survey. Over half (60.4%) say their on-the-job stress has increased markedly in recent years. The primary reasons they cite include the economy’s impact on their local market and business; difficult, late, or inefficient employees; staff turnover; growth of or changes in the business; operational or financial issues; more demanding customers; and problems with business technology such as computers, the Internet, or cell phones. (Surprisingly, though robbery and criminal violence are constant possibilities in retail jewelry, only 1% cited these as causes of stress.)

Stress and health. All jobs have some stress, of course, but short-term stress can be invigorating, say medical experts. So-called “performance stress” propels us to meet deadlines, close important sales, complete big projects, or handle several tasks at the same time.

Over time, however, unrelieved stress affects job performance. One recent national survey found that it affects the ability of one in five adults to concentrate on work all or some of the time. It also can cause irritability, anxiety, depression, lack of motivation, insomnia, bickering with co-workers, hasty decisions, and physical illness. In fact, the American Association of Family Practitioners says 60% of all visits to general-practice doctors are stress-related. Typical symptoms include headaches, stomach difficulties, and depression.

Curiously, while most jewelers say they’re under heavy stress, few think their staff are! Only one in three (36%) believe their employees’ job stress has risen in recent years, and half (49%) of those who think employees are stressed don’t do anything to relieve it. Indeed, some think that’s unnecessary. “[They have] no stress or pressure because I assume it all,” one West Coast jeweler told JCK.

Actually, employees are under stress for many of the same reasons as bosses—demanding customers, intense selling periods, long hours on their feet—as well as for reasons created by the boss. These can include unreasonable expectations, vaguely defined responsibilities, and salaries not commensurate with employees’ work. For employees, job stress can lead to apathy and resentment, sap productivity and motivation, and cause sickness and absenteeism. Federal reports show that on an average workday about one million employees miss work because of stress-related complaints, and stress accounts for more the half the 550,000 U.S. workdays lost annually due to absenteeism.

Stress and business. All of this aggravates a jewelry store owner’s or manager’s own stress because of the effects on a store’s revenues, operational costs, and employee benefits. Job stress problems cost U.S. businesses at least $300 million annually as a result of absenteeism, lower productivity, employee turnover, and higher medical, legal, and insurance costs, says Essi Systems, a San Francisco consulting firm that offers stress-management advice.

“Unrelieved stress has a tremendous impact on the staff and affects everything—productivity, attitude in the store, sales, and so on,” notes Holly Wesche Conn of Wesche Jewelers, a successful family-owned and -operated business in Melbourne, Fla. “When people are frustrated and stressed, morale suffers, sales suffer, the cash flow becomes tight, employee turnover rises—and on and on. So the atmosphere in a store—the attitudes, stress level, and general morale—is something that has to be attended to constantly throughout the year.”

How do you—boss or employee—do that? The following articles tell how to reduce job stress for the boss and the staff, detail how one jeweler successfully handles the year-end high-pressure holiday sales period, and offer tips for quick relief from stress on the sales floor.

Money matters. One in four jewelers (28%) told JCK that dealing with financial matters—i.e., cash flow, balancing the books, avoiding debt, meeting sales goals—is the most stressful part of work. Florida jeweler Holly Wesche Conn sympathizes. “Small-business owners can get so involved in daily business operations—selling to customers, handling employees, working with vendors—they don’t properly focus on their financials,” she says. “Then, all sorts of things sneak up on them, like too much vendor debt or not enough operating capital for lean times.”

To prevent stress later, set up a system now to manage the business’s finances. “Establish a good relationship with your banker,” says Wesche Conn. “Set up a credit line. Hire an accountant to work with you on your financials. Set aside time to regularly review your financial health.” Her own accountant meets with her and the store manager monthly to go over the balance sheet, monthly profit-and-loss statement, and yield-to-date figures. At each year’s start, Wesche Conn also makes sales and budget projections and prepares a cash flow chart with her store manager. “Paying attention to our financials regularly not only helps me manage our company’s money better,” she says. “It also reduces my stress as it relates to financial issues in our business.”

Be prepared. “People in business tend to solve problems by being fire fighters, not fire preventers,” says Karofsky. “But take a lesson from Noah: He built the Ark before it started raining. So, be prepared. In training and store meetings, use role-playing now to teach your staff how to deal with stressful situations like difficult customers. Draft contingency plans now for worst-case stress-causing scenarios, like unexpected staff shortages on the big pre-Christmas weekend.”

Some experts also suggest making a short list each morning of things to do that day and checking them off as you complete them. (Get the most difficult or unpleasant out of the way first. Tim Ottman of the Gem Gallery, Reno, Nev., advises, “Do the little tasks that get in the way of productivity early in the morning.”) Setting your day’s priorities gives you more control over your activities, and—while you may not finish everything that day—you’ll get a sense of accomplishment for those things you do finish.

Perks. Perks for employees “are good stress relievers, and essential in taking care of people who work for you,” says Karofsky. Half the jewelers (50.8%) surveyed by JCK do try to relieve employees’ job stress in various ways. Financial incentives like bonuses and raises are often used. “I try to be cognizant that they’re living from paycheck to paycheck,” explains one panelist. Another gives hard-working employees “a bonus for a job well done, and more breaks during the day,” while yet another says raises are necessary “even in this economy, because you really need your people.” Still others lighten the job burden. One panelist hires more part-time help “to spread out the work load for employees during holidays and summer vacation.”

Perks can take non-monetary forms, too—for example, extra time off. At Golden Eye jewelers in Santa Fe, N.M, employees who work long hours one week are encouraged to take compensatory time off in the weeks following. Cal Griffin, Waterboro, S.C., finds “days off and chocolate treats” effectively relieve staff stress. A Virginia jeweler gives “small rewards like dinner out or visits to the [local] theme park.”

Numerous jewelers say breaking bread with staffers builds unity and lessens workplace anxieties. Capper Jewelry, Ioka, Kan., holds company dinners and staff outings on weekends, while Pearce Jewelries, East Lebanon, N.H., takes the staff to dinner or orders a pizza in. Jensen Jewelries, Twin Falls, Idaho, holds a monthly birthday party for staff members. And at Gudmunason & Buyck Jewelers, Columbia, S.C., “We go out as a group for fellowship to see we’re people, too,” says Krista Buyck Birchmore.

The boss should treat him- or herself, too, occasionally, with an enjoyable activity or a change of pace, like a weekend at a fancy hotel, an evening at the theater, a visit to a museum exhibit, or a quiet weekend of reading. A small reward—candy, jewelry, a movie, a book or DVD—for finishing a tough, stress-inducing task is good, too.

Poor communication within a company is a major cause of employee stress. “When employees don’t know what’s going on, they speculate and feel insecure,” notes jeweler Holly Wesche Conn. “Stress starts small—with a misunderstanding or fear about a change, even something positive like a store expansion—and builds, affecting morale, attitudes, productivity, and sales. That’s why it’s important to continually work on internal communication.”

One frequently mentioned example of poor internal communication is the absence of a regular performance review. Even those who do a great job begin to wonder how they’re doing when there’s no feedback from the boss. Joseph DeLuca of DeLuca Jewelers, Palm Desert, Calif., says, “Though everything is faster and computerized now, people still should be treated like people,” he says. “They need assurance for jobs well-done and constructive instruction rather than harsh criticism.”

Employees also should be informed of upcoming events and changes, even small ones like special inventory orders. “It’s frustrating for them to find out later about things they should have been told earlier,” says Wesche Conn. “They feel ‘not valued’ when not in the loop.”

Communication starts at the top. “The jewelry business owner should keep management people informed and emphasize the importance of keeping the rest of the staff in the loop, too,” says Wesche Conn. What she calls “good internal communication” also includes employee reviews (three or four times a year); an employee bulletin board for announcements and memos; regular store meetings; and an employee handbook of policies and procedures.

Listening to employees is important, too. As Wesche Conn puts it, ” When people are heard, they feel valued.” Others agree. That’s why Bruce Gumer of Gumer & Co., Louisville, Ky., “has an open door policy … so they talk to me.” Another panelist told JCK he always has “an open forum with employees when things get tense to talk about how we can cope better with problems.”

Clearly defined operations. “Clarity about everyone’s roles and responsibilities in a store, especially a family business,” aids efficiency and prevents unnecessary stress, says Karofsky. “For example, if the boss suddenly takes over a salesperson’s sale of a large diamond to a customer—a frequent occurrence in family jewelry stores—what’s the salesperson to think?” he asks. “That he’s only allowed to sell certain stones to certain customers? That the boss lacks confidence in him?

“There must be clear understanding of everyone’s roles and responsibilities, of who does what and when, and who works what hours,” he says. “This should be part of a store’s ongoing training.”

Likewise, everyone should know what happens if they don’t do their jobs—for example, when someone is late or absent without cause, creating needless stress and problems. “There must be clearly defined consequences for unacceptable behavior—i.e., losing a day’s pay for missing work—and employee awareness of who imposes those consequences,” says Karofsky. “Clarity and accountability are essential in any business.”

Talk it out. Any boss—whether owner or manager—can feel isolated, too, because he or she can’t—or shouldn’t—vent their feelings with employees or at home, notes stress expert Dr. Robert Farra. “So the boss needs someone to talk to about how he and the business are doing, someone with whom he can be frank and who’ll be frank with him.

This isn’t necessarily his or her spouse, especially in a family business, because they can’t always be objective about things that affect them, too. It might be a relative—such as the Wisconsin jeweler who confers with her brother—a good friend, a mentor, or another businessperson. Jeweler Michael Genovese, St. Louis, says he seeks advice from friends in other businesses, while a Texas jeweler calls another jeweler to compare notes and get suggestions. One Indianapolis jeweler even developed a network of other jewelers to talk to.

Meditate. Some spiritual meditation during the day—such as first thing in the morning before work starts, or at lunchtime—helps one relax, puts matters into perspective, and creates a confident attitude, say experts. This is important for both bosses and employees, says Farra: “If we don’t transcend the humdrum of daily life and only focus on profits and work, we’ll easily burn out. We all need something to help us transcend problems, and that can be through prayer, meditation, yoga, or various methods of relaxation.”

A number of jewelers surveyed by JCK agree. “The worst scenario in business is of little importance compared to the larger picture of life and the hereafter,” says a Utah jeweler, who listens to motivational tapes and says “a lot of prayers.” Jewelers such as Diane Cooper at Parks Diamond Jewelers, Texarkana, Texas, Cal Griffin of Griffin Jewelers, Waterboro, S.C., and Michael George of M.S.G. Jewelers in St. Louis, deal with business pressures by focusing on their faith. “A [godly] perspective changes everything and releases stress for me so I can work with the right attitude and approach,” says George.

Other jewelers simply set aside some “quiet time” to unwind. One panelist told JCK, “I need quiet and undisturbed time early in the morning to organize my day and my mind, or my stress level goes up.” Another deals with job stress by “spending some quiet time alone and giving lots of attention to my pets,” while one in Texas “takes a quiet time—no radio on—to read during lunch.”

Mind your mind. “Monitor your self-talk,” urges Dr. Farra. “If you find yourself thinking hostile, negative thoughts—though you don’t necessarily show it—it’s a sign to stop and not indulge in real negativity.” Over time, such attitudes can be destructive. A 25-year study by Duke University revealed that people who scored high on hostility die sooner than those who don’t.

Also consider your social routine at work. Are you a “workaholic” or not interacting much with staff or co-workers? Do you routinely eat lunch alone at your desk or work area. That keeps you too focused on work and reduces contact with fellow workers, creating isolation, loneliness—and more stress. Social intercourse is good for the soul. Join colleagues for lunch, swapping stories, complaints, and desserts.

Smile! A positive mental attitude can deflate and even prevent many stress-causing circumstances. “Take a couple of deep breaths, put on a smile, and look for the humor in a situation,” says Sylvia Bruce of Southwest Silver Co., Auburn, Calif. “We try to laugh a lot,” and that helps both staff and management cope, says another panelist. In St. Louis, jeweler Michael Genovese seeks to “turn stressful situations into a joke, and it works great! If employees argue, I bring out boxing gloves, which I keep in my office. With an irrational customer, I say, ‘I’ll do whatever it takes to please you,’ and then joke, ‘I didn’t know you were so high-maintenance!'”

The boss’s own attitude affects or deflects staff stress. “Attitudes are contagious,” says Holly Wesche Conn. “When you’re stressed, co-workers and customers often sense it, and it’s hard—if not impossible—to function at your best.”

“It’s very important for the owner to be positive and upbeat,” says Denny Bales of Susan’s Jewelers, Corpus Christi, Texas. “Personal stress is something you don’t want to spread around or let your staff know about.” A New Jersey jeweler agrees: “I try to make the day cheerful and not pass on the stress of business to our employees,” she says. “We treat them all like family.”

Proactive wellness. Bosses and employees alike need a personal “wellness program,” says Dr. Robert Farra. “Americans tend to be reactive: When things break down—externally or in our bodies—then we do something. But we should be proactive and do preventive maintenance on ourselves. So I recommend people do self-assessments—things like lifestyle, diet, habits like smoking, and weight management.”

Exercise is important to wellness. Just 20 minutes of exercise can calm you for up to 24 hours, say fitness experts, because exercise reduces excess adrenaline, while releasing endorphins (proteins with analgesic properties that block pain and anxiety) into the body. Research also shows exercise at least three or four times a week reduces stress and creates a healthier life.

Only one in four jewelers (28%) surveyed by JCK engage in regular exercise or physical activity—such as sports, a treadmill or a stationary bike, brisk walking, rollerblading, jogging, or golfing—but those who do exercise praise the stress-busting effects. William Bennion of Bennion Jewelers, Salt Lake City, rides his mountain bike before work three times a week. “The better shape I’m in, the better I can handle stress,” he says. A panelist who jogs regularly says, “Nothing cleanses the mind and body like a run,” while jeweler John Ballew of Freehold, N.J., who wind-surfs, notes, “It’s hard to think about personnel problems and inventory management in a 20-knot breeze!” However, an exercise program shouldn’t be weather-dependent, cautions Farra—”something you start in summer, but stop in winter because the weather is too bad.”

Bosses also should provide incentives to employees to take better care of themselves and reduce the effects of stress, he adds, “because employees then take better care of their jobs. Bosses provide sick leave. Why not ‘wellness’ leave, or a ‘mental health’ day off?” Some do just that. Tony Prater of Jensen Jewelers, Twin Falls, Idaho, for example, insists on breaks for his staff and encourages exercise programs. Farra also cites “a company I know where the boss had bicycles made for each employee and encouraged them to ride them.” One Idaho jeweler even provides membership at the local club/spa for his staff.

Watch your mouth. Avoid caffeine. “It’s a major cause of stress and sleep disorders, and with soft drinks getting larger, that’s becoming a bigger problem,” says Dr. Farra. “One of the first things doctors recommend [for health-related stress problems] is discontinuing caffeine, and also nicotine.” Caffeine in only two cups of coffee makes the heart pump 16 beats faster per minute while boosting anxiety and adrenaline, say health authorities. Imagine what several cups of coffee or cans of soda per day can do! Drink fruit juice or water instead, and also go easy on other known stress-builders such as sugar, cigarettes, and alcohol.

Watch what you eat, too. Junk food and fat-laden fast food lead to fatigue (another stress inducer), weaken the body’s immune system, and can contribute to depression, say doctors. Instead of snacking on pastry, candy, or chips, keep some fruit handy to tide you over between meals.

Take a break! Whether boss or employee, take a few 15-minute breaks daily, in addition to your lunch break. On your feet a lot? Sit down for a while. At a desk or bench for hours? Take a quick walk. If you can’t go out, walk briskly up a flight of stairs or down the hallway.

Taking vacations is important, too. Unfortunately, while employees get time off for vacations, many bosses don’t. “With heavy and expanding work schedules, many say they can’t get away. And when they do, it’s for work-related things like trade shows or conferences,” says Farra. “This inability to unhook and go ‘off the clock’ is a real stress builder and a real and growing problem for many business owners.”

JCK‘s own survey found a number of jewelers who believe they’re too busy for vacations. As one jeweler said, “If I take off, there’s double the work to do when I get back.” However, says Dr. Farra, “Forcing ourselves to go ‘off the clock’ to unwind is important and essential to mental and physical health.”

How has your level of stress changed in the past five years?

Change % of respondents
Source: JCK Retail Panel, July 2003
Increased Significantly 35.5%
Increased Slightly 24.9
No Change 10.7
Decreased Slightly 18.3
Decreased Significantly 10.6

Do you think your employees are under more stress now than five years ago?

% of respondents
Source: JCK Retail Panel, July 2003
Yes 36.2%
No 63.8

Do you do anything to help your employees relieve job-related stress?

% of respondents
Source: JCK Retail Panel, July 2003
Yes 50.8%
No 49.2

On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 = minimal and 10 = extreme), rate the amount of stress in your daily job.

Amount of stress % of respondents
Source: JCK Retail Panel, July 2003
1 3.0%
2 7.7
3 18.3
4 12.4
5 14.8
6 14.8
7 13.6
8 11.8
9 2.4
10 1.2

On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 = minimal and 10 = extreme), rate the amount of stress you have during the holiday periods.

Amount of stress % of respondents
Source: JCK Retail Panel, July 2003
1 0.6%
2 4.2
3 6.0
4 7.7
5 11.9
6 10.1
7 14.9
8 19.0
9 11.9
10 12.5
10 +1.2