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How to Manage Stress, Deal With a Perpetually Late Employee, And More of Your Questions Answered

Remember that stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

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How can I make my professional life less stressful? But don’t tell me to work less; that’s not going to happen.

OK, but maybe you can work smarter — and take a more benevolent view of stress. Reframe it as “happiness-neutral.” Sometimes stress is a cause of suffering, sometimes a sign of a challenge or importance, and sometimes it’s something that will make you stronger.

In her book, The Upside of Stress, the psychologist Kelly McGonigal refers to a 2011 study of 30,000 Americans that linked high stress to a 43 percent increased risk of death, but — get this — only among those who already believed that stress is bad for your health. In another study, she cites, hotel housekeepers grew physically healthier when encouraged to think of their hard work as good exercise; those who saw it as arduous labor didn’t.

Stress is typically caused by things that seem out of your control. Ironically, they are things you CAN control, if you’d just make a few psychological tweaks:

  • 1) Release the belief that you’re responsible for everyone and everything.
  • 2) Let go of perfectionism. There’s nothing perfect in the world. It’s an unnatural state and as Swarthmore professor Barry Schwartz has written: “Good enough is almost always good enough.”
  • 3) Stop trying to do it all yourself. Delegate. Ask for and accept help from others.
  • 4) Create a list — that will give you a sense of control — but then ignore everything but the top five items. Focus on what’s important and the rest will take care of itself.
  • 5) Learn some breathing exercises. It doesn’t have to be transcendental meditation — but it could be. Deep breathing is a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system.
  • 6) Start every day with something you’re good at. That will set you up for a positive day.
  • 7.) Stop and do something nice for someone.
  • 8) Exercise.
  • 9) Finally, join a choir. Singing in a group is proven to be one of the best stress relievers around.
After more than 20 years of solid production, my best salesperson’s performance is falling. What can I do?

It could be she needs to update her selling style. The ways in which people want to be sold have changed, and salespeople who follow the old power-selling school of salesmanship won’t find consumers as responsive, especially the younger ones. Get her (and yourself) an update on state-of-the-art selling skills so that she sells smart and not so hard. That usually means asking more questions, listening more, and essentially letting the customer close the sale herself. Give real thought to bringing in a sales coach; implemented correctly, training will make your fading star feel valued and will restore some of the confidence she’s no doubt lost. (The improvement in sales should repay the cost pretty quickly.) You may also want to reconsider the metrics you’re using. Closing rates are good, but to ensure your whole business is looking more forward, track some other areas as well, like new contacts initiated with potential customers, how contacts are followed up, and the amount of face-to-face or phone-to-phone time your salespeople are putting in. There’s a fairly direct correlation between these factors and selling success.

I’ve been summoned to meet an IRS auditor. Any last-minute tips?

Accept that the fresh-faced inquisitor across the desk is the boss and show him the due respect. Don’t argue if you disagree with something. If the auditor wants to disallow a deduction, state once why you don’t agree. If he’s not swayed, hold your tongue. Antagonizing an auditor will only encourage him or her to search for other areas of potential tax liability. Remember that you can plead your case with several layers of people above your auditor, and ultimately all the way to tax court if you feel you’ve been wronged. Surprisingly, most IRS auditors aren’t tax experts. Most are fairly recent graduates whose major was in an unrelated field, so don’t feel intimidated, and don’t underestimate your own tax knowledge. At the same time, while it’s not bad to be congenial, this is not a social event. You’re there to discuss only the sections of your tax return in question. The more you talk about other areas or things that you’re doing, the more likely the auditor will probe into other items.

If an employee is consistently late for work, can I dock his pay? Are there legal ramifications I should be aware of?

From a legal standpoint, it typically depends whether he is a salaried or an hourly employee. If it’s the latter, he should be punching a clock, which will automatically deduct his time. If he is a salaried employee, you have to pay him, late or not, says Suzanne DeVries, president of Diamond Staffing Solutions. However, she adds that you should have the issue — and the consequences — covered in your employee manual. “If the employee’s tardiness is as constant as you say, you may need to make some tough and important decisions — such as ‘three strikes and you are out,’” DeVries says. “It is never a good idea to let any one employee get away with such behavior. It sets a very bad example for those who are always on time — and you are setting yourself up to be accused of favoritism.”

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