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Under Pressure: Stress Management in Translation Companies

By: By: Joe Jeffries (Content & Communications Manager) - Sandberg Translation Partners

10 March 2016

You'll never see translation on any buzz-lists of the world’s most stressful professions. But the trade does still carry its own peculiar – and very real – blend of pressures and strains.

Constant deadlines. Lack of control. Fear of failure. Unreasonable demands. Too much criticism. Not enough praise. All of the above plus financial instability and job insecurity, if you’re a freelancer. A certain level of stress is no bad thing in itself, of course. In a deadline-driven profession like translation, where perfectionism is an asset but also an obstacle, it can even be a positive spur. But when it becomes constant and unmanageable for a sustained length of time, that’s when it can start to affect physical and mental health – not to mention job satisfaction, productivity and, ultimately, the bottom line.

As employers, translation companies can never remove all causes of stress. Tight deadlines, subjective feedback and unrealistic demands from clients are part of the landscape and will never go away. What we can and must do, however, is empower our employees and suppliers to keep stress within healthy limits – and give them as much support as possible if it ever does get out of hand.

Forewarned is Forearmed

This all starts with good training. Because when you’re properly trained, you’re instantly better equipped to deal with the common stress factors that might overwhelm someone with less knowledge.

Deadlines are stressful if you don’t know how to manage your time. Negative feedback is upsetting if you’ve never learned to detach yourself from your work. A lack of control will trouble you until you know that there are parts of the process that you just cannot influence.

At STP, we know that not all new employees – least of all recent graduates – arrive fully skilled or prepared for the demanding working environment of a translation company. That’s why every new member of staff, whatever their role, gets a full week of induction training. They also get ongoing mentoring from more senior colleagues and on-tap access to training resources throughout their time with us.

Culture Matters

But while training is important, it’s not enough on its own. You also need a company culture that recognises stress as an industry issue and weeds it out in as many different ways as possible.

Overtime, for instance, is a common cause of workplace anxiety – especially when it goes unrewarded. So at STP, we give staff the choice of taking overtime as pay or as time off in lieu, to help offset the strain of working extra hours.

When you feel happy and in control of your personal life, you tend to be better at handling the stresses and demands of work. This is why we also offer flexible working hours, as well as one day of home-working per week, instead of imposing a rigid, office-based nine-to-five routine on everyone.

Most of our UK-based staff come from overseas, and for some this can add the stress of homesickness to the mix. Our IT set-up allows employees to work remotely from any location, with permission and a good internet connection, should they need some restorative time back home. Support at work is also key. At STP we’ve always encouraged a family-like atmosphere, where teammates look out for one another, share their problems and socialise outside the office.

We also know that humour is one of the greatest weapons against stress, so our staff are never shy of a joke in the face of adversity.

All of this extends to how we treat our freelancers. While we cannot stop the financial worries or job insecurities that all self-employed people feel, we can pay invoices on time and build lasting relationships wherever possible. We can praise our suppliers, show gratitude and give them helpful feedback. We can make them feel part of our team. And we can show them respect, not make outrageous demands, and treat them like the skilled, human professionals they are.

It is a real pleasure working with STP as a freelance translator. I get interesting jobs from detail-minded and helpful project managers. All projects are well organized and deadlines are usually reasonable, which means I can deliver a quality project. - Swedish Technical and IT Freelancer

None of these ideas are new. But when dealing with something like workplace stress, it’s easy to overlook the basics. Help your people feel confident, relaxed and in control – and after that, business will take care of itself.

This post first appeared in the February 2016 edition of STP's Icebreaker newsletter.

Joe manages STP's internal and external communications. He is also responsible for STP's content strategy and social media accounts. As a former freelance translator, project manager and small business owner, Joe understands what motivates production staff – as well as what clients want and need. Joe promotes clear language, honesty and respect, and uses those values to shape all his work.