THE scenario is familiar by now. Many companies have reduced their workforce over the years but expect those who remain to be more productive and efficient.

In most cases, employees are required to plough through twice as much work in half the time and with half the resources.

At the outset, employees may not mind the extra hours or taking on new or unfamiliar jobs. However, when the extended hours become a daily occurrence and weekends are spent doing extra work to keep up with shorter deadlines and greater expectations, stress levels soon start to rise.

This is life in the 21st century, where stress is a badge of honour and work never seems to get completed. Though stress in itself is not harmful, excessive and sustained high stress levels can be damaging in the long run.

Stress manifests itself in many forms and can have a positive or negative impact on people. While some people take a stressful situation as a cue to take a determined and definitive line of action, others can be paralysed and feel lost or depressed.

Use stress positively

Most stress management experts agree that the key to handling stress is not to eliminate it but to manage it and use it for positive results. Here are some ideas to cope with today's high-performance work environment:

1. Simplify procedures and cut out layers in the project review process. Streamlined procedures usually translate to lower stress levels and higher productivity.

2.Try to place a few dynamic people throughout your organisation.

Identify the workaholics and strategically position them where they are needed most, that is, where the workload is heavy. Most importantly, give them the resources, authority and ability to network with other top achievers. They will help keep productivity up and energise the people around them.

3. Strive for the most effective communication across all levels. Encourage open, transparent communication across the organisation's hierarchy so that employees know what is expected and are able to accomplish their goals.

4. Create a schedule for your day rather than to let events of the day rule you. Don't allow your day to get out of control by responding immediately to every incoming e-mail message.

Instead, schedule three to four blocks of time for e-mail in between your other work. You can also reduce your e-mail correspondence by using regular staff meetings to stay informed of projects, initiatives or the work your staff members are doing.

5. Pace yourself. Assume long hours only if that is what quality, not politics, demands. Set priorities and eliminate a few routine, time-consuming tasks from your workload.

6. Exercise and keep fit. Many people take time out before or after office hours or during lunchtime for a workout in the gym.

Exercise has been proven to have positive impact in stimulating the body and the brain. Physical exercise is a perfect way to relieve stress while keeping fit.

7. Schedule some normal time in your life. When fighting stress, go for activities that counteract your regular work or provide you with energy or relaxation.

For instance, if you sit at a computer all day, do something that is active or verbal after work.

Try to schedule these activities on a regular basis, such as an exercise or music class, so that you retain life balance.

8. Nurture creativity in your leisure hours as well.

Perhaps you have always wanted to write a book, join a class, take up a new sport or learn to play a musical instrument. Do it and lower your stress levels.

Reducing stress is about having a balance in the five elements of your life - physical, spiritual, social, emotional and intellectual.

As a quick exercise, write down these five elements as headings on a blank piece of paper. Below every heading, write the activity and the amount of time you spend on each.

This will quickly show you where imbalances occur and where you need to spend more time.

It is possible to survive the high performance days of the 21st century. But, like everything else in life, effectively managing your stress is the key.