With the looming deadlines, ever-increasing workload and the culture of achievement, work is nowadays the single biggest stressor for the majority of adults. Yet most of us are unaware of the consequences of prolonged, chronic stress. Isn’t it a modern leader’s job to do everything in their power to ensure the wellbeing of the workforce? After all, happy employees translate into better business and happy clients. By getting familiar with these few science-backed methods, you can help your employees to manage stress and to create a more healthy and sustainable workplace culture.
The high price of workplace stress
Based on Wrike’s 2019 stress statistics from the US, 94% of respondents experience work related stress. Stress can be a driving force for peak performance, but when it starts eating up our internal resources it will bring down your business. A study conducted by United States Stress research by Everyday Health, stated that 57% of individuals experiencing stress feel paralyzed by it.
“If you do not believe in the possibility of a change, it will not happen for you.”
One of the common reasons employers keep avoiding the topic is the presumption that it is too expensive to address it. The annual cost of stress for organizations and insurance companies is in billions. The price tag consists of loss of productivity, health insurance claims, rising accident rates, increased industrial conflicts, and early retirement due to poor health. Research also indicated that work related stress contributes to 40 % of workforce turnover and 80% of all work-related injuries.
The evolution of stress – Why we stress and what to do about it
For thousands of years humans used to live in an immediate-return environment, in which actions result in immediate and clear outcomes. During our evolution, anxiety and stress were useful emotions that helped us to take the right actions in life threatening situations. Living in the current delayed return environment, the mismatch between our ancestral brain and the modern environment has generated an epidemic of anxiety. Even though stress has always played a part in human life, we should stop assuming it’s something we simply have to keep suffering from.
“The best teams and athletes are the ones that have mastered the balance between efforts and recovery. “
The “always on” mindset is hazardous and unproductive since it is ignoring the basic human need for recovery. The best teams and athletes are the ones that have mastered the balance between efforts and recovery.
What we can do, is to become aware of the fact that we are not born stressed, but acquire stress somewhere along the way. It is within our reach to transform from a highly stressed individual into a low stress individual. For the transformation to take place, it is necessary to believe in your own ability to change. In other words, if you do not believe in the possibility of a change, it will not happen for you.
8 ways to help you team manage stress in the workplace
A successful team leader is someone who can spot the problem and knows how to fix it. Totally eliminating all stress forever is unlikely. But there are simple, low cost ways you can help your team to reduce the amount of stress to a manageable level and make your employees feel more supported and balanced - even when the deadlines need to be met.
1. Highlight the importance of time management and prioritizing
The experience of being overloaded with work concerns the majority of employees. One of the pillars of successful time management is the ability to identify our priorities over a period of time, to plan ahead and extract the time needed to achieve the goals. 1% of working time, or about 5 minutes that is spent on proper planning saves one hour a day on average.
2. Consult your employees about changes at work and arrange opportunities for your employees to influence the decision making processes in your company
The employees should get a chance to question the proposed changes their managers are planning considering their working practices. In order to encourage employee proactivity, you can recommend your employees to act through formal feedback channels in your company, or choose less formal ways, for example through taking a role in staff meetings and negotiating with managers. Many organizations have found staff suggestion box both popular and useful. By making the decision making process a team sport, you are promoting a sense of employee autonomy and belonging as well as increasing productivity.
3. Express support to your employees and make sure they feel valued
It is no surprise that the employees who feel supported and valued at work are less stressed, less absent, make fewer complaints and retire later. Find ways of providing support most natural for you. The more formal methods include feedback, supervision, mentorship and training. The less formal ways include cultivating everyday gratitude, a culture of listening to the individual needs of each employee and systems of rewards, and acknowledgement of employee efforts
4. Encourage your team members to make their work environment more pleasant
You can, for example, suggest bringing art, photos of loved ones, desk plants and other accessories to personalize their immediate working environment. Personalizing one’s own workspace can lead to an increased sense of ownership, control and autonomy and act as a buffer against work stress.
5. Support healthy eating habits and promote mindful eating
We often find ourselves gulping down our lunch when we are in a hurry. When we eat mindfully, we are paying complete focus on the food we are enjoying. This means slowing down, becoming aware of the taste, colours and textures of the food on our plate. Based on research the employees that have access to adequate nutrition can be up to 20% more productive and less prone to accidents than employees following a poor diet.
A proper lunch break can also be a nice and needed break during the day for restoring your energy. Read more in our previous blog on how to improve team performance through better recovery.
6. Suggest the employees to consider repositioning their desk or simply changing their typical seat at the office
Simply by changing our typical seat at the office we can increase our ability to concentrate and lower our stress levels. Other options include strategically positioning a plant pot so that it provides some privacy. Employees should also, if need be, to politely ask others to keep the voice down, use a possible quiet meeting room for concentration or use a pair of headphones to signal the other about a need for some privacy.
7. Encourage your employees to switch up their daily commuting routine
If commuting to work is a constant stress-factor for your employees, suggest they try leaving home at different times or leaving 20 minutes earlier to beat the traffic. You can also consider trying a different route or different way of transportation to get to the office.
8. Dedicate extra attention to the employees who are most prone to stress
Schedule private meetings with the ones in need of extra attention, including for example employees who just moved in from another city, new employees in junior roles, employees with small children or babies who come to work after sleeping only two hours a night, employees with serious health issues, or pregnant women. By showing these employees that they matter to the company you can also inspire them to commit to and care more about their role and the organization.
These personal check-ins can provide you with valuable information about what is actually going on in your team, what is causing them stress and what needs to be taken into consideration in the future. Sample topics you can consider asking during these one-on-one meetings:
Ask your employee to tell you something they’ve done or achieved at work they are very proud of or happy about since the last one on one meeting.
Ask your employee if there is something in her mind that has been a source of frustration for her lately at work.
Ask your employee if there is anything you could do or change that would make her work a little bit easier and less stressful.
Take a stand for your team
In building a human friendly workplace, most of us still have some road ahead of us. What is truly needed in most organizations is a broader cultural shift. The ongoing paradigm shift moves us from seeing the employee as a costly necessity towards a more conscious workplace culture where the employee is first and foremost seen as a human being and where support is an integral and normalized part of the organizational culture.
“By showing these employees that they matter to the company you can also inspire them to commit to and care more about their role and the organization.”
Well, how to walk the talk? Start from your own speech and actions, and lead by example. Based on research the way a manager or leader is handling their own stress can have a serious impact on the employees, their productivity and for the organizational culture. Help to create an environment where stress and other humane feelings, such as occasional insecurity and inadequacy are not stigmatized but acknowledged with compassion.
Would you like to better understand as a leader how stressed your team is?