Some stress at work is to be expected. Plus, people do bring their personal stresses to work with them. But, a prolonged high level of job-induced stress is a problem that leaders need to address. Such stress is harmful to employees’ health and to business performance. This is why the best leaders include learning how to manage team stress in their leadership training
The human body copes well enough with acute stress, which is the kind of temporary stress that comes with a major event, or with a high-stakes or complicated project. However, as Mayo Clinic stress experts explain in their Stress symptoms: Effects on Your Body and Behavior, we do not have the same success in resisting the negative effects of chronic stress, which is long- term experience of high stress that comes with working in a continuously stressful working environment.
Risks in High-Stress Work Environments
According to the CDC, 40% of workers report that their workplaces are “very or extremely stressful.” Workplace stress has been reportedly estimated to cost U.S. businesses over US $300 billion in annual losses. How? A range of costly consequences for workers and employers often result from issues engendered by long-term coping in high-stress work environments, such as:
- Health damage (fatigue, depression, anxiety, suicide, cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and other effects)
- Reduced creativity in problem-solving
- Reduced collaboration
- Reduced sense of team cohesion
- Serious losses of productivity
- Severe impacts to quality
- 50% higher healthcare costs for stressed employees
- Disengagement by employees
- High absenteeism
- Excessive turnover
- Deterioration of working relationships between team members
- Damaged relationships with stakeholders
- Negative impact to brand reputation
- Severe impacts to family and other relationships outside work
- Other direct and indirect negative effects to individuals, businesses, and communities
How Can I Manage My Team’s Stress in the Workplace?
Learning to manage team stress and your own stress is a key leadership skill. Unfortunately, inexperienced and inattentive managers often overlook their critical need to succeed in this area of their responsibility. There are many ways to model healthy stress-management behaviours for your employees and to cultivate team habits that will contribute to stress reduction in your workplace. Here’s a helpful list of 15 basic methods for managing team stress.
1. Teach Employees How to Manage Their Own Stress at Work.
Feeling a greater sense of personal control reduces workers’ stress. Stress hormones stimulated by the brain surge through the human body in response to stress, which the body reads as a threat to wellbeing. The hormone activity is reduced while we sense we are in sufficient control of our situation and are no longer under threat. Help your team succeed by providing them with some essential stress management aids, such as:
- Training on prioritising, delegating, and time-management.
- Provide training on personal and workplace stress-management methods.
- Teach them to assess and address their personal stress levels frequently.
- Provide resources, as permitted, for managing personal stress and for treating stress effects.
2. Maintain Transparency.
Keep team members informed on what’s happening. Leaving people out of the loop about matters that are important to their livelihood can quickly lead to a sense of disconnection from the company and fears about the future — which are serious stressors.
Hold periodic meetings, to update the team on what’s going on in management planning, to reaffirm shared goals and values, and dispel any sense of being left out. Emphasise the team’s importance to the company’s mission, and express appreciation for the employees’ efforts. Let them know the status of performance metrics and what those reflect about their work.
3. Be Respectful and Friendly.
One of the most common complaints employees share is that their bosses ignore them, unless they’re assigning a task. That sense of being treated as a nonperson in the place where an individual must spend most of his/her waking hours every week is a serious stressor. It’s also the stuff of an unhappy, unsatisfying, degrading existence.
Great leaders tend not to be arrogant. They respect and value others’ intelligence and talents. They’re fair to everyone, and they’re clear on the fact that all employees need and deserve to be treated with respect in the workplace and to feel welcome, recognised, and wanted in the place they work.
4. Encourage Everyone to Get Sufficient Sleep.
An alarming 37% of the workforce reportedly do not get sufficient sleep. Sleep problems and stress can combine to generate a vicious cycle of inability to sleep due to stress, followed by increased stress effects due to lack of sleep. Stress hormones can trigger release of hormones that act on the body as stimulants, leading to sleep disruptions. Sleep deprivation can lead to:
- Poor concentration
- Irritability, anger
- Reduced motivation
- Impacted decision-making ability
- Reduced cognitive ability
- Decreased physical coordination
- Reduced productivity
- Increased errors
- Increased risk of workplace injuries
- Impacts to professional and personal relationships
5. Support Employee Development.
A sense of floundering at work, without a clear career path can be a source of serious anxiety and stress for employees. Coping in such conditions of uncertainty leads to excessive turnover rates, especially among the most talented employees. Ensure that each individual is in a position that fully utilises his or her skills and talents and that he/she is recognised for strong performance.
Every employee on your team should have a development plan. Have routine meetings with each person to discuss progress, and provide specific steps to help them advance along that established track. Involve HR, as appropriate, in identifying opportunities for people to learn and grow in their careers.
6. Have Realistic Expectations.
Great leaders understand that imposing unrealistic expectations, or demands inconsistent with the company’s stated values or out of line with workers’ abilities, add undue stress for employees. Such demands likely to lead to negative consequences in team disengagement, low morale, staff attrition and the ballooning costs that come with excessive turnover.
Big, difficult goals and determination to reach them are the very seeds of leadership greatness. The key is to lead in a way that allows your team to support your vision, but also to be secure in their employment. Employees must be able to believe they can succeed in meeting expectations.
7. Encourage Two-Way Communications.
Promote open communication with your employees. Listen carefully. Ask workers if they have everything they need to do their jobs properly. Be available to hear their ideas, issues, and insights on ways to improve operations and the working environment.
Listen for issues that have the potential to adversely impact your employee retention or business performance. Whatever those may be, they’re bound to be significant stress inducers for your team.
Eliminate obstacles, resolve other workplace problems, and give people opportunity to overcome personal challenges, as appropriate. Strive to strengthen working relationships and foster a supportive workplace culture. Communicating about stressful issues, is in and of itself, a cost-free way to help alleviate stress.
8. Create a Comfortable Workspace.
To have a workspace that people feel good about spending their days in can do wonders to help people feel less stressed and more prepared to face challenges. It can strengthen your sense of balance, lending to the most positive perspective on your position.
This doesn’t mean that you need to provide a luxurious office for workers. It means that an overcrowded workspace, lack of private workspace for focusing on complex tasks, shortage of meeting space, high noise levels, uncomfortable chairs, dilapidated and malfunctioning equipment and furniture and facilities are an affront to the dignity of talented people whom you’re counting on to give you their best every day.
- So, use a reservation system for meeting spaces, if necessary.
- Clear out unneeded furniture, replace broken items.
- Upgrade inferior equipment, to ensure everyone has adequate tools for success.
- Organise, to eliminate a sense of surviving in a chaotic environment.
- If possible, budget some new accent paint and appealing furniture pieces, maybe some new pieces of kitchenware, and other bits that can help make the working environment feel more inspiring.
9. Don’t Impose Severe Consequences for Failure.
Naturally, everyone make mistakes. So, it makes sense that in the best organisations, leaders view mistakes and failures that happen in the course of trying to do a great job as opportunities for creative solutions.
Entrepreneur magazine discusses reasons not to penalise employees for making mistakes. Harshly disciplining employees for making mistakes not only escalates stress levels, it stifles creativity, risk taking, and the potential innovations that could have resulted in a more free and forgiving work environment.
Enforcing general boundaries is necessary, but it’s a self-defeating approach to make people work in fear of making mistakes while they’re learning tasks or processes, or trying new ideas.
10. Encourage Workers to Take Necessary Time Off.
Reportedly, 80% of workers drag themselves into work during illness. Imagine the extreme increase in stress levels of employees attempting to perform well while ill. Emphasise to employees the importance of staying home while they’re sick, in order to recover, protect their health, and to help ensure against risk of errors and other issues that can result from working while ill.
Employees with contagious illnesses should be prohibited from working onsite. Ensure that management staff does not make employees feel bad about being out of the office due to illness. Set an example by maintaining your health and staying home when you’re ill.
11. Allow Flexibility in Working Hours and Locations.
Insisting that all employees obey a rigid M-F 8:00-to-4:30 schedule is counterproductive. Some people are at their peak efficiency during earlier morning hours, whereas other people are happiest working in the relative quiet after normal business hours. Allowing people the freedom to choose their work hours is a supreme stress management strategy.
If appropriate for your operational model, allow people to maintain flexible work schedules. Gauge of the value of their decisions on their work hours and locations by their levels of productivity and quality of output:
- As long as work is consistently being completed in keeping with timelines and quality standards, it’s more relevant to keep people happy setting their own hours than just to see them occupying their desks during arbitrarily established hours.
- Also, let people work from home, if it doesn’t negatively impact their performance. But, ensure that they don’t become psychologically disconnected from the team. Have them attend meetings and other team functions routinely.
12. Gather Confidential Employee Feedback.
Stressful frustration results from lack of opportunity to express criticisms and opposing ideas. Knowing their positions have been understood can make it easier for people to get onboard with management’s plans.
Provide a way for people to safely provide any criticisms or other awkward feedback they may want or need to offer, but are perhaps too uncomfortable to deliver directly. You may wish to send out anonymous employee surveys periodically, or have your HR team conduct confidential interviews to gather important feedback.
13. Exemplify a Healthy Lifestyle.
It’s a modern cliché at this point, but it’s as true and critical as ever — practicing proper nutrition and exercising regularly are essentials for a healthy lifestyle, which includes the most effective stress management.
Physical fitness benefits mental and emotional functionality, reduces risk of illness, strengthens the body against risk of a wide range of potential work-related injuries, and promotes a generally happier life.
- Encourage participation in employee wellness programs.
- Consider promoting an on-campus group activity, to bring everyone out of their chairs for a few minutes in the morning and afternoon for a little walk or stretching.
- Or, find some other fresh-air activity your group might enjoy, to increase circulation, promote team bonding, and provide a stress break.
14. Have Some Business-Social Activities.
People need opportunities to bond outside their immediate workspaces. Team members who are more comfortable with one another can be expected to work more collaboratively, generate more creative problem solving ideas, and generally function more efficiently together. Simple social activities are great stress-reducers, team-builders, and morale-builders. For just a couple of examples:
- Get everyone together for some simple relaxing or de-stressing activities for a half hour or so outdoors or in the break room.
- Look online for some of the countless ideas for team social activities.
15. Model Good Stress Management at Work.
Measure your own words and actions at work. This is not to suggest that you present an emotionless, robotic persona to your team. That’s the opposite of all that’s been recommended elsewhere in this list around concepts of helping your staff be more comfortable with you as their leader.
Nevertheless, do keep your emotions in check in the workplace. The Harvard Business Review offers a good discussion for leaders on disciplining yourself against displaying negative moods, anger, signs of stress at work. Attitudes and behaviours, good or bad, are highly contagious in workplaces, especially when spread by the leader. After all, you’re the person that the team is supposed to take their behavioural cues from at work.
Lower Stress – Higher Quality Work Environment
Prolonged extreme stress in the workplace stress can lead to diminished employee engagement, burnout, and decohesion of the team. Using methods from the list above can help you manage team stress and sustain more consistent rates of operational output and quality of outcomes, shift workplace culture to a more positive working environment, increase employee satisfaction and retention goals, and improve your own quality of career and personal life.
It’s worth reemphasising the point about managing your own stress. It will help make you more effective and credible in your efforts to manage your team’s stress. Adopt self-management habits of the most successful leaders. For example, understand the value of enjoying time off with family and friends, being physically active, and just decompressing.
Further, if your company has an EAP and/or offers formal online or on-site wellness programs, encourage your employees to take full advantage of stress-management options available through those.