We all experience stress and anxiety at some times in our working lives and many of us feel that a little bit can be fine. But when does it become too much and damaging to our career and our health? Stress really isn’t worth it in the long run, although I appreciate reducing it on a day to day basis may seem easier said than done. I know from experience, that too much stress for a prolonged time can have long term damaging effects on your health, so am very conscious of how leaders can spot the signs and help reduce stress in the workplace.
A recent report by HR consultants Towers Watson, based on a survey of 32k employees worldwide, showed that a third of employees are at risk of work induced “burn-out” from excessive work pressures. With today’s demand for improved productivity combined with reduced resources and anxiety over job security, leaders have to be more aware of the well-being of their employees.
Most people would assume that the way to reduce stress is to reduce workload. However, there are many individuals who thrive with a high level of workload, and many who are stressed in a slow moving environment. We actually see more instances of stress and anxiety when the work that the individual is doing is a bad match with their personal skills, preferences and competencies.
For instance, if you are someone who enjoys interaction with others, how frustrating is it to be working alone in an office for hours? What about if you like to explore new ideas and future possibilities, but your job demands you review spreadsheets and data for much of the day? These are typical MBTI preferences which can be reviewed against the needs of the job but, once understood, also allow managers to adjust their leadership style in line with each individual.
In addition, stress is often caused by deadline-related pressures, lack of support, under-utilisation, lack of control over your workload and assumed expectations (of ourselves and from others). There are subtle differences between stress and anxiety, which you can find out about here.
Interestingly, a new study just out from James Gross of Stanford University has shown that the higher you are as a leader, the less anxious you are compared to those in junior and middle management. The thoughts behind this are that the senior executive will have more brain-activated “rewards” as they have more autonomy/control over their workload, more status and more perceived fairness in their role. According to neuroscience, the experience of these positive effects could also make them assume others’ situations as being positive too, meaning they may not be as supportive or empathetic of others.
So, whatever management level you are, to help reduce stress and anxiety for all team members and help improve productivity and motivation, try to include the following:
- Understand yours and your team’s stress triggers, and develop an open culture of communication.
- Give people as much control over their own workload as possible – when and how deadlines are completed, bring people into the decision making process etc.
- Analyse the needs of the team members with the requirements of the role and discover if there are opportunities of changing the approach to the workload in line with their needs.
- Check on your delegation skills to ensure all team members are utilised with appropriate actions.
- Review expectations of yourself and your team members. Is there a conflict between the ideas of what you are trying to live up to (should be, do or have) with what you really want and need?
- Encourage everyone to take their full holiday allowance and (as much as possible) avoid working out of office hours, otherwise productivity will actually fall over time due to burn out.
- Have fun! And smile to improve your mood! The brain can’t tell the difference between a posed smile and genuine one, so even faking a smile will bring about a positive emotion. Always worth a try!! 🙂
If managers are stressed and anxious, it’s difficult for them to support others, and they could end up being the cause of stress too. Developing self-awareness through tools such as the MBTI will help you to understand your own stress triggers and preferences, but also to understand individual differences and how to support those to manage stress levels effectively.