We’re living in times of unprecedented challenges in the workplace. Employees not only face stressors at work but also with the wider social and economic upheavals related to the Covid-19 pandemic. Stress has a significant negative impact on employee morale, and can also reduce productivity. An increase in employee turnover can also have a detrimental impact on service delivery and raise operating costs.

The figures are staggering. According to the findings of a recent survey (pre-Covid), 80% of employees in the US experience stress. Only 4% claimed never to feel stress.

In most companies at this time, there is increased focus on minimizing costs and increasing revenue – and employees are often expected to achieve more with few resources.  Economic uncertainty, lack of job security, and other pressures outside work, all add to the stress. The shift to remote or online working brings with it other challenges.

As a leader, you obviously can’t resolve all these issues. However, there are several actions you can take to help the wellbeing of your employees.

Deepen your Insight into your Team

Although as a leader you need to be fair and consistent, you already know that a one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with the individuals in your team doesn’t work.  So a first step is to consider how much you know about the best way to lead each one. 

A simple and cost-effective approach is to carry out a psychometric analysis of each team member, including yourself. The best-known tool, backed by the most extensive research, is probably the Myers-Briggs type indicator. This gives insight into stressors and also outlines the leadership style they need from you to keep them happy and productive. For example, if a team member is identified as an ‘INFJ personality type’ – they’ll be an ‘insightful visionary’ with a particular approach to their work. When they’re stressed, you’ll be able to adapt your approach, which may need to be very different from the one you choose to deal with other personality types. 

 Likely stressors and motivators are identified for each personality type and can assist you in adapting your leadership style according to their needs. These kinds of reports can become a springboard to better communication among the whole team.

Explore and Identify Stressors

Although online personality reports can provide clues that help you identify when a team member is stressed, there are also other signs: loss of productivity, increased cynicism, excessive absenteeism (or presenteeism), emotional outbursts, etc.

Ignoring the issue and hoping things will get better without addressing the root cause is unlikely to resolve it.  

Your response is key.  Schedule one-to-one meetings, and seek out a global understanding of what’s happening, from the viewpoint of your employee. Employ your active listening and counseling skills – your role at this point shouldn’t be to interrupt with wise words or solutions. It’s to gain an understanding of what is triggering the feelings of stress. Is it the workload, a colleague, something outside work, or something you do you?

If you’re leading a remote workforce, being conscious that stress may be building up is especially important – check in regularly with your remote employees, using video calls to strengthen your personal connection, and observe the employee’s body language as they talk with you.

Co-create Solutions

Once you’ve got to the bottom of what’s causing stress, you have a far better opportunity of identifying an effective solution.  It won’t enough to empathize, as a leader you are responsible for maintaining the high morale of your team.  Ideally, co-create a plan of action to relieve the situation. By taking joint responsibility for any changes agreed, your employee regains a sense of control over his or her situation.  

Monitor the Situation

If the solution involves major changes, for example, to the work schedule, ensure that there are regular follow-ups scheduled to ensure that not only is the individual happier, but that the overall productivity of the team is not negatively affected.   Does the positive change for one person, harm the productivity or morale of others?

Anticipate and Take Action 

As a leader, constantly assessing the stress level of your team is an essential part of your role. Open communication about stressors, for example in team meetings, can help. For example, start the meeting by asking everyone to indicate, on a scale of 1-10, how comfortable they are with their workload.  By raising the issue before it arises, you build an atmosphere of trust, making it much easier for issues to be raised and acknowledged.  

Pick up on changes in an individual’s behavior that may indicate an issue.  Ensure every member of your team is given time to voice their opinions and concerns- a feeling of ‘no-one listens to me’ can only add to a sense of isolation and distress. If one person suddenly seems withdrawn or becomes hostile to changes, you need to be sensitive and take action to get to the bottom of the issue. When someone shows signs that they’re feeling overwhelmed, follow up in private with them after the meeting, and draft in support from others in the team as required.  

A degree of stress will always be, to some extent, part of working life.  However, you can help people accept and deal with it by creating a strong ethos of team support. Ensure that you publicly offer thanks and rewards when your team has delivered under exceptional pressure.  Encourage people to publicly acknowledge and thank others for support when the heat is on.  Your message that ‘we’re in this together’ will help to reassure individuals that, by reaching out for help, rather than struggling alone, they’ll receive the support they need. 

In conclusion, a stressed-out team will not be a happy team, and will never perform at its best. As a leader, you play an essential role in ensuring that your team can rely on your support should they begin to experience distress in the workplace. You’ll all feel happier to come to work, and this will be reflected in your business performance.

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