Are you stressed? How about the people in your organization? There’s stress in every workplace. A certain level of stress is OK – it gets people going, and keeps them motivated. It means they care about the work. But a lot of stress? That is no good. No good for your body, your mind, your organization, or your bottom line.
Excessive stress at work happens for lots of reasons: more work than there are people to do it, unclear direction, no sense of control, no time to take breaks from the work, and a constant state of urgency.
Brace yourself. This will be hard to hear.
Stress begins at the top and trickles down to senior directors, then middle managers, and weaves its way all the way down to staff. This means, if you’re a boss, a leader, or a manager, then you are responsible for the level of stress your employees are feeling. I know this is a bold and unpopular statement. I know we all have the responsibility for making good choices while managing our professional and personal lives.
But consider this:
If you are in a position of power, management, and decision-making, then you set the tone and priorities for your organization. If your company is stressed out, you hold some of the responsibility to usher people back from the brink, before you lose them for good.
If the people at your organization are experiencing unhealthy stress, it impacts your productivity and bottom line. Excessive stress leads to overwhelmed people who are slowing down. It increases negativity, and increases sick days and medical leave. And stress is contagious: stressed out people make other people stressed out! In a consistently high-stress workplace, your employees are unable to do their best work.
You can do something! You can set the tone and expectations for your organization. You can create a place where people want to work.
Let’s get concrete.
Your step-by-step action plan for reducing workplace stress:
Set the tone
Before you do anything else, take time to build a practice that helps you reduce stress.
Here are some starting points:
Find focus and priorities in your work. Clarify your work boundaries. Increase your work-free, joy-filled time. Take care of your body. Practice gratitude, and let go of things beyond your control.
This list may sound simple, but these practices fly in the face of the, “work your buns off so you can be seen as successful” norm. Stress reduction is a journey, not a quick fix. The good news is that as you find ways to reduce your own stress, you will be physically healthier, have more energy, and be more capable of leading your team.
Model your behaviors for co-workers, and you’ll be much closer to changing the culture of your organization. As other managers and directors change with you, you’ll be even further along to reducing everybody’s stress level
Support your employees
When you’re supervising employees, ask them, one-on-one, how much stress they are experiencing in their work. Where does the stress stem from? Ask for your employees’ ideas for reducing stress.
Be ready to hear things you do not want to. Prepare yourself to listen and look for solutions. If you ask the question and do not work to find solutions, you will decrease trust and increase stress. This is an ongoing conversation between you and the people you manage. Give each other time to look for solutions, try them out, and talk again.
Examine Policies and Boundaries
How has your organization decided what work must get done? Re-evaluate what you are prioritizing as “urgent.” Is there an expectation that people are always “at work”, even when they are home? Are employees always expected to answer the phone or emails, even on vacation? Even in legitimate work emergencies, how can responsibilities be shared across a team so everyone is not on duty all the time?
Define clear responsibilities, and priorities
Check in with folks about their job descriptions. Do they understand what is asked of them? Is it actually doable? Be ready to hear things you may not like, and be willing to brainstorm solutions.
Support people in deciding what must be done and by when. If a task should come off one employee’s plate, how can it be shifted or become a shared task with someone else?
Use these conversations to set clear priorities based on your strategic plans and company-wide goals. Re-visit priorities often, at the management level and with employees you’re supervising.
Set up meaningful fun and follow through
Brainstorm with your team the things they would like to celebrate. Every once in a while do these things! This could be as simple as gathering for sparkling cider in the middle of the day to congratulate the team on a successful project completion.
Hold your celebrations during work hours as often as you can. A brief break won’t hurt the work. And too many extra-curriculars—even if they’re celebrations—become just one more work-related event that cuts into time off.
Hire more people or take on less work
A HUGE source of stress and overwhelm is people’s inability to finish the work within a reasonable workday. Talk with people about the workload. Find out how long tasks really take. Ask why certain tasks or projects are a struggle. Take on only the amount of work people can realistically accomplish.
As an employer, you should not take on every project that arises, unless you can support it with your current workforce or bring on more people. As a manager, you can speak up for your team as the workload increases.
Put the right people in the right job
If you have people doing the wrong work—work they do not have the right skill set for—they will feel unsuccessful and they will not be efficient. This creates additional stress for that employee and for their co-workers.
Having someone in a job they cannot perform successfully is cruel to them and bad for your organization. You can lose money and your reputation.
The right answer to this issue depends on the job and the individual. Your options are to move the person to a different position, get them the training they need, rebuild their job description to fit their skills, or let them go.
Do you want a productive organization where people enjoy coming to work, make an impact, and have a full life outside of work?
It’s up to you. Start with reducing your stress, and supporting your team to reduce theirs.
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Stressed? Here is why and what you can do about it!
(Geared toward management)
How to reduce stress among employees at a nonprofit.
First Nonprofit Group
How to tell your boss about stress.
Monica Burton, Career Realism
How to make stress your friend.
Kelly McGonigal, Ted Talk
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