Workplace stress is an epidemic, and unfortunately, high levels of stress not only harm employee health, but they also harm your business. In many cases, stress is short-lived and lasts only as long as the stress-inducing project or event. This is called acute or short-term stress. Your body is built to handle acute stress, but it’s not meant to cope with stress over long periods of time. When stressful conditions happen enduringly, your body begins to break down. This is called chronic or long-term stress. When chronic stress rears its ugly head, a break is absolutely imperative.
This is why your job as a leader is so critical. When your team members rid themselves of stress, they’re able to improve all their relationships. Not only are coworker relationships affected, but so too relationships with partners, customers and suppliers. The reputational impact can catapult your business to success. As a leader, you will want to reduce stress in the workplace to help employees as well as yourself (your loved ones will also thank you). In order to model healthy behavior and habits as a leader, you ought to continuously and proactively educate yourself and your teams about stress, while refining structures and programs that help reduce it. Here are three ways to do just that.
1. Open your toolkit.
As a leader, you need to set your team members up for success by giving them the tools to learn how to manage stress. There’s a lot you can do, including considering time-management classes or training on effective prioritization and delegation. And try to constantly do a pulse-check on stress and on whether or not you’ve created effective EAP and wellness programs. Don’t just leave that stuff to HR. Own it, lead it. You should empower your team for success by providing additional resources specific to your team members. Stress is powerful. It’s impossible to fight it unless you understand it.
When you give employees the tools to manage their own stress, they’re able to take control of their destiny. Why is this important? The more in control your employees feel, the less stressed they’ll be. Adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine are the stress hormones that originate in our brains and rush through our bodies. They are subdued once we feel that we are in control and that the threat has disappeared. At that point, your team is no longer stressed and can function better again. Research has shown that perceived control is linked to lower stress levels and even prolonged lives.
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2. Be transparent.
Transparency is often touted, but you can exercise a powerful and unique style of leadership by personally sharing company values and objectives in communications held for the sole purpose of reducing employee stress. Use those opportunites to be clear about how employees fit into the bigger picture and thank individuals and teams them for their contributions. At every turn possible, try to remember to share company performance data and results and attribute them to employees. When you’re not transparent, employees feel out of the loop and in limbo, which causes a lot of worrying and thinking about worst-case scenarios. When you’re transparent and appreciative, your team members will trust you, and you’ll improve as a leader, reducing their stress and yours.
3. Embrace time off when needed.
Did you know that nearly eight out of 10 workers force themselves to work while sick? You can “be the change” by encouraging employees to take care of their health and reminding them about the importance of taking time off. Creating an environment that encourages time off when needed might be easier than you think. Modeling a wholesome approach to using time off to get or stay healthy yourself will help a lot. Needless to say, make sure your managers don’t punish or look down on employees that take needed PTO. Companies in Europe and around the world are realizing the importance of this.
We also need time to catch up on sleep. A staggering 37 percent of workers suffer from sleep deprivation. Are you sleep deprived? Chances are high that if you’re stressed, you’re lacking on sleep. Stress causes an imbalance in the body’s hormonal system, leading to the release of stimulating hormones, including cortisol. These hormones often cause sleep disturbances. The impact is significant. Sleep deprivation has been shown to cause irritability, compromised decision-making skills, distraction and a decreased ability to draw links between information. It also wreaks havoc on your relationships, both at and outside the workplace. Take the time to explain the dangers of working when stressed and make sure your staff knows that stress makes them less productive. When you prioritize time off, you reduce stress and improve your and your team’s performance.
Creating a stress-quelling workplace doesn’t happen overnight. It requires a lot of time, dedication and commitment, but few things are more important to your success as a leader. And most importantly, take good care of yourself.