Are You Doing Enough to Help Your Team Manage Stress?

Leading Others

27th January 2022

“Life is a rollercoaster”, we’ve always been told. We’ve always agreed because it’s always been true. But in the last two years  the pace has picked up, the twists have gotten tighter and our stamina has truly been put to the test. Nothing is certain yet everything is possible. This is stressful. When that stress is left to overwhelm teams, morale and momentum are tough to recover.

Managing tight timelines, low energy, high expectations, at-risk relationships and personal responsibilities are all real, unique and relentless sources of pressure. However, the pandemic added unprecedented stressors to the every-day roster, such as shifting work environments and health anxieties, whilst exacerbating existing ones, like chronic overwork and burnout. 

Due to the increasing pressure on you as a leader to deliver, do you find yourself getting wrapped up in responding to the practicalities of these challenges, at the expense of addressing how it is affecting people emotionally?

It’s time to formally look at the way you’re managing stress in your team by allowing for and empowering progress through, what it means to be human.

Acknowledging stress is the first step in managing it

The dangers of stress and poor mental health are well documented. Unsurprisingly, the findings and figures are alarming. 

  • In October 2021 the ONS Labour Force Survey found that the number of cases of work-related stress, anxiety and depression has increased significantly since 2019, accounting for 55% of all working days lost between 2019 and 2020.
  • The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has warned workplaces are on the verge of a “health and safety crisis” if cultural changes aren’t made.
  •  Analysis by Deloitte published in January 2020 found that poor mental health costs UK employers up to 45bn each year, up by 16 per cent since 2016.

Frustrations, disappointments and setbacks are inevitable, necessary even, but building resilience to them doesn’t mean disallowing emotions about them. Doing so hurts all aspects of business, by making your company a place people not only don’t want to work, but can’t work. 

The sources of stress aren’t going away, so here are a few places to start to mitigate the effects that constant change and challenge have on your direct reports: 

Cancel toxic positivity

Toxic positivity can be a denial of reality. Telling someone, or ourselves, to “just look on the bright side” or “things could be worse” in the face of disruption and adversity can serve to shame people for the natural human reactions they experience to stress and worry. 

Excessive positivity in leadership can appear like a strength, but it can quickly turn to a weakness. As researcher and New York Times best-seller Liz Wiseman explains in our solution Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Ignite Everyone’s Intelligence, even the best intentions can end up accidentally diminishing others. 

In her research Wiseman discovered that there are nine types of ‘Diminisher’, those who inadvertently shut down the best in people. One of them is The Optimist. This leader’s relentless can-do attitude and confidence in their team to overcome challenges, ends up downplaying how difficult things can be, dismissing valid struggles as trivial, and denying their version of how things are. 

Instead, great leaders should avoid defaulting to an up-beat attitude in the hope it will raise spirits, and seek to understand others’ position in order to express sincere interest in how they are finding a situation. 

Make space for people’s feelings

The degree to which you are consistent, intentional and authentic with your 1-on-1s can be the difference between buys in or checks out during periods of high change or personal upheaval.

Whilst being critical opportunities for offering constructive feedback, these 1-on-1 conversations should also be time laid aside to focus specifically on personal concerns, emotions and perspectives. It is your role as a leader to listen, ask questions without agenda, and as FranklinCovey change expert Curtis Bateman puts it, to “gradually help people pull their heads above water and see the horizon ahead.” 

Our ability to stay grounded is tied directly to how connected we feel, to others, our work, our purpose, our company. Leaders are a big part of that. How often do you simply ask if there is anything you or the organisation can do to be helpful? 

Fear is a knot of the heart, and to untie these knots is a matter of sincere, honest, genuine, affirming relationship. It is not so much a matter of intellectual understanding at all! – Stephen R. Covey

Disempower decision fatigue

In today’s fast-paced world we’re constantly bombarded by information, forced to decipher what matters most amidst busyness all day long. Coupled with the “always on” culture that has only flourished, people are paralysed by indecision, determined to say “yes” to everything and stretched thin in a vicious cycle that withholds serotonin and drives stress. 

On the other hand, people who are empowered to work within their circle of influence are able to make better quality choices and keep things in perspective. They don’t waste time in their circle of concern, fretting over what they cannot control. They’re kind to themselves, more resilient in the face of setbacks and energised by small proactive actions. 

Are your direct reports equipped to understand and wield their influence amidst uncertainty? Do they feel safe to- politely yet unapologetically- say no? Do you as a leader clear the path for them to focus on what they need to? 

If you want to create a team dynamic that doesn’t live in crisis mode, download these 7 tips for doing what matters most

I have to, I ought to, I get to

When we are stressed or feeling low, it can be so easy to have a negativity bias that makes us notice and add more weight to negative events. Gratitude helps keep this in check, ensuring we don’t allow ourselves to over-focus on disaster scenarios. This is not to trivialise hardships, but to put ourselves in charge of them.

FranklinCovey co-founder Hyrum Smith has a pertinent message about how our attitudes can help us to manage our emotional response to adversity.

In this FranklinCovey US OnLeadership video interview with thought leader Scott Miller, Hyrum Smith explains that the basic principles that make a human being become more productive and effective have not changed for 6,000 years. We have three key motivators that impact how we do things, or rather how we feel about doing things.

Have to: 

The lowest emotion that motivates activity, Smith says, is fear. This is the feeling that we have to do something, or something bad will happen. We have to go to work because if we don’t we will face financial ruin. Fear is a powerful motivator, but it is also a powerful stressor.

Ought to: 

A higher emotion that motivates activity is a sense of duty, or doing the right thing, or following the rules. We ought to go to work, because people are relying on us and it’s the right thing to do. Feeling obligated to do something is also a powerful motivator, but it can breed resentment.

Get to:

Smith explains there is an even higher emotion that motivates activity. The emotion of love and gratitude. I get to do this. I have the privilege of doing this. It’s an honour to do this. Hyrum Smith says, “This is where miracles happen: When people lead themselves from fear or duty to love.”

The level of connection your people experience is critical to which motivator they choose, or see open to them, to embrace. When passion, purpose and human fulfilment play no role in leadership, the burden of fear and duty employees face becomes insurmountable and stress overwhelms.

Finally, look after yourself

Stress is an emotional contagion. If leaders are experiencing tension, the chances are that this is going to filter down through the team. The number one rule of managing stress within your team is to manage your own stress. 

You cannot pour from an empty cup, so ask yourself – are you depleted? How are *you* feeling, how this is affecting you and what do you need? Reflect on how you are personally adjusting to the change. Find ways to decompress, relieve pressure and build your own resilience.

There’s a reason Stephen R. Covey made Sharpen the Saw® the closing message of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: without time and space for self-renewal, nothing is sustainable. Including your ability to effectively and meaningfully support your team. 

The disruption of change can cause us to over-focus on potential threats. This is natural, but it makes it harder for us to see the situation clearly. Discover six ways to help your team handle stress by downloading our complimentary guide- powered by  the research behind Change: How to Turn Uncertainty into Opportunity™