Unfortunately, high levels of stress not only harm employee health, but they also harm your business. Stress is an epidemic, and one in four workers view their jobs as the number one stressor in their life. 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 will be continuously and proactively educating yourself and your teams about stress, and refining structures and programs that help reduce stress. Subscribe to my YouTube channel to keep informed about workplace stress and leadership. Here are three ways to help your employees reduce their stress.
1. Help your employees learn how to manage stress
As a leader, you need to set your team members up for success by giving them the tools to learn how to manage stress. Almost half of workers say they need help in learning how to manage stress. There’s a lot you can do. You should consider time management classes. Try to incorporate training on effective prioritization and delegation. Do you have a clear idea of where you and your teams fall on the stress scale? 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 brain 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, feels better and can function better again. Research has shown that perceived control is linked to lower stress levels and even prolonged lives.
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. How could you do this? You can be clear about how employees fit into the bigger picture, thanking individuals and teams 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. They don’t know what to expect. This causes a lot of worrying, thinking about worst-case scenarios, and stress. When you’re transparent and appreciative, your team members trust you and you’ll improve as a leader. You will help them reduce their stress levels, as well as yours.
3. Embrace time off when needed
Did you know that nearly 8 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 by reminding employees 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 in the company don’t punish or look down on employees that take needed time off. Companies in Europe and around the world are realizing the importance of this, as you can read in my book, Stress-less Leadership.
It’s important to recognize and appreciate the harm that overwork and too much time tethered to the workplace can do. Our brain changes when we’re overworked. Research has found that when we’re exposed to chronic stress, our telomeres, the outermost part of the chromosomes in our white blood cells, shorten. Although our telomeres shorten naturally with age, the process is accelerated when we’re experiencing stress. It’s like you’re pressing fast forward on your life. While you might get to eat a lot more birthday cake in a shorter time frame, it’s not a desirable scenario. Shorter telomeres cause cells to age faster and die younger and take a heavy toll on your emotional well-being. This is why taking a break is so important.
Taking time away from the office is more important than ever before. The mental demands placed on workers is higher than ever. Consider meetings. In the 1960s, executives spent 10 hours in meetings, Today, executives squander nearly 23 hours each week in meetings. And a startling 71% of meetings are deemed unproductive and inefficient. We need time away from meetings.
We also need time to catch up on sleep. A staggering 37% 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. Research has found that spouses with fewer sleep problems tend to experience higher levels of happiness.
It’s important to celebrate your team members for recognizing that they need a break. You should take the time to explain the dangers of working when stressed. Make sure they know that stress makes them less productive. When workers are stressed and overworked, they are nearly 70% less productive. They are also more likely to get involved in accidents and 20% more likely to make mistakes on the job. When you prioritize time off, you reduce stress and improve you and your team members’ performance.
Workplace stress is an epidemic. Stress comes in many forms. In many cases, stress is short-lived and lasts only as long as the stress-inducing project or event. Once you’ve completed the project or the presentation has ended, your stress levels return to normal. You breathe a sigh of relief and your body recuperates. 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. Whether acute or chronic, the vast majority of your employees suffer from stress.
Eight in 10 workers say they are stressed by at least one thing at work. This is why your job as a leader is so critical. Helping your employees manage their stress is key to being a more effective leader. 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 Paul Dreschler, Chairman, Bibby Line Group, once said, “Good health IS good business.” So, take these three steps to empower your team members for success.
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 than reducing stress in the workplace.
Nadine Greiner, Ph.D. provides Executive Coaching and Human Resources solutions. Her mission is to make the executive experience exceptionally enjoyable and effective. She believes that the world needs great leaders, and has dedicated her career to helping them.
As an organization psychologist and former corporate CEO, Dr. Nadine understands the pressures and demands executives face. She offers her clients the high expertise that only comes with three decades of consulting success, and a dual Ph.D. in Organization Development and Clinical Psychology. Dr. Nadine is an in-demand speaker, teaches in doctoral programs, and coaches other consultants. She is the author of two books: ‘The Art of Executive Coaching: Secrets to Unlock Leadership Performance’, and of ‘Stress-less Leadership: How to Lead in Business and in Life’. amazon.com/author/nadinegreiner