With the increased workload caused by the pandemic, there is an understandable concern amongst senior leadership teams and HR departments around the issues of long term stress. This article is a practical and constructive guide to help HR managers and Company Directors. To assist in explaining employee stress, how to reduce it and how managers can deal with stress. The article will also include practical ways to motivate and assist teams using emotional intelligence tools to cope with the change in working practices and deal with the future of hybrid working that has occurred as a consequence of the pandemic. Managing hybrid working with clear communication whilst having staff wellbeing at the centre of its wellbeing resilience strategy will strengthen organisations moving forward over the next 6 months.
Whilst working with a number of organisations during the pandemic I have been aware that there is an increasing awareness that Workplace Wellbeing Programmes that reduce stress need to be personalised. Organisational Wellbeing Programmes need to include a strong bias towards resilience, as well as being robust to deal with the aftermath of this intense working period.
Managers are dealing with an unprecedented amount of changes to their work structure. Plus workloads have increased by 20-30%. This is mainly due to less commuting time and has therefore increased working hours. Commuting was previously seen as undesirable in the past – has been replaced with more hours working. The working day has lengthened. The view is that working practices will never return to the previous models.
Organisations can assist the transition in a number of ways and the first is to recognise what the real issue is for your organisation and creating a bespoke resilience training package around their current issues.
This will create a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by an organisation and create strategies that improve resilience so that there is a strong unified approach to mental health and teams continue to feel engaged. Resilience training supports employee wellbeing so that they can remain productive throughout the disruptive change and to support employees wellbeing in a way that allows them to recognise their own stress levels and then confidently build resilience.
Ultimately a top-down approach where senior managers transparently communicate with their teams in a positive, open and inclusive manner so that the organisation is able to maintain levels of sustained productivity and reduce presenteeism caused by long term stress.
The first point to address is what is employee stress, recognising it as an issue and how can organisations reduce it.
What is employee stress?
Stress is the feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure. Workplace stress is brought about by the work demands and pressures that are not matched to employee knowledge and abilities. This, therefore, challenges the employee’s ability to cope and creates workplace stress.
Prior to Covid-19 mental health had risen on the World Health Organisation (WHO) agenda as a top priority. The WHO reported:
“Mental well-being is a fundamental component of WHO’s the definition of health. Good mental health enables people to realize their potential, cope with the normal stresses of life and work productively”Dr Margaret Chan Director-General World Health Organization
During the first half of the pandemic, the Centre for Mental Health found that the cost of mental health difficulties reached a record level in 2019/20. The employee and business costs of mental ill-health rose.
“Mental health problems cost society nearly £119 billion already. That is likely to rise sharply this year in the wake of Covid-19.”Centre for Mental Health July 2020
During the pandemic, stress has been continual. The changes in employees work-life have been considerable. The move from acute to chronic stress is becoming a threat to employees and employers. As long term chronic stress is becoming more evident with the continued pressure that team managers have been experiencing working under pandemic including work pressures, homeschooling, caring for the wider community and families.
How can managers help employees deal with stress?
Open communication, vulnerable leadership and being honest about how you feel as a manager has been paramount to navigating the changing world and working environment. World Leaders that have successfully navigated the pandemic have been open and straight-talking about the issues faced – successful organisational leaders have followed the same route. In a recent article from the Harvard Business Review, it was reported that…
“People in organizations of all types are better off when their leaders are smart, honest, and caring when taking bold, potentially unpopular actions — when their focus is on helping the organization move forward, not on how they look and certainly not on creating a false sense of invincibility“Harvard Business Review 19 October 2020
Managers and team members can use training to improve their communication skills using emotional agile techniques to avoid confrontation and improve communication so that stress is recognised, verbalised and improved. The virtual loop of asking what is wrong, listen actively and responding appropriately has been illustrated in a number of studies to improve communications, team relations and productivity within the organisation.
How to create courageous conversations?
Conversations that are based around a wellbeing programme is the direct and most effective way to support colleagues in the first instance. As a leader being vocal about your commitment to staff wellbeing and encouraging courageous conversations.
As a Resilience Workplace trainer, I use the ABC rule of engagement for courageous conversations:
- Acknowledge the issue and have the conversation and cultivate transparency and personal accountability for the outcome of these conversations
- Build upon the conversation and work on delivering an outcome, don’t just brush it under the carpet
- Create – encourage the employee to create a personal wellbeing plan
How to reduce employee stress?
As outlined in my 6 Core Levels of Organisational Resilience ™️ the primary way to reduce employee stress is to recognise employee’s issues, concerns and work problems.
In the first instance, an employee and company-wide audit is an effective and comprehensive way to identify the wellbeing gaps in any Resilience Strategy. An audit will help to identify the issues that are creating employee stress. An audit – whether that is carried out via company-wide survey or focus group(s) will give a clear indication of what is missing, required and needs to be actioned. From there a comprehensive strategy can be rolled out.
What can an organisation do to improve Resilience in the workplace?
To find out more about The 6 Core Levels of Organisational Resilience ™️ feel free to read my article: How to Build Resilience in the Workplace: The Ultimate Guide
There are a number of simple steps the HR manager or Company Director can do to reduce stress and increase resilience in the workplace that has been outlined below. These steps are a general guideline and a bespoke strategy will highlight the necessary and pertinent steps for your organisation.
In brief outline these steps would include:
Behavioural changes to include:
- an open conversation around what is expected and what is not expected.
- openly discuss when employees should raise their hands that they are struggling
- open communication between teams/management
- senior leaders walking the talk & leading by example – showing via email signature out of office times
- quiet areas in the office
- step away – take a break
- office environment – plants, ventilation,
- allow for flexitime and remote working
- encourage 45mins meetings with 15 min rest gaps in between meetings
What can an individual do to improve their Resilience?
Improving personal resilience is a big topic and can be very detailed. A personalised Resilience Programme can be established for key performers, and those employees who suffer more stress than others, for example sales staff and customer facing colleagues.
- avoid sugar snacks
- walking outside at lunchtime
- indicate if they are struggling with workload or home
- sleeping well using regular routines
- encouraging support from the wider social circle
Senior leaders and employees can improve their resilience in the workplace by:
- measure their own stress levels
- ask for feedback from their team on their stress levels and responses
- measure the effectiveness of their projects
- assess and record the time taken to complete projects
- reflect on what was an effective use of time and what was stress and procrastination
- personal and team feedback loop
How can you motivate employees during stressful times?
As a senior leader, the best way to energise and motivate a team is to behave as a role model. Ensuring that you rest, recuperate and step away from the business. Staying away from work during declared holidays and therefore avoiding leaveism. Actively encouraging staff to take a break.
Encouraging and organising interactive activities away from the office is beneficial. Interesting improve mental health and stress isn’t necessarily about the interactive activities that are used as traditional team-building exercises. Asking employees to push their physical or mental comfort zone during stressful work perios is not the best way for employees to reduce stress. Participating in exercises that avoid alcohol-based, competitive and adrenaline based activities.
An alternative is to utilise more effective soothing and restorative activities which require team cooperation including sailing, canoeing, simpler sports like tennis, rounders, and allocating different roles – cake makers, tea providers, organisers, team players, scorekeepers. Allowing individuals to self-assign roles that will feel useful and part of the team for them.
In addition it will have a more favourable response if these days or sessions are including within the working day, not at the expense of employees family time.
Adapting the office environment to enhance creativity
Creative spaces require a spatial environment; that develops employees time to think. Space to consider options and plan solutions. A quiet area in the office or even a retreat will allow thinking time and shouldn’t mean this doubles up as a coffee room, where groups congregate.
A quiet space outdoors would offer the highest quality return on investment. Or more simply a designated quiet office that feels and looks very different from the rest of the office space; has been shown to create the best effect.
To find out more about improving creativity and solution based activities read more What is a corporate retreat and how can they boost morale and productivity?
“Adele recently did some training on mental resilience for Saunderson House and it was slick and inciteful, whilst also being extremely helpful. I was particularly impressed that she took the time to follow up immediately on some feedback that I had given with an invite to a personal discussion, which was also very useful. Not only does Adele clearly ‘know her stuff’ but she also cares and is very authentic. I would be very happy to recommend her services”Chris Noble Director of Saunderson House
This level of innovation and creativity begins with creative, solution-based thinking that is built into the culture of the organisation. An ‘always on’ culture leaves no space, time or ability to think around a problem and doesn’t spark intuitively creative solutions. Driven, fast-paced cultures that ‘get the job done’ leaves no room for adaptation to change and improvement.
Space and time is required for creative thinking and innovative problem solving. Rest and relaxation are the key to spark creativity.
How can emotional intelligence help employees manage stress?
Resilience is a skill, based on emotional intelligence and behavioural change. Stopping to consider reactions, comments take deliberation and requires a ‘stop and consider’ leadership quality. Ultimately the aim of managers and team leaders is to become more aware of their emotions so that they can learn to accept them.
Showing strength, calmness, perseverance, and optimism even in a stressful situation will instil the same attributes throughout senior managers teams. These skills take time to develop and space to create. And requires a proactive organisational approach rather than an individual emotional reactive approach. Giving team managers the time and room to think freely and encouraging them to make an appropriate analysis of various aspects of a task and situation means that they will become more productive and efficient and will be able to tackle their stress effectively
This type of personal intervention becomes habitual and thereby increase emotional agility. Emotional agility training is a fundamental part of Resilience Training and I would be happy to book a call to discuss how emotional agility can improve productivity and team relationships with your organisations. The best way forward is to book a call with me: Book a call with Adele Stickland
To move this forward, the next step is to book a call with me, Adele Stickland and together we can discover what stage your organisation is currently at, and how you can best implement the most proactive strategy that will serve your employees.
If you or your organisation would like assistance in creating or developing an existing wellbeing programme to frame conversations and support managers and employees then book a call, Adele Stickland
For a more detailed analysis of the 6 levels to resilience read more here: How to build resilience in Workplace