Each month, “The Balance Sheet” provides questions and answers from experts on a topic that’s important to you as a manager. Please feel free to share this information with other colleagues who also manage people.
Q. Every workplace is different, so specific strategies for managing stress vary, but what should we focus on as managers to help employees reduce stress? How do we come up with a list of things to try?
A. Almost all strategies to help employees manage stress fall into several broad areas. Brainstorming with your employees and surveying their ideas, even anonymously, will yield insights and concerns that can be translated into tactics to reduce stress. These broad areas of consideration include: 1) flexibility of work hours 2) flexibility with work location 3) communication with management and social interaction between coworkers 4) rewards for excellence or extra privileges 5) employee control of work load, priorities, deadlines and procedures 6) trust from managers rather than tight controls and pressure created by oversight and demands 7) attention to the work environment and ergonomics that facilitate reduced stress.
Q. My boss called me a stress-monger after some of my employees complained about my hard-charging style. I am not as bad as these employees have made me out to be with my boss. If others get stressed because I push them to excel, why is that my problem?
A. If you are as tough as others report, it is your problem because you are contributing to an unhealthy work environment. Employees cannot perform at their best if they report to a supervisor who exerts constant pressure and creates an atmosphere of anxiety. Workplace stress more than doubles the risk of death from heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular conditions, according to a recent British study. End-running to your boss may indicate that you are not doing what it takes to understand the impact of your work style on employees. Collaborate with your employees when setting ambitious goals and reward them for superior results. You can damage your career prospects if you develop a reputation as an unrelenting drill sergeant and disappoint your bosses who see complaints, high turnover and surging absenteeism as signs of poor leadership.
Q. I am very stressed out in my supervisor role. I would like to relax and physically work off my stress, but I have never noticed any benefit when I hop on the treadmill as I attempt to relieve stress. As a result, I don’t keep up with it.
A. Physical activity is one of the best ways to relieve stress, but don’t expect much if you only begin to exercise when you’re already stressed out. For real benefits, you must make a commitment to a regular program, such as 20-30 minutes a day, with your doctor’s approval. (Be sure to warm up before putting exercise stress on your heart.) If you keep up with your exercise program, you will experience better capability and resilience when you are under stress in the future. This is called stress immunization.