Stress isn’t always a bad thing, and it isn’t always preventable, but it can negatively affect your workers’ performances, and even interfere with their long-term health.
As a manager, it’s your responsibility to ensure that your workers are performing to the best of their abilities while keeping the work environment warm, inviting and conducive to talent retention.
When you consider the fact that stress is contagious and can spread from person to person, it becomes even more imperative that you, as a leader, step in to help manage the stress of the group. Though you might think managing stress is an individual concern, your role has more power than you might think. Here's how to help your employees be happier, less stressed and more productive.
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1. Set the Tone
As the manager of your team, you’ll serve as the figurehead. People will look for you to set the tone, whether they consciously realize it or not. It’s entirely within your power to subtly dictate that your group be laid back and focused on working at their own pace, or perfectionistic and obsessed with meeting your objectives.
During your briefings, meetings and everyday interactions, make a conscious effort to reduce the amount of stress you introduce to the group. Keep your focus on goals and company priorities, but don’t add any unnecessary pressure by constantly reminding the group of deadlines or pointing out past failures and mistakes.
Stay positive, and most importantly, stay calm—even in high-pressure situations. If the leader of a group remains calm no matter what, the entire group will endure less stress as the days go on.
2. Encourage Breaks
In some offices, breaks are considered taboo—being gone for a half hour around noon is seen as a sign of weakness or a lack of commitment to putting in hours.
Don’t let your workplace adopt this mentality. Breaks are necessary for mental health, and can increase an individual’s overall productivity.
For example, your employee might miss half an hour of work by taking a midday walk. However, if she comes back with new energy and motivation, helping her get an hour of extra work done in her remaining time and helping her come in with lower stress levels the next day. Encourage your workers to take multiple small breaks throughout the day, and join them in those breaks whenever you can.
3. Improve the Aesthetics
The aesthetics of an office can interfere with the stress levels of a group, for better or for worse.
For example, if your office is cold, with empty walls, empty desks and no noise other than the sound of construction in the street, your workers could enter the workplace each morning feeling on edge.
If instead, your office is warm, with colorfully decorated walls, desks lined with plants, soft music playing in the background and a delicious scent in the air, your workers will feel comfortable and even excited to walk in every day.
These changes don’t take much time or effort to implement, yet they can make a major difference in the attitudes and subjective stress levels of your team. Make the office an inviting place to be.
4. Invite Meaningful Conversations
Let your workers know that you’re always available for an honest, direct conversation. Depending on your company’s culture, it might take some time to build this trust, but your goal should be complete openness and honesty with each of your individual team members.
Most individuals in stressful environments choose to hide their stress to protect themselves from appearing weak or uncommitted to the group. However, this allows the stressful thoughts to fester, growing in intensity and negativity over time.
For example, if a worker hates a specific project because of its excessive workload and impossible deadlines, he may keep it a secret, allowing the pressure to escalate. But if that worker feels comfortable talking about his perspective, you can work with him to find alternative resources or set more reasonable deadlines.
If none of those things are possible, the worker can at least vent to you about the situation and feel better afterward. There is no situation that an honest, personal conversation can’t help at least slightly.
5. Lead Group Exercises
Finally, bring the group together with team-based stress relieving exercises. For example, each morning, you could lead the group in a brief sitting of deep breathing and meditation.
During meetings, you can ask your team to list some of the things that are bothering them.
For lunch, take your team out for a walk around the building for some fresh air and exercise.
Aside from those immediate practices, you can introduce ideas to the group, encouraging them to engage in personal habits that reduce stress, such as physically exercising on a regular basis or getting more hours of sleep consistently.
Stress can never be eliminated, nor should it—it serves an important role in our bodies. Only when it’s high in intensity and chronic in nature does it become a problem.
Don’t turn your quest to reduce office stress into a crusade to vanquish stress altogether, or you’ll never see any results. Instead, focus on managing small, meaningful changes that make stress easier to handle for the individuals in your group.
Also, keep in mind that these strategies may not work for every individual. Reducing noise pollution and lighting candles might help one worker find her zen while doing absolutely nothing for another. Experiment and cater to individual needs if necessary to make the best possible environment for the group as a whole.