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How managers can prevent stress for their team

19th Apr 2022
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The CIPDs 2022 Health and wellbeing at work survey report, in partnership with Simplyhealth, finds that ‘management style’ is a main cause of work-related stress.

At the same time, line managers are the ‘first line of defence’ when it comes to supporting employees when they’re suffering work-related stress or burnout.

The report finds that line managers play a pivotal role but often lack the skills required.

  • The majority of organisations look to line managers to take primary responsibility for managing both short-term (70%) and long-term (61%) absence.
  • Only 60% provide managers with training in handling short-term absence and 65% provide them with tailored support for managing long-term absence.
  • Only 38% of HR respondents agree that managers are confident to have sensitive discussions and signpost people to expert sources of help when needed.
  • Even fewer (29%) believe they are confident and competent to spot the early warning signs of mental ill health.
  • Just over two-fifths (44%) of organisations are training managers to support staff with mental ill health.

The good news is that there are ways to prevent, and reduce, stress and burnout within your team, once you know how.

Know what will cause stress for your people

We all have a different capacity for stress, and this can differ depending on what’s going on for us at different times.

When you understand how each of your team like to work, and what will cause stress for them, you can mitigate the risk of it occurring.

Help your people to navigate change

Change can be really unsettling. From a small change in how work is done, to a large restructure – some people will be unphased, some will be really anxious, others inbetween somewhere.

As the saying goes: ‘The only certainty is change’ so it’s essential to help your people to feel as safe as possible when it occurs. Be as open as you can about the change, explain the reasons for it and assure them you’ll keep them informed.

Consider if you can involve them in the change, eg do you need ideas for making it successful? Do you need people to take on tasks and responsibilities to make it successful?  This gives people a sense of agency and control, which helps to reduce anxiety.

Know what enables each person to thrive

We all have different strengths. When we’re able to work to our strengths we’re more happy, more productive, and less stressed. If we have to regularly use our weaknesses, we become drained of energy and stress is likely to increase. When we’re learning new skills we have a sense of progress.

  • How can you enable your people to work to their strengths?
  • What are their career aspirations? How can you support them?
  • What do they really enjoy doing? How can you enable them to do more of it?
  • What do they want to learn?

Give feedback that generates oxytocin

Research by Dr Richard Glaser & Dr Judith Glaser studied the neurochemistry of our brains when we are on the receiving end of a performance conversation. They found:

  • Our brains release Oxytocin when we are given positive praise. This is a feel-good hormone that improves our abilities to innovate, collaborate and trust others – it relaxes us.
  • Our brains release Cortisol when we face criticism, judgment, rejection or fear. This hormone shuts down the thinking centre of our brains, our prefrontal cortex. It kick-starts our defences, making us risk and conflict averse, more reactive and sensitive.

This is not to say that only positive feedback can be given. People often need some development feedback, or course correction feedback.

The way that feedback is given, is crucial to the effect it has on subsequent performance.

A great way to give feedback – both praise and developmental – is to use the DESC model combined with a focus on strengths.

Example:

DESCRIBE the action / event:
You spent a lot of time this week calling people to check they were ready to attend the leadership training today, which is the role of the delegate's leader.

EXPRESS the impact:
This means you haven't finished the workbook that's needed for the new programme launch on Monday.

SPECIFY the change / solution required:
I understand you did this because you love to help people, which is a strength of yours, and you wanted to ensure delegates are prepared. In this instance, it seems this strength was overplayed as it took up a lot of your time which caused you to not complete an urgent piece of work.

You’re really great at thinking ahead and planning, and that could have helped you achieve the same outcome more effectively. For example, you could have arranged a group call with all the leaders to ensure their people are ready to attend. This would have left you time to complete the workbook.

CONCLUSION - use positive statements to move forward:
Let's talk some more next week about how you use your strengths most effectively to achieve your goals and how I can best support you in that.

Ensure your people know what support is available

What support is provided by the organisation? Sharing this in an open environment before it’s needed is a positive way to position this.

For example, taking time in a team meeting to talk about mental wellbeing and the support offered by the company. Do they know about the Employee Assistance Programme, HR Policies, etc?

If appropriate you can share some of your own experiences.

Watch out for early signs

Are you noticing a change in someone’s behaviour? Maybe they’re more quiet than usual. Maybe they’re coming in late. Maybe they’re distracted a lot. Any change that last longer than a couple of days is a good prompt for a conversation to explore what’s going on for them.

Create a safe environment for people to talk with you

  • When people experience mutual trust and respect with their managers and colleagues, they are more likely to share how they are feeling / what’s happening for them.
  • Clarify that all conversations are confidential.
  • Listen without judgement.
  • Ask what you can do to help.

When people feel safe to be their whole selves at work they are more happy, more engaged with their work, more productive – and crucially, less stressed.

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