De-stressing the business: getting managers and workloads in check

manager heaping work on an employee
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Stressful working environments harm employee wellbeing and productivity. To get a handle on this, businesses need to address their management style and how they approach workloads.

A recent CIPD study has revealed that poor management and heavy workloads are the biggest causes of workplace stress. These findings will raise some important questions for businesses, but the answers will require some serious thought.

Unfortunately, overcoming these stressors is not as simple as implementing a new policy or procedure.

Instead, employers will need to gain a fundamental understanding of the business and how their staff operate.

Spotting the problem

Although wellbeing is now a top priority for most businesses, it is still possible to overlook employees who are feeling stressed.

Excessive workloads, for example, can be easily missed unless managers are actively monitoring this area and taking action where necessary.

Even in the friendliest environments, staff can feel unable to flag when work is getting too much. Sometimes it’s down to the fear of being seen as incapable; other times staff may rationalise their intense workload by thinking that ‘everyone is busy’.

Either way, employees don’t always raise the issue and instead suffer in silence.

Poor management can be just as hard to spot. The line between colleague and friend get blurred at times, making it difficult to provide objective feedback for reviews and catch up sessions.

Some employees may feel unable to provide honest feedback on their managers for fear of reprisals or simply appearing ‘too harsh’.

As with most things, the key here is communication. Whether it’s unrealistic workloads or poorly trained managers, it’s vital that staff feel comfortable to open up and raise these issues with those at the top.

Unless they are able to gain this insight, businesses could continue on as usual, keeping the workload high and letting managers remain the same because – on the surface – things look fine.

Managing managers

How do businesses overcome these issues? One of the first things leaders should do is ensure they’re developing the manager role.

Employee progression often evolves into a managerial role over time, but being a manager is more than just a title - it’s a whole new set of responsibilities and for some, it may not come naturally.  

Often, the cause of a manager’s poor performance is simply a lack of awareness of their role or how to deal with unfamiliar situations.

Companies need to look at how they work with new managers at developing their skills around delegating, coaching and communication to make sure they are fully prepared to work in a constructive and practical way.

Overworked employees aren’t going to be productive or happy and keeping things the same will ultimately lead to overstress and burnout in staff.

Training shouldn’t end there, however. Staff development needs to be an ongoing process that helps managers grow and hone their skills throughout their career, as well as encouraging them to seek feedback from junior members.

Managers that are willing and eager to receive updates on their progress will continue to improve and ultimately reduce their colleagues’ stress, rather than cause it.

It’s also worth noting that a management role may not be right for everyone – and that’s also ok.

In cases like these, the business should provide options for alternative paths of progression, allowing manager-level employees to take on other roles such as consultants or ‘experts’ in their specific field.

Working with workloads

Having effective managers is only part of improving employee wellbeing though - other employees can often be a source of stress as well.

While a manager can be as supportive as possible, the company also needs to make sure all staff at every level are able to work together confidently and effectively.

This is where workload management needs to be reviewed. For some, managing a busy workload will mean delegating tasks, amending deadlines or simply encouraging an employee to take a break and come back to the task later.

Overworked employees aren’t going to be productive or happy and keeping things the same will ultimately lead to overstress and burnout in staff.

Getting the priorities right

There’s another side to workload management that also needs to be addressed. Even with a reduced workload and longer deadlines, some staff will still struggle to complete all the tasks they need to.

It’s here that employees need help with wider skills like time management or prioritisation.

With the help of a skilled manager, staff can identify tasks that are causing them the most stress and improve their ability to handle their to-do list.

Giving employees the opportunity to raise their concerns about their workload – but also giving them the ability to overcome any challenges themselves – will not only reduce stress but will also help to build a positive mindset and give employees more confidence in their role.

Whether staff have too much to do, need more support, or feel unable to provide feedback on their managers, the key answer all of these challenges is communication.

Encouraging an ongoing conversation about work, de-stigmatising certain topics, and making people feel comfortable voicing their concerns will ultimately help the company achieve a better balance with its staff and senior management, reducing employee stress in the process.

Interested in this topic? Read Stress in the workplace: four ways HR can help alleviate this prevalent employee burden.

About Emma Yearwood

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