How Leaders Can Reverse Their Team's Stress Cycle
This is your Team on Stress
In the 80’s there was a campaign to stop using drugs in school that showed an egg with the statement, “This is your brain” and then after dropping the egg in the frying pan, it said, “This is your brain on drugs, get the picture?”. While not as dramatic as the drug problem, today’s workforce is highly stressed/overwhelmed and unable to function properly in many ways. Many leaders, stressed themselves, are concerned about disengaged talent, resignations and client impacts and are seeking solutions. Others have yet to “get the picture” and are driving overwhelmed teams even harder, with fewer resources, expecting higher performance and burning teams out.
How can leaders reverse the Negative Stress Cycle to a Positive Well-Being Performance Cycle?
In this article, I share a summary of best practices and approaches that leaders can take to understand and address the stress on your teams, reverse the negative cycle, and re-align your team for well-being and performance.
Our team at Lifter Leadership has been working with leaders since the pandemic began to help them address the stress that has become pervasive in the workplace and the world. We are seeing the same pattern in practically every industry we serve.
Step 1: OVERWHELM AND STRESS - Workplace stress is currently at an all-time high. About 80% of workers, including leaders, are feeling overwhelmed and stressed, with almost half admitting they need help learning how to manage stress. Approximately one-third of people are unable to function due to overwhelm, with 46% of those under 35 feeling overwhelm (Ref:1,2). The effects of stress and overwhelm can be extensive, leading to a drop in analytical thinking, inability to recall information, lack of empathy towards others, poor communication, errors in the workplace, safety concerns, and health issues. Realize that leaders often have greater resources than their teams to minimize stress and save time –accountants to help with tax preparation, help to do housecleaning or yardwork, or nannies for childcare or pickup. It is important to understand the additional pressures your team may be facing.
Step 2: RESIGNATIONS, LAYOFFS, DISENGAGED TALENT - Almost 46% of the workforce is not engaged or thriving, with 25% feeling anger at work and 16% having health problems as a result. The Great Resignation (55% leaving and 1 in 4 for mental health reasons) (Ref. 3), quiet quitting, and layoffs have contributed to this situation, reducing resources and capabilities across the board.
Step 3: MORE WORK AND STRESS ON THOSE REMAINING - The remaining team, including the leader, is even more stressed, overwhelmed, and overworked because they are doing the same work with fewer people, feeling survivor's guilt, or paranoia after layoffs or training new talent to fill the gaps.
Step 4: CUSTOMER DISSATISFACTION AND ATTRITION
With fewer employees to serve clients and respond to their needs, the customer experience and service suffer, putting loyalty at risk. This adds further to the stress of the leader and the remaining team. According to research, 80 percent of B2B buyers have or are switching suppliers, citing major factors including as slow resolution to problems, delivery failures, and unsatisfactory service response (Ref. 4).
What can leaders do to power the Positive Well-Being Performance Cycle?
From our work with major clients across industries, there are four steps to reversing the negative cycle and addressing performance and stress in a sustainable way:
1. ACKNOWLEDGE THE REAL STRESS AND OVERWHELM OF YOUR TEAM
Ignoring the real issue and "toughing it out" only worsens the cycle. Make time for a sincere and open dialogue with your team to understand where each of them is coming from. Share openly and vulnerably how you, too, are feeling stressed. Recognize that, often, leaders have greater resources than their teams to minimize stress and save time Leaders may have accountants to do tax preparation, help to do house cleaning, gym memberships, help for childcare or pickup. Your team may not have these resources.
2. DEMONSTRATE SELF-CARE
Leaders can demonstrate the importance of self-care by taking time off, using de-stress techniques, and setting boundaries around work hours. It is crucial to prioritize self-care and maintaining a healthy work-life balance, especially in environments of fear and potential layoffs. When are you calling it a day? What time of day (or night or weekend) are you sending emails? Are you taking stretch, breathing, or other downtime breaks between meetings? One simple technique we recommend is to schedule team meetings/calls for 50 minutes instead of 1 hour and use the 10 minutes to walk, meditate, have a healthy snack with no laptop or phone, or do something else visible to your team to show self-care is valued and important.
3. EXHIBIT COMPASSION AND DEEP LISTENING
Leaders need to signal that they care for those who remain committed to the company. Deep listening, compassion, and empathy are essential, drawing out quieter people and inviting team members to feel safe to share how they feel. Listening is a new skill and superpower for many established leaders who have been rewarded for being first to talk, solving and dominating. Driving your best talent harder to do the work of employees who have left only adds fuel to the fire of the negative performance cycle. In a recent HBR study5, 61% of senior business leaders reported that they’re struggling to balance employees’ need for support with their company’s drive for high performance, and yet, as the title of the article indicates, Leaders Don’t Have to Choose Between Compassion and Performance.
4. RE-ALIGNING ROLES, PROCESSES, AND CUSTOMERS TO PRIORITIES AND BANDWIDTH
It is essential to take time to proactively and explicitly realign roles and responsibilities to identify gaps left by others. With fewer team members, disengaged employees, and increasing demands from customers (stressed themselves), it is vital to align roles to priorities and bandwidth. One of the biggest levers to address stress is to identify and eliminate projects that have limited return relative to the time they take from the most important projects. Another lever for freeing up time is to take a fresh look at the processes your team uses to work best together: Are all meetings really essential? What emails can be eliminated? Are there customers that take up a disproportionate amount of your team’s energy and time relative to investing your best customers?
To powerfully activate the Virtuous Well-Being Performance Cycle, leaders can hold a dedicated workshop for their team to regroup, connect, and develop a new playbook for working together in the new climate. Lifter Leadership offers highly-skilled group facilitation (live or Zoom) to share best practices, make informed decisions and allow the leader to be an equal participant and beneficiary. Our workshops foster engaged sharing and team bonding where employees realize they are not alone and jointly create a new playbook for how to work best. We introduce 4 types of listening skills and a variety of proven de-stress and mindfulness techniques (e.g, focus, creativity, anxiety). Then, we help the leader and team set new priorities, identify ways to free up time, and agree on ways to support the team’s well-being so you all do not feel so “cooked” at the end of each week.
Contemporary leaders must evolve their approaches to drive performance from their teams. It begins with getting the real picture of what is happening with your talent and then systematically and collectively, developing a new playbook for how your team will support each others’ well-being, focus on priorities and build a sustainable high-performance organization.
To explore how we can help you and your team succeed, DM me or email firstname.lastname@example.org.