Here at Leading Results we offer specialist support for managers and business leaders, allowing them to grow and develop their people. One of the ways we do this is through training courses.
This year we are launching a Stress and Resilience in the Workplace course. We caught up with our Founder and Director Anita Douglas to find out a bit more about what is meant by the term ‘stress’ and how leaders and managers can minimise the impact of this in the workplace.
As a society, the word ‘stress’ is commonly banded about and, to some extent, is just accepted as being part and parcel of life. However, stress can interfere with productivity and performance as well as physical, mental and emotional health, which can all impact on a business massively.
Last year the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)’s Absence Management Survey found that after minor illnesses such as colds, stomach upsets and headaches, stress was the second most common cause of absence from work with 47% of all absences being stress-related.
Anita says: “The CIPD survey highlights the impact of stress on a workplace. It also estimates that absence from work costs a business an average of £660 per person, per year. So, if you take all of the absences in a business, arguably half of those could be down to stress-related issues and then you multiply that by the cost – that’s a big cost to organisations.”
So, what can be done about it?
“I think that firstly any manager, employer or leader needs to make that distinction between what healthy stress is and what unhealthy stress is,” suggests Anita. “There is always stress in the workplace, but some of that can actually be quite good. Sometimes that feeling of high pressure can be quite exciting because you are up against a deadline and you can perform better. That’s all very healthy but it’s still stress. This is where organisations can really benefit from their managers and teams being trained on knowing the difference between the two. By developing the leader’s and their team’s resilience and mental toughness, companies can ensure that high pressure and healthy stress doesn’t transition into unhealthy stress and a feeling of being so overwhelmed that an individual becomes ‘frozen’ by fear and ultimately has to take time off sick.
“As leaders in a business, we need to look at what point that stress becomes unhealthy and create the right environment that will allow us to recognise when an individual has peaked over the top of that very fine line.”
Anita firmly believes that psychology and how we are all ‘wired’ to think, react and adapt to certain situations is a major variable when it comes workplace stress and an individual’s resilience to it. Her beliefs are supported by academic research (Yerkes–Dodson law). The law dictates that performance increases with physiological or mental arousal and there is a point when pressure and performance peak simultaneously before dropping down again, creating the Yerkes–Dodson curve. The upward part of the curve can be thought of as the energising effect of arousal. The downward part is caused by negative effects or stress on cognitive processes like attention, memory and problem-solving.
“So, as a leader in a business, we have to create the environments that achieve that peak performance, where there is enough pressure but it just doesn’t go over the line,” explains Anita. “It has to be part of the leader’s job to be aware of what conditions and environments can be created for healthy stress, and how to support and help people that may be feeling anxious or frustrated or have a conflict in priorities.”
Signs of unhealthy stress in a team could include changes in behaviour, a drop in performance or targets being met, and, of course, absence from work.
“Stress is unfortunately different for each individual and people respond very differently to it,” says Anita. “It’s not about giving managers a checklist to say if you spot these things, somebody is stressed. It’s look at an individual and if ordinarily they would behave and exhibit these behaviours and you get a shift in those behaviours, that could be an indication.
“When we go into an organisation with a view to tackling workplace stress, we don’t look for symptoms of stress and then cure it. We focus on building a stress-resilient culture and teach strategies that build personal resilience and mental toughness to enable individuals to deal with situations that could cause unhealthy stress.”
With the rise of cloud computing and mobile technology, many leaders and employees are ‘always on’, which commentators believe could see an increase in stress in the workplace. Anita acknowledges this as having some validity but it is by no means the whole story.
She says: “I think regardless of the generation – Millennials, Generation X and everything in between – some people will handle this really well and some won’t. It doesn’t matter what generation you are, some individuals adapt well to change and there will be others who won’t. Some people are a slave to their mobile phone, laptop etc. and pride themselves as always being accessible. They go on holiday and love the fact that they can still work. I personally love that I can go on holiday, hook up to the internet once a day and clear my emails, meaning that when I come back I haven’t got 5-600 emails. If it can be done in a way that’s healthy and helpful to the individual, then that’s OK. Other people will find it overwhelming and, if they get an email at 11pm, feel they ought to respond and get anxious about what will happen if they don’t. All of those feelings of being overwhelmed and anxious could constitute stress, not because the situation has happened, but because of their response to it. The good news is that despite individual differences, everyone can learn how to manage situations so that they don’t result in unhealthy internally focussed stress.
Leading Results’ Stress and Resilience In The Workplace course trains people to recognise it is not the situation causing the stress but how we think about it and what we believe to be good and bad about that situation. In other words, it is how we interpret and respond to that situation that causes the stress. It is at this level our interventions prove so powerful and give managers and their teams control over their responses. Once we shift their thinking, we shift their behaviours, and that’s the point we can really drive optimum performance and productivity.
To find out more about Anita Douglas, go to https://leadingresults.co.uk/anita-douglas/. To find out more about Leading Results’ Stress and Resilience in the Workplace course, email firstname.lastname@example.org