Louise Bone asks Johanna Hooper, a performance coach who specialises in leadership, three burning questions on how to support your team through tough times…
LB: How can practice leaders support their team with the stress and help reduce the impact on work performance?
JH: To begin with, it’s important to start looking at your own stress levels. When leaders maintain healthy stress levels, their overall workplace performance improves and then by extension they can better support other team members to be the best they can be.
In the first instance, however, it’s about having a ‘how are you feeling?’ conversation with your team. This may sound basic but, as leaders, sometimes we are nervous about asking this question due to the uncertainty of where the conversation will lead us, whether that be increased workload or into an area perceived out of our depth.
I’ve observed that often team members just need to be heard, so asking this question and being authentic will help raise awareness of any brewing problems so that you can address them quickly.
LB: Stress-related absence is a growing issue in the work setting, how can leaders spot struggling team members to reduce instances of this happening?
JH: You can get a more tangible idea of how stressed your team is by asking them where they’d place themselves on a scale of one to ten.
I often talk about two types of stress – acute and chronic. Acute is usually as a result of a catastrophic incident, for example a car crash or the death of a loved one, etc. With this type of stress, we often get a lot of support as it’s more recognisable.
Chronic stress is a result of the challenges we face day to day. If we take the current situation of lockdown – some of your staff may have be carers for the vulnerable or home schooling their children. Chronic stress comes with the expectation that we just need to ‘get on with it’ and has a tendency to build until it becomes unbearable.
Feeding back into my earlier point, dealing with chronic stress starts with a conversation, so if your staff member would describe themselves as a six out of ten in terms of stress, ask them what the ingredients are that contribute to that score. Identifying the issues are key to resolving them.
LB: Are there any coping mechanisms that can be introduced to help team members face a higher workload?
JH: As a leader, you have more power than you might realise in terms of being able to support your team in reducing stress in the work environment.
Just like any other ailment that affects our wellbeing, stress deserves diagnosis. We wouldn’t leave a broken arm unattended, so the same approach needs to be taken with your team’s mental health in the workplace. Understanding where stress comes from, where it’s manifesting and the impact it’s having is key.
Encourage your team to take time to evaluate and breakdown their stress into what I refer to as the ‘four Cs’ – control, challenge, commitment and confidence.
Ask them how they feel within the workplace focusing on these areas – for example, do any of your staff members feel they struggle with commitment to the job due to extenuating circumstances of childcare? Do they feel a lack confidence dealing with irate patients? Do they feel a lack of control due to changing SOPs? Do they struggle with the challenge of working with PPE?
These questions will help you get to the root of the issues and help you reach a starting point to plan the way ahead for you and your team during tough times. It’s this starting point that forms the foundation to managing stress in the workplace, particularly during times where there are new challenges or higher workloads.