Johanna Hooper is a performance coach specialising in leadership, who has spent time working in senior positions within the armed forces.
She has helped hundreds of people with leadership techniques and given people advice on how to become a better leader in the workplace.
Practice Plan’s Aemelia Wright caught up with Johanna to discuss what makes a good leader, how leaders can improve and what employees can to do manage their workloads.
Aemelia: Everyone went back to work in January and they may have been facing a stressful workload. Can you share some insight about how practice leaders can support their teams with stress to reduce the impacts on their performance in work?
Johanna: The first thing that springs to mind is having a conversation. Leaders can be nervous about asking the real question of ‘how are you’. Sometimes it means adding to their own already heavy load.
Talking about stress and asking folks where their stress level is on a scale of one to ten can help.
Most people will say between a four and a six, which isn’t worryingly high, but it still needs to be talked about.
There are two types of stress, chronic and acute. Acute comes from something like a death or a car accident and chronic could result from having a stressful and high workload and tends to get overlooked and forgotten about.
You do not just have to get on with it with chronic stress.
If someone is at a 6 then you should look at what can be done to dial that score down. If someone is worried about absence because they are having to take time off with their kids, as a leader you can reassure them that they have nothing to worry about.
Leaders assume everyone needs the same thing, but some just want to be listened to, whereas others want to know what is going on in the practice. Leaders have to understand what is going on with each team member.
Aemelia: Staff sickness relating to stress can be a growing concern for some people. How can practice leaders deal with this?
Johanna: My view is that stress deserves to be diagnosed like anything else. You do not let a broken arm go undiagnosed. You need to reach for some sort of mitigation to deal with the symptoms of stress.
The first thing you should do is seek to understand where the stress is coming from and what can be done.
80% of performance is down to mindset. If you are stressed and out of control, or something is too challenging, you are not likely to be performing at your best.
Also an employee can maybe feel like they can’t say no if they see their boss saying yes to stuff. But if a boss or a leader is seen to say no to something if they have a busy workload, it will empower others to do the same.
Also, it is good for a leader to share with others that they are having a tough time.
Some may see that as a weakness or a vulnerability, but it helps to normalise everything around us.
Aemelia: Have you got any tips for an employee who has a higher than normal workload?
Johanna: I would recommend three things. The first is that you should get it out of your head. When we have got a lot on it is trapped inside our head and it can feel bigger than it actually is.
Commit it to paper, make mind maps or lists. For me it takes something that feels very large and dials it down immediately.
Secondly, consider outsourcing. That might sound weird but there is a cost benefit analysis to be done here.
Let’s say it takes x hours to do something for an hourly rate of y. I bet you someone somewhere out there will cost less to do it.
In times of financial austerity businesses are nervous about spending money but there is a cost benefit.
If you took three days, or three weeks off for stress, I bet paying a typist to do your reports is far cheaper than the cost of losing you from the workplace.
And lastly, prioritise. I have a mechanism which is, A, it will make me money, B it might make me money, C it might not, and D it will not.
You may not be able to attribute those scores to yourself or your line of work, but there will be an appropriate equivalent.
Take your list or mind map and use a category. Think, can I park this? If it is parked for two months and no one has shouted for it, ask yourself whether it can be ditched all together?
There is a connection between writing something down and it sticking in your brain. Once it is out of your head, it stops it bouncing around in your head like a ping pong ball.