We’ve talked before about the contagious effects of stress. You and other team members can infect others with your stress. The good news is that you can also spread positive feelings that can result in increased productivity and results.
An article in Harvard Business Review, “Help Your Team Manage Stress, Anxiety, and Burnout” discusses the latest research on the effects of stress on a team and how managers can help their team members work through stress. Here are some of the recommendations with examples of what you can do:
Model best practices. As the manager, you set the tone for your team. If you become easily frustrated, your team may begin to behave that way too. Employees need to see what options are available to manage their day, and they need to know what options are okay with you. When working with one of my client’s younger managers, I combined a shared interest in fitness with our one-on-one meetings. We began holding our meetings during walks. This gave each of us time out of the office which had the added benefit of increasing our creativity to problem-solve.
Encourage disconnecting. The intense, “always on” mentality has been roundly debunked as highly unproductive. Everyone needs rest. Just like any machine, the human brain gets tired and needs time away. You can help your employees by exercising a little self-control when it comes to emails. If you don’t send emails after hours or on weekends, your team will be better able to relax. Many email programs come with scheduling tools that allow you to write the email but schedule it for delivery at a later time. This approach helps you complete your tasks without putting your team in a position of having to choose to ignore an email or not.
(Though you should probably relax too. Work will be there in the morning.)
Encourage focus. Another debunked theory: the ability to multitask. Humans do not parallel process like computers do. What we have called multitasking is a split (read: reduced) focus on multiple projects. Instead, encourage your team members to concentrate on a single project exclusively for no more than an hour at a time. Then they should take a break. This pattern maximizes the brain’s ability to focus without overwhelming it. It also has the added benefit of getting a project closer to completion, faster.
Shit happens, plan for it. You do not know what unexpected thing is going to interrupt your carefully laid plan. You do know that something is going to do so. Plan for it. Add time to your team’s deadlines to give them room to shift when needed. This breathing room will keep their stress lower. It has the added benefit of presenting you as a manager firmly rooted in the reality of getting jobs done on time.
Leading your team through or around stress is as much your job as reaching organizational goals. Doing so increases their productivity as employees and happiness as people. And that is the goal of a highly effective manager.