How to Tackle “Killer Stress” in the Workplace

April 30, 2015

handle stress in the workplace

The next time you are at work, take a good look at the facial expressions and body language of those around you. Are your colleagues relaxed, or do they show signs of tension and chronic stress?

Chronic stress is an epidemic in our workforces today. Some stress – referred to as “challenge” stress – is helpful as it provides the energy and enthusiasm needed to reach goals. But too much stress – “killer” stress – makes us feel overwhelmed and hurts performance.

Many people assume that killer stress is simply the result of having too much work. While workload definitely plays a role in making us feel overwhelmed, organizational culture is an often overlooked factor that can add to stress levels. When the work environment focuses more on tasks than on people, or when leaders rule based on fear and control, it increases stress levels. Unfortunately, these types of environments are commonplace today.

But organizational culture can also be part of the solution to dealing with stress. A relationally supportive environment decreases stress and can actually shield the body from the physiologically harmful effects of stress.

Here are three ways that managers can help their teams cope with stress by creating a relationally supportive team culture.

  1. Seek Ideas and Opinions. When we are asked to share our ideas and opinions, it decreases our stress levels. Why? Because having a voice means we can influence decisions that affect us. Not having a voice makes us feel powerless, which increases stress. Managers who cultivate a team culture that actively seeks opinions and encourages communication will reduce employees’ killer stress.
  1. Respect Human Needs. This may be the most obvious, yet overlooked, factor in dealing with stress today: employees are human beings, not human machines. Human beings have needs, and when these needs are unmet, it contributes to stress. Managers can create an environment that respects human needs by expressing appreciation, affirming strengths, not shaming those who need time away from the office to deal with personal or family issues, and encouraging employees to set work boundaries that provide time for them to recharge.
  1. Reach Out to the Disconnected. Many people respond to stress by isolating themselves. They often believe that this “hunker down” approach will help, but it’s actually one of the worst things they can do since connection is vital to dealing with challenges in a healthy manner. Managers should reach out to these people, give them a chance to safely vent their frustrations, and then take action to help by removing obstacles or rebalancing workloads when possible.

Cultivating a team culture that encourages healthy work relationships takes time, but doing so results in happier, healthier, more productive teams.

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If you want to work at your most productive level, you can't succumb to workplace stress. Learn how to improve your performance with these AMA resources and seminars:

About The Author

Michael Lee Stallard, president of E Pluribus Partners, speaks, teaches workshops and coaches leaders. He is the author of the book Connection Culture: The Competitive Advantage of Shared Identity, Empathy, and Understanding at Work.

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