A recent study on mindfulness showed that high employee stress levels have become the biggest management issues in the workplace. Over 55% of organizations in the study reported that they experience above average levels of stress. This was more than double the next highest response rate. Daniel Goleman is a renowned psychologist and emotional intelligence expert. Recently, he sat down with AMA to discuss leadership’s role in creating or preventing stress at work. Here are his recommendations on avoiding emotional contagion and helping your team feel less stressed out.
AMA: Why is it so important for leaders to address stress?
DG: Stress spreads like a virus. If a leader is displaying negative energy, is full of anxiety, or incites conflict, so does the rest of the team. The only thing a constant stream of toxic energy from higher-ups does is encourage valuable team members to update their résumés rather than their to-do lists.
AMA: Why should leaders care if their teams are stressed out? Isn’t stress normal?
DG: Some stress is normal, yes, but the culprit is the unnecessary stress created by emotional contagion and negative attitudes. When we’re stressed, our attention shifts away from our goals. In that case, we focus on the cause of the stress, not the task at hand. The brain’s executive centers – our neural circuitry for paying attention, comprehending, and learning – are hijacked by our networks for handling stress.
AMA: How can managers and leaders better handle their employees’ stress levels? Does emotional intelligence play a role here?
DG: Absolutely it does. Leaders who are less emotionally intelligent are probably less capable of managing their own or their subordinates’ stress levels well. Similarly, leaders who lack a high degree of EI may well have a more difficult time engaging employees. After all, employees suffering from high levels of workplace stress are not likely to feel engaged in their work. Rather, they are likely to resent leaders for unrealistic and stress-inducing expectations.
At every level, especially in a leadership role, self-regulation is a key ability of emotional intelligence. People who can control their emotions well are able to recover more quickly from stress arousal. This means attention becomes nimble and focused again, the mind flexible, the body relaxed. A state of relaxed alertness is optimal for performance.
For more insights on emotional intelligence in the workplace, see all of Daniel Goleman’s work with AMA Playbook.
Overcome the stress that holds you back. Learn all the tools you need with these AMA resources and seminars: