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article imageQ&A: For Stress Awareness Day, how can managers help? Special

By Tim Sandle     Nov 23, 2019 in Business
Data suggests the leading causes of stress for adults are money and work. Adults are consumed by work and it impacts their emotional wellness. What can managers do about this? Business guru Shane Metcalf offers some answers.
A recent study from performance management software 15Five finds the top words employees associate with work are “stress, busy and money.” And, 79 percent of employees are either sometimes or always thinking about work outside of the office.
Shane Metcalf, co-founder and Chief Culture Officer of 15Five discusses with Digital Journal how organizations can create a less stressful working environment by limiting pressures and discussing employees’ emotional health.
Digital Journal: What does work-induced stress look like?
Shane Metcalf: Work is intense, there's no denying that. When we're talking about stress at work, it's critical to understand that there are very different kinds of stress. Is it distress, or eustress? One type of stress causes us to become better over time, while the other, degrades us over time. Many companies are inadvertently creating eustress for their people, the end. The other form of stress, has people leave as better versions of themselves for having worked at that company. What's the key difference that produces such different types of stress? I'd argue that at the root of it is distrust. When you distrust the people you work with and when you distrust yourself, you don't let your guard down, you don't ask for help, and you don't respect your own boundaries as much. This leads to employees pushing through when they really might need to take a deep breath, and put work down for a moment.
DJ: Is work more stressful now than, say, 10 years ago? Is stress linked to employers’ expectations?
Metcalf: The pace of change has dramatically accelerated from 10 years ago - work is more "always-on" than it's ever been. You wake up with Slack notifications and you go to bed with them. We expect a lot from our people and frankly, to compete in the modern economy, a company must have a highly responsive workforce. This though can quickly sink into shadowy territory where personal boundaries become blurred and people forget that it's okay to create regular time off of tech and work. That's the job of a modern cultural engineer - to create clarity for people to wait till the next day to respond, but if it's not explicitly stated, people often feel obligated to respond as fast as possible.
DJ: How can technology help to reduce stress at work?
Metcalf:While technology and constant communication is a large contributor to this, it can also play a huge role in the solution. By facilitating consistent and powerful feedback loops where people can tell the truth about what's going on for them, and ask for help and be prompted to reflect on what gives energy, and what takes energy away (for instance), we begin to learn more about ourselves and each other. This is how we cultivate high trust organizations. High trust organizations engender high degrees of psychological safety which has a physiological impact on people’s nervous systems, reducing eustress and ultimately helping shape us into more effective, and creative professionals.
DJ: How can businesses create less stressful working environments?
Metcalf:Stress is different for all employees and there isn’t a one size fits all approach to limiting stress for all employees. Organizations can build Employee Wellness Programs to support employees through harder times. This includes providing stipends for health and wellness, learning, and education. This can be very beneficial and show support for employees beyond office work.
At 15Five, we offer all employees a subscription to wellness app, meditation.live, that offers meditation and movement classes and instruction in an interactive setting and we encourage employees to take time out of the day when needed to recharge.
Another key thing businesses can do to limit stress in the working environment is to encourage social interactions and build community. Schedule time to end a workday early and bring in a yoga teacher to end the day with a 30-45 minute session with all employees. It is important that the tools business give their employees enable employees to sustain healthy lifestyles.
DJ: How important is leadership’s role in reducing stress?
Metcalf:Rather than ignoring stress, leadership needs to connect with their employees about workloads. It can be healthier and even more productive to harness the energy that stress creates and direct it toward a more successful outcome. A proactive management approach can allow employees to experience positive stress, without having them drift into debilitating distress. When managers create a safe space during 1-on-1s, and reach out to ask their direct report how they’re doing, this can create a psychologically safe workspace for employees to feel comfortable sharing what is going on, and how leadership can remove obstacles in their way.
Are there any specific techniques or behaviors that employees and employers can adopt in order to lower stress levels?
When employers support employees in both their personal and professional lives, it can lower stress across the organization. Asking questions can go a long way in improving the mental wellness of employees.
It is not leadership’s responsibility alone to lower personal stress, employees need to ‘own’ their stress – and the superpowers that come with it. This requires a positive, proactive mindset. When a stressful situation arises, it’s important to take control and switch the narrative into a positive one. Employees need to understand, plan and prioritize, and direct that energy towards productivity rather than panic. This will look different for all employees but the first step is addressing that there is stress in the first place.
More about Stress, Work, Employers, Employees, Workers
 
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