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Liz Walker

Unum UK

HR Director

Read more from Liz Walker

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The boss blues – are you the cause of employee stress?

Five ways that managers can help reduce stress for employees. 

Over the course of your career, you’ve probably worked with managers with a range of management styles. Some managers may be nurturing, empathic and supportive. Others may seem uncaring, inflexible or unsure. Whatever the case, it’s safe to say that management style – good or bad – has a direct effect on staff wellbeing and morale.

When you reflect on the times you felt empowered, it’s likely that your manager was supportive and removed barriers to help you succeed. When you felt you were falling short, however, was your manager the one making you feel this way? As managers, it can be hard to imagine we’re the cause of employee stress. So how can we ensure we create an employee environment that successfully manages stress and encourages our team to perform to their highest potential?

Here are five management behaviours that can help reduce stress for your employees.

1. Recognise the signs of stress – and do something about it

While employees may react to stress differently, there are several common indicators. These signs might include working longer hours, not taking lunch breaks, not performing as well as normal, missing goals or deadlines, or not laughing or joining in with colleagues.

Pay attention to the employee’s cognitive abilities. Are they making mistakes, lacking the ability to concentrate or having difficulty making decisions? Emotionally, an employee may be sensitive to criticism, angry, irritable or lacking confidence. Physically, they may seem more tired, or there could be changes to their weight or physical appearance.

Recognise that being a manager is an opportunity to lead by example – so seize it!

The bottom line is, if you’ve noticed a change in your employee’s behaviour – there’s probably a reason. If you think you’ve spotted some warning signs, encourage an honest and open conversation about what they need and how you can meet those needs. It’s best if you let them do the talking before you ‘diagnose’ their stress. They may provide you with ideas on how you can better support them as a manager, while you remain open-minded and agreeable to finding solutions for them.

2. Be responsible and show respect

Managers can understandably get frustrated with their staff from time-to-time, but it's important to manage emotions and conduct all interactions in a considerate manner.  If your employees see you vent your spleen on another person, they’ll either fear they’re next on your list of public humiliation, or they’ll think they can treat their teammates in the same way. These outcomes lead to additional workplace stress, which is an environment you want to avoid at all costs.

Recognise that being a manager is an opportunity to lead by example – so seize it! You’ll gain more respect and give your employees someone to look up to.

3. Managing and communicating workloads

Unclear direction and large (and unexpected) workloads can be a direct cause of employee stress. Let your staff know what's coming up so they can better manage their time. If they feel overwhelmed by what’s on their plate, help them prioritise. Identifying what’s most important will set clearer direction for them.

It's also good to take a problem-solving approach. When people have questions, talk through how you’re solving the problem so they’ll know what to do in a similar situation. This collaborative approach will help empower your employees to find answers on their own, breeding confidence and autonomy – and taking some of the load off you.

4. Treating people like individuals

Small actions can encourage employees to use their voice and feel valued when they do. An open-door policy is a good place to start (I know, it's easier said than done when you've got a lot on, but it really will help).

Reducing stress has an impact on more than just your employees’ careers. It’s also likely that you’ve done them a much bigger favour in improving their health, home life and overall experience.

Also, try to empathise where you can. Offer flexibility in hours, workload, or location to help your people manage their individual work/life balance – and they’ll thank you for recognising they have a life outside of work. Helping employees achieve a healthy balance between their home and work should reduce their stress, make their workloads seem more manageable, and help them be more productive.

5. Offer support with managing difficult situations

Managing conflict is harder for some people than others. Where you see difficult situations arising and impacting on your team, offer support and, if needed, take responsibility for resolving the issue.

Be a mentor to employees, too. Take an interest in their challenges and provide support or offer advice on how to overcome them. This will help you establish a healthy relationship so people feel comfortable coming to you with problems.

Reducing stress has an impact on more than just your employees’ careers. It’s also likely that you’ve done them a much bigger favour in improving their health, home life and overall experience.

Being a manager is one of the greatest journeys in a career. It’s definitely challenging at times, but it’s also very, very rewarding to see your staff succeed and know that you played a part in their success.

Interested in this topic? Read How to practise conscious kindness to improve mental health at work.

Author Profile Picture
Liz Walker

HR Director

Read more from Liz Walker

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