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Remote leadership – managing stress

What is stress? How can you, as a leader, recognise it and then manage it within your team? Stress is different for different people, it can be caused by different things and different degrees of the same things. 

Short-term stress is not the danger; we all have times when we feel high pressure, but we reset quickly afterwards, for example when delivering a presentation to a client or senior colleagues. It is long-term stress that is a problem, where we don’t reset and our bodies and minds stay in a heightened state. 

Recognising the signs of stress 

  • Emotional effects, such as feeling sad, angry, overwhelmed or frustrated can be signs of stress. 
  • Behavioural changes might start to impact close relationshipsThose suffering from stress can become withdrawn and enjoy things less than they previously did. 
  • Physical effects, such as headaches, nausea, indigestion and insomnia are common warning signs. Chronic stress can lead to more serious physical problems such as high blood pressure. 

Our personal triggers for stress are connected with our underlying values and limiting beliefs. For example, a manager who believes that it’s unacceptable not to help everybody and then can’t achieve that might feel stressed. If someone believes that everything they do has to be perfect and that’s not possible right now, that might feel stressful for them 

Understanding the sources of workplace stress 

Despite the fact that the Covid-19 crisis is a unique situation, the usual ways in which we think about what might be causing stress still apply. The Health and Safety Executive has outlined six areas that can be sources of workplace stress for employees. 

These link to the factors that we need as humans to feel psychologically safe and able to operate at our best, for example our status in a social group, whether we feel connected with the other humans around us, and how much certainty we have over our own future.  

It’s worthwhile taking each factor below and exploring with your teams whether anything here has changed in light of the current situation. What could you differently in terms of providing support? 

  • Demands – how have their workload, working patterns and work environment  
  • Changed? 
  • Control – how much say do they have over the way they work? 
  • Support – what levels of encouragement, sponsorship and resources are they receiving? 
  • Relationships – how are you promoting positive working to avoid conflict and to deal with unacceptable behaviour? 
  • Role – to what extent do they understand their role within the organisation and does the organisation ensure roles are not conflicting?  
  • Change – how iorganisational change (both large and small) managed and communicated? 

Tips for addressing workplace stress points 

  1. Re-prioritise where possible
  2. Challenge assumptions about how and when work ‘has’ to be completed; allow team members to set their own working patterns
  3. Make sure people have clarity over what’s expected and keep communicating
  4. Help with equipment/tech support (share expertise across the team)
  5. Coach team members towards solutions for their working environment
  6. Agree ground rules with the team, support team members to work well together, facilitate discussions if needed, don’t avoid constructive feedback
  7. Give encouragement, celebrate solutions and success regularly both one-to-one and across the team

Seeking further help 

Despite your best efforts, you may not always be able to relieve your team of stress. Part of your responsibility lies in knowing when to seek outside help.  

  • Changes I can make as a manager are not sufficient to remove the stress. Some of the sources of stress are not within the work environment.
  • I feel out of my depth – I am a line manager but not a therapist.”
  • “I am a trained coach/therapist, but there is a power relationship in the reporting line that may mean my team members wants a discussion with someone from outside.” 

External help is out there. Here is a reminder of some sources to consider suggesting. 

  • NHS – GP and local mental health services and online resources. 
  • Your organisation’s Employee Assistance Programme. 
  • Online and telephone support from national and local organisations such as Samaritans, Mind, and Mental Health Foundation.