As anyone who works in a high-pressure job will know, it can be a hugely rewarding, fulfilling and successful career choice. But high stakes and big expectations can also be stressful. It’s important that managers in high-pressure workplaces understand how to deal with stress and pressure in the work.
What’s the difference between pressure and stress?
The Yerkes-Dodson Law suggests that we need a healthy amount of pressure to prevent us from feeling bored or unmotivated.
When employees are faced with pressure in the workplace, it motivates them to do their best work and perform successfully. Pressure creates a sense of urgency—to complete a task or hit a deadline. Healthy amounts of pressure help your team to stay focused and productive.
Too little pressure and employees are more likely to procrastinate, get distracted, or struggle to concentrate on the task at hand. The optimum level of pressure helps people to focus and do their best work. It’s when the pressure becomes too much that problems develop. High levels of pressure can lead people to feel agitated, anxious and stressed.
Stress results from too much pressure. It’s normal to feel stressed at work sometimes, like when there’s a looming deadline, or you have to work overtime in a last-minute push to get a job finished. Short-term stress like this is easy enough to get out of your system with a little down-time, an early night, or a workout.
It’s when stress becomes continuous that it can be detrimental to your team’s health and the company’s productivity.
Continuous stress without relief is known as distress or chronic stress, and this can have several negative side-effects. Here are some of the most common symptoms to look out for that are often associated with chronic stress.
- Low Energy and Fatigue
- Difficulty Sleeping and Insomnia
- Upset stomach, diarrhea, constipation and nausea
- Aches, pains and tense muscles
- Chest pain and rapid heartbeat
- Agitation, frustration, irritability, anger and mood swings
- Difficulty relaxing
- Aversion to social situations
- Negative feelings such as low self-esteem, loneliness, anxiety and depression
According to recent report from Statistic Brain Research Institute, 77% of people regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress, and 73% regularly experience psychological symptoms.
Chronic stress is detrimental to the physical, emotional and mental health of your team and can lead to occupational burnout—a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion. According to Harvard Business Review, one in five highly engaged employees is at risk of burnout.
Fast growth can come at a cost. That cost should only be monetary.
You can’t afford to neglect the health of your number one business asset: the team continually pushing to meet those growth targets and scale your business. This guide will help you make sure you have a plan to manage pressure and prevent stress in the workplace.
Causes of stress at work
There are many reasons your team might experience stress at work. As a manager it is important to be able to identify the specific stress triggers in your office. Doing so means you can take steps to minimize their impact.
Stress can be flared up by a combination of any of the following factors:
- Poor working conditions
- Poor management
- Unmanageable workload
- Long hours
- Ill-defined expectations and responsibilities
- Conflicting priorities
- Conflict between team members
- Low levels of trust
- Lack of support
- Lack of team collaboration
Although it’s unlikely your whole team will be suffering from chronic stress at once, stress can be contagious.
Stressed out team members can have a shorter fuse. Apart from affecting performance, this can also erode morale and team harmony. A stressed employee might snap at their co-workers, or behave in other ways that can cause the rest of the team to feel stressed too. So work-related stress can quickly become a problem for your entire team if not dealt with quickly.
The significant impact of stress at work
The Mental Health America Mind the Workplace study found that 33% of respondents had missed work due to workplace stress at some point in their career.
According to the American Institute of Stress, stress-related illness and injury costs the United States more than $300 billion per year. That’s including the cost of stress-related accidents, sick leave, employee turnover, reduced productivity and direct medical, legal and insurance costs.
Additionally, employees who are put under long-term stress feel less engaged and less motivated at work and are less loyal to their team and overall company. Team leaders who want their team members to be healthy, happy and productive at work should make stress management a serious priority.
How managers can reduce stress at work?
While some work-related stress is inevitable from time to time, managers should take the necessary steps and develop a proactive plan to reduce workplace stress for their team.
There’s a good chance your team spends a large proportion of their day in the office, and their surroundings can have a significant impact on their stress levels.
A recent study by Juliet Hassard, and Tom Cox of Birkbeck College found the physical environment of the workplace had a measurable impact upon worker well-being and behaviour.
The report finds that excess noise levels and limited access to natural light can contribute directly to employee stress.
A cramped, dirty, untidy or otherwise unpleasant office space will contribute to your team feeling stressed.
Make sure that they have plenty of space to work, and that the office is kept clean and tidy. Other perks like a comfy break-out area, somewhere to prepare and eat meals, and stylish decor are optional, but they will make your workplace a much more pleasant place to be.
Bring nature inside to fight chemicals
There are always a number of nasty chemical compounds released by synthetic furnishings in your office. One of the most common is formaldehyde, which can irritate the eyes, nose and throat.
Eye irritation and damage to the upper respiratory tract are the most common reported symptoms of exposure to formaldehyde toxins. Critically, this chemical can also trigger headaches which will exacerbate stress in the workplace.
High levels of carbon dioxide breathed out by a roomful of colleagues can give the room that ‘stuffy’ feeling, particularly if there is no air conditioning.
Indoor plants offer you a simple and cost effective solution. Plants will purify the air in your office, reducing volatile organic compounds like formaldehyde. Opt for a sturdy plant that can stand the weekend without water. Steer clear of flowering plants as these can cause allergic reactions or irritation for some people.
Feedback and feeling valued
People need to know they are doing their job well. When your employees feel their work is valued, they are more able to cope with fluctuations in pressure without feeling stressed.
If you find that your managerial style focuses too much on criticism or reprimands, it’s time to switch to positive reinforcement. Neutral demeanor can have a similar impact. Some employees may interpret an absence of positive reinforcement to mean that management has unreasonable expectation of surpassing stretch goals every time.
Remember, pressure can translate into stress. Stretch goals are set for a purpose. They are designed to be ambitious and hard to hit. Communicate this clearly with your team. Don’t set the expectation these targets should be surpassed every time.
Congratulate success, celebrate big wins, and even simply thank your team for their hard work. Simple gestures of acknowledgement and appreciation will promote a positive working environment and increase motivation.
Create a work environment where every team member feels valued and involved by encouraging open communication.
Team members should feel comfortable approaching you to discuss any work-related issues, and confident their concerns will be taken seriously, managed and acted upon effectively.
Clearly define job roles
Ill-defined job roles lead to confusion, increased workload, job insecurity, blame culture and conflict within teams. When every team member knows what their roles and responsibilities are within the company, they can work with purpose and feel accountable for their contribution to the team’s successes. Well-defined job roles give team members direction and helps to forge a path for career progression.
Autonomy and trust
A lack of direction at work can be stressful, but being micromanaged can have the same effect.
Trust your team to work hard without breathing down their necks. When you communicate faith in your team, you reinforce their self belief.
Giving your employees increased responsibility shows that you have confidence in their ability and gives them the space to learn and grow. When you provide positive reinforcement on quality work, your team members feels more satisfaction to bolster themselves against the future pressures of your quest for fast growth.
Offering a more relaxed working schedule improves your team’s work-life balance and helps to reduce the stress on team members with other commitments.
There are so many simple actions you can take to foster a culture of well-being within your team. For example, allowing parents to leave early to collect children from school, or offering the opportunity to work from home occasionally can make a huge difference to your team’s stress levels.
It can be hard to switch off from work in today’s hyper-connected world, but taking time out to relax and unwind not only helps reduce stress levels, it gives your team the chance to recharge and return to their job feeling refreshed. There are so many simple actions you can take to foster a culture of well-being within your team:
- Encourage your team to take their lunch breaks away from their desks
- Make sure everyone takes their entitled annual leave
- Try to keep working late or replying to emails out of hours to an absolute minimum
- If short term deadlines or unforeseen circumstances mean that workloads have to spike, reward your team with time in lieu during a quieter period in the future
How employees can manage stress
If you’re feeling stressed, there are a number of things you can do to help your relieve the tension from your mind and body to cope better with the pressures of a constant quest for growth.
In the workplace
It can be difficult to know what to do to help alleviate stress in the workplace, but by addressing the source of the problem you’re taking the first steps in managing and reducing your stress levels.
Talk to your manager
Your team leader or line manager might be unaware that you’re feeling stressed. Talking to them can help to ease the burden, as they can help you to confront the pressure, remove roadblocks and take practical steps to reduce your stress.
Whether they extend a deadline, delegate some of your work to another team member, or talk to the rest of your team to get to the root of the problem - your manager could be your greatest ally when it comes to workplace stress.
Ask for help
Aside from your manager, your fellow team members can also help to alleviate your stress. Let them know that you’re struggling with pressures, and ask if they can help in any way. It might be that some individuals are less busy than others, and are happy to take on some of your work.
Sometimes your workload might seem impossible to tackle and you just don’t know where to start. This can be stressful, and once you’re stressed it’s difficult to collect your thoughts and focus on the task at hand. But if you take a step back and give yourself time to organize your workload, it can seem much more manageable. Write a ‘to do’ list, prioritize tasks by urgency, and turn off email notifications so you can work more efficiently without distractions. You’ll be surprised how much you can achieve once you’ve got a game plan.
Consider a CRM
A simple, sales-specific CRM will help you better organize and optimize your time. This is the type of technology that helps your sales team focus their time on selling rather than wasting their time on complicated admin procedures.
The best CRM software acts as a three-pronged asset for your team:
- An assistant for you as a manager and for your individual team members
- A guided process to help focus and prioritize everyone’s efforts
- A champion to support, motivate and empower your team
You can take so much pressure off yourself with a quality CRM. So much of your tracking, monitoring and reporting can be automated so you have a simple and real-time view of performance. You can better manage your team by spotting and preventing potential problems early. So much last-minute stress can be avoided with proactive management, particularly in a fast growth environment.
Prioritize and focus
Similarly, a simple and easy-to-use CRM will make your sales team’s life so much easier. By minimizing admin time and prioritizing activities for team, the right CRM can make people feel so much more comfortable and confident in their day-to-day job.
The best CRMs make you feel like you have an extra team member just to handle all of your seemingly endless data entry, tracking and reporting work. A massive load is lifted off your shoulders to clear your mind and free you up to spend more time focusing on the right thing at the right time. This clarity will help you and your reps reduce that pressure and prevent the instance of stress.
Outside of work
Lifestyle changes outside of work can help you to cope with stress. Leading a fulfilled, varied and happy life can reduce your levels of the stress hormone cortisol and give you a sense of purpose that makes work-related stress easier to manage.
A healthy and balanced diet gives you a simple foundation to help you prevent stress.
Certain foods and drinks high in fat, sugar or caffeine can increase stress hormones, as can alcohol and smoking. If you’re feeling stressed, your diet can exacerbate your symptoms.
Try to eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, as well as lean meats, eggs and whole grains. Not only will you find your energy levels increase, but you’ll sleep better too.
Exercise releases endorphins, also known as the happy hormone. Just 30 minutes of moderate exercise a few times a week can work wonders in helping you overcome stress.
Whether you break a sweat in a gym class, cycle to work, jog around the park, or even try a workout tutorial at home, exercise gives you a sustainable tactic to improve your physical and mental health.
Difficulty sleeping can be a symptom of stress, but unfortunately lack of sleep can also be a contributing factor to feeling stressed.
Try to get plenty of sleep if you’re feeling stressed. You need to give your brain and body every chance to rest and recharge.
Feeling tired, lethargic or lacking in energy means you’re less likely to be able to concentrate on tasks in work, and this could increase your stress levels.
If all your energy is going into work, you might not find the time to do the things you really enjoy. It’s important that work doesn’t take over your life, or stressful days in the office can really take their toll.
Hobbies are a great way to zone out from work-related stresses and focus your mind on something enjoyable.
Managers may even proactively encourage employees to join midweek clubs or sporting teams to reduce stress in the workplace. A small sponsorship or donation can send the message that leaving work at a reasonable hour to pursue other social pursuits is expected and encouraged.
Talk it out
Opening up can really help people cope when they’re feeling stressed. Telling a friend or family member about your feelings can help to put things in perspective. Some friendly advice, consoling words or even a dose of humor can lighten the mood to help you relax and overcome stress.
Get back to nature
Getting outside and, more specifically, close to nature is an effective way to de-stress.
Spending time in natural environments will help you lower blood pressure and cortisol levels. Spending time in parks, hills, woodlands, fields or even your own back garden can help you to relax.
Many people find that a fast-paced, always-on lifestyle drains them of energy and leaves them feeling stressed, anxious, tired and irritable.
Mindfulness is the practice of actively focusing on the present moment while accepting feelings, thoughts and sensations.
You don’t need structured mediation to practice mindfulness. Simply sitting calmly for ten minutes without any distractions can give you similar benefits. It’s a therapeutic technique that has grown in popularity in the last few years, as people struggle to find time to simply live in the moment, away from their smartphone screens or ‘to do’ lists.
Is your smartphone never out of arm’s reach? Smartphone addiction could be causing your heightened stress levels. The urge to be ‘always on’ can affect your quality of life, as you’re more easily distracted, less engaged in the world around you, and feel beholden to work emails, group chats and social media.
Get your life back by getting away from your phone, whether you switch it off after 6pm, download an app that monitors how long you’ve spent on your phone each day, or ban it from the bedroom.
The link between stress and mental health issues
While people do experience mental health issues without any external causes, conditions like depression and anxiety can be triggered, or worsened by, events or experiences in life.
The Workplace Health Surveys conducted by Mental Health America found that 63% of respondents felt that workplace stress had a significant impact on their mental health.
Stress increases the production of the hormone cortisol, which can cause mood swings, depression and anxiety when present in high levels in the body. Work-related stress may be the sole factor, or one of many, that triggers an existing mental health issue.
Many of the symptoms of stress are similar to those of common mental health conditions, and stress experienced over an extended period can lead to mental health issues. Stress affects people’s general moods, sleep habits and eating habits, and can also intensify existing mental health problems, making them more difficult to manage.
A guide to managing people with mental health issues
Although a lot of progress has been made in recent years to try to end the stigma around mental health issues, this continues to be a topic many people find uncomfortable to discuss.
While some employees may inform you if they are struggling with their mental well-being, we know that many might not feel so comfortable discussing. Some employees may be unaware their mental health is suffering in the first place.
Managers need to be aware of the signs of poor mental health in the workplace, prepare a plan to help employees who are struggling and proactively create a workplace culture of acceptance and encouragement.
Signs of poor mental health to look out for in your team members
Spotting the signs of poor mental health in the early stages means that managers can address the issue before it becomes a more serious problem. If you have noticed any of these changes in a team member, it could be a sign they need mental health support.
- A sudden, unexplained drop in productivity
- Increased sickness absence
- Becoming withdrawn and less sociable with other team members
- Lack of care over appearance
- Sudden weight loss or gain
- Irritability, aggression or tearfulness
- Loss of humor
- Difficulty remembering things or concentrating on tasks
- Increased consumption of caffeine, alcohol or cigarettes
It’s also important to note the above symptoms don’t automatically mean that they have a mental health problem. Approach the subject carefully and sensitively.
Talking about mental health issues at work
There are a wide variety of reasons why team members might not feel comfortable discussing their mental health at work, such as:
- Fear of being judged or stigmatized
- Fear they might lose their job
- Fear of failure
- Inability to express or articulate how they feel
- Seeing the issue as a private or personal matter
The prospect of discussing mental health with a team member may be daunting, but early intervention makes it more likely that the individual will recover quickly. Acknowledging the condition early can help you both to manage it better.
Find an appropriate time
The subject of mental health is a sensitive one, and you should make sure you find a good time to bring it up so that the individual doesn’t feel alarmed or pressurized.
Arrange a one-to-one meeting to keep the discussion private.
Find a time when you know you both have at least thirty minutes and won’t be interrupted by other team members or conflicting tasks.
Clarify the purpose of the meeting
People often struggle to talk about their feelings, especially in a professional situation and if they’re worried it might have an impact on their job.
First, be clear the employee’s position is in no way at risk and that they aren’t being disciplined.
Asking the question about their mental health upfront could be interpreted as insensitive or invasive, so start by asking how they are more generally. This gives them the opportunity to open up without you forcing the issue or being presumptive.
Listen to them
If a team member confides in you about their poor mental health, listen to them.
The support from a manager can make a huge difference to how well individuals cope with mental health conditions in the workplace.
Emotional intelligence is important while discussing such a sensitive subject, so be responsive to their body language as well as what they’re saying.
Some team members might not want to admit that anything is wrong, or may even be unaware that they could have a mental health issue. If this is the case, it is important to make it clear that you’re always available to talk if they find they’re struggling. The individual may be ready to ask for help, or is afraid of the consequences if they do. But by making it clear that you’re ready to listen, they will feel more comfortable talking to you when they’re ready.
According to Mental Health America, lack of support from management can contribute to higher levels of workplace stress and isolation. Be supportive and understanding if an individual wants to talk about their mental health condition. Here are some specific ways you can help to support them during this difficult time.
- Reassure them that the information they have shared will remain confidential.
- Avoid making assumptions about how the condition might affect their ability to do the job. Many people manage mental health conditions and still perform to their usual high standard at work.
- Ask how the mental health condition affects them, and how you can help them at work. Remember that mental health conditions affect everybody differently and that there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
- If an individual is struggling to cope at work, are there any reasonable adjustments you can make to help them manage their condition better? Conditions like depression and anxiety can mean regular tasks like getting ready for work, commuting or socializing in the office become more difficult. Flexible working hours or the option to work from home occasionally can make a world of difference.
- Advise the individual to visit a GP to discuss their mental health if they haven’t already. A health professional will be able to make an assessment and offer the appropriate treatment to help them manage their condition.
- Create a ‘Wellness Action Plan’ together, which details agreed adjustments, factors that can contribute to the individual becoming unwell and early warning signs to look out for and how to respond.
- Don’t try to ‘fix’ them. Poor mental health is like any other illness, and is a part of life. People may go through periods of poor mental health and recover, or they may be able to manage their condition effectively. A mental health condition should not be seen as a barrier or obstacle that needs to be overcome.
Follow up regularly
Scheduling regular follow-up meetings with the individual gives you both the opportunity to discuss how they’re managing their condition and how well they’re coping at work. It also helps them feel supported and gives them a chance to raise any concerns in private.
Creating a mentally healthy work environment
High-pressure work environments can be challenging, but they shouldn’t be damaging to your employees’ mental health. Managing expectations, workload and responsibilities can help to keep stress and pressure at healthy levels, and create a healthy and happy working environment, where everyone feels motivated and supported to succeed.
Normalize mental health in the workplace
If employers make the mental and physical health of their employees a priority, staff will feel more comfortable discussing their mental health. Normalizing mental health at work is the first step to creating a mentally healthy workplace.
Implement a mental health policy
Make sure your company has a detailed guide on their policy for mental health in the workplace. This should outline employee and managerial responsibilities for managing mental health conditions at work, and should be available for all employees to access. If your company offers flexible use of sick leave to include mental health, mental health benefits coverage, or flexibility in work arrangements, it should all be detailed in the Mental Health Policy.
Identify stress triggers
Every workplace will go through busy, high stress periods. But a stressful few days or weeks shouldn’t become the norm. If you can identify common stress triggers among your team, you can take steps to help ease the pressure to more manageable levels.
Feedback gives your team an opportunity to share their thoughts and opinions on the workplace environment, your management style, and other areas that could be improved. Regularly scheduled anonymous feedback lets your team voice their opinions without judgement, shows that you value their input, and helps you to become a better manager.
Maintain realistic deadlines and targets
Stress can become unmanageable when targets and deadlines aren’t realistic. If members of your team are regularly having to work overtime just to meet targets, this can put them under increased stress. Adjusting targets or deadlines to realistic and achievable levels can help to reduce stress. Sharing the workload more evenly between your team can help to ease the pressure on individuals and promote teamwork.
Encourage positive working relationships
MHA’s Mind the Workplace study found that 35% of respondents felt isolated by a hostile or unhelpful workplace. In contrast, a Gallup study found that people who have work friendships tend to feel more supported and encouraged at work, and that their co-workers will help them during times of stress and challenge. Employees who have best friends at work identify significantly higher levels of healthy stress management, even though they experience the same levels of stress.
Foster a close-knit and friendly working culture so that no team member feels isolated or singled out. Organize regular social events outside of working hours and encourage your team to take their lunch breaks at the same time. Set up mentoring or buddy schemes so that new team members can integrate easily and build positive working relationships.
Create an open and honest work culture
Encourage communication and openness in the workplace and try to prevent gossip, blame culture or other negative attitudes which could cause stress to your team. Be supportive when team members ask for help, and encourage your team to work together towards finding solutions to problems.
Mental health issues can affect anyone at any time, but with this guide you’ll be prepared to support your team and develop a healthy, happy workplace.