What can leaders do to create a less stressful workplace? [Part 3]
By Madison Hanscom, PhD
Take care of your own stress and work with employees to build a “stress management toolbox”. As I mentioned in Part 1 of this blog series, the right solutions are going to depend on the source of stress, and the best solutions are primary solutions that address the root of the problem. As a leader, you often have more power than employees to make changes that reduce stressors, so consider what you can do first to create a healthier work environment (see the second blog in this series).
Sometimes we have to use secondary solutions for things we cannot change. This is when it is ideal to put together a “toolbox” of resources to use when trying to manage stress. Individuals might pick and choose what works for them, because these solutions might work for different individuals and situations. It is important as a leader to be familiar with tools that can be used to manage stress. These tools can be used by anyone – leaders and employees alike – depending on personal preference and the stressor at hand:
These are the things that are foundational, yet often overlooked. It cannot be overemphasized how getting enough sleep, eating right, exercising, and limiting alcohol can benefit stress levels.
Mindfulness and meditation
Deep breathing exercises, mindfulness strategies, and meditation are all great ways to work through stressful times.
After concentrating intently for an extended period of time, it doesn’t make sense to immediately shift and work at the same intensity on something else until you are stressed and exhausted. Take some short breaks along the way. Research shows these really increase productivity, reduce the risk of making mistakes or getting into accidents, and decrease boredom and fatigue. A microbreak might look different for everyone. They could be a 5-minute break to grab a cup of coffee, stretch, look out the window, or return text messages (but be careful not to get sucked into a 30-minute social media hole!) for example.
Focus on what you can control
When feeling overwhelmed, a common tendency is to ruminate on stressors. Thoughts like, “When will the economy be back to normal? When will my children go back to school?” These thoughts are normal, but they can be stressful. Although there are events we cannot control (e.g., When will my kid go back to school?), we can control the way we structure our thoughts around them (e.g., I am not sure when my kid will go back to school, but I will enjoy the extra time we have together in the meantime). Try making a list of the things you can and cannot control. Examples below.
Things I cannot control – the economy, politics, others’ opinions, the past
Things I can control – whether or not you ask for help, the goals you set, how you treat others, when you exercise, what you believe, your attitude, who your friends are, what books you read, how you interpret situations, how much time you spend worrying, how often you practice gratitude, the food you eat, the effort you put in
This is exactly what it sounds like – you’re crafting your job with purpose of increasing fit between your work and your interests. There are different ways you can job craft to make work more enjoyable:
Increase structural job resources – These are the aspects of your job that help you achieve goals. Let’s say you want some personal development but there are not opportunities. You can job craft by seeking this out. Perhaps you construct your own informal 360 feedback system by asking for feedback from different people you work with.
Increase challenges in your work – When things are not stimulating enough at work, you might need to create some challenges for yourself that are related to your work in some way. Perhaps it is picking up a new skill (like a new programming language) or setting a new personal record.
Increase social resources – Relationships are resources too. Consider how can you build and strengthen social ties that are beneficial for your career. Perhaps you ask to be mentored. Another way to shape your social resources might be to avoid toxic people who are not helpful to your stress or career.
Cognitively crafting – This is all about how you frame your job and how your work fits into the big picture. This might involve thinking about your job in a different way. Imagine cleaners in a hospital. Some custodians might view their jobs as just cleaning, and others might cognitively frame it in a different way – they might see themselves as healers who make the environment safe for people to recover and get well. These individuals who see themselves as “healers” are connecting the purpose of their jobs to the bigger picture and giving them meaning.
When times are hard, some of us like to stay very busy so we don’t have to confront our emotions. This might work for a little while, but over time it can be detrimental. It is important to slow down and be mindful about how you’re feeling and why. It’s ok to be struggling – emotional processing is really important – so whether it is talking to someone or journaling independently – process what you are feeling. Consider talking to a mental health professional or someone you trust.
At Propulo Consulting, we care about the health and wellbeing of all workers. We partner with you to improve the world of work using the latest insights from research. Our team has the expertise to help your business build a safer and healthier culture.