Who experiences greater levels of stress: management or employees? Managers seem to think they do, but hard research data makes it clear: Employees experience greater stress, and that affects the company’s bottom line.
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It doesn’t have to be that way. Despite its reputation, all stress is not bad. What I call “challenge stress” actually stimulates people to perform at their best.
“Killer stress,” is the kind that comes from feeling like you don’t have control over your work. Killer stress is unhealthy and in many individuals it triggers fight, flight, freeze or stalking behavior — not what good managers want to find in their organizations.
Effective managers can create an organizational culture that produces gains in productivity and performance by reducing killer stress and encouraging challenge stress.
Here are three actions you can take to get started.
Find the Right Fit
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To boost challenge stress and improve employee performance, help your employees get into jobs that fit their interests and strengths, and provide the right degree of challenge. If they are too challenged, they become overwhelmed by killer stress. If they are under challenged, they grow bored and lethargic. The right degree of challenge fires them up to produce positive results.
If you are not able to get them a role that is a perfect fit, consider giving them additional responsibilities or projects that fit well with their wiring.
Be Present in Conversations
When your employees feel they are connecting with you during conversations, it reduces killer stress. To connect when meeting with your employees, get in the habit of “being present” by staying focused on them and giving them your full attention.
Show you are engaged and interested by asking questions and then asking follow-up questions to clarify. Listen carefully to words, and observe facial expressions and body cues. Don't break the connection by checking your smart phone, looking at your watch or around the room, or letting your mind wander. When the conversation comes to a close, summarize by saying, “Here’s what I heard… Is that correct?”.
Seek Ideas and Opinions
When you seek and consider the ideas and opinions of your employees, it reduces killer stress and energizes them. Furthermore, when you implement their suggestions while giving them credit, they feel even more energized.
I recommend that you begin by “putting your cards on the table.” Share what you’re thinking in a way that is not dogmatic so that others feel safe to express disagreement. This openness builds trust so employees will be more likely to share their points of view.
Next, ask them, “What’s right, what’s wrong and what’s missing from my thinking about the issue?”. Listen carefully, without reacting negatively, and thank them for their input.
When you “find the right fit,” “be present in conversations” and “seek ideas and opinions,” it preserves the benefits of challenge stress, protects employees (and your company) from the harmful effects of killer stress and boosts your company’s bottom line.
Michael Lee Stallard speaks and teaches workshops on leadership and employee engagement. He is the primary author of Fired Up or Burned Out: How to Reignite Your Team’s Passion, Creativity and Productivity (Thomas Nelson).