A lot of workers are complaining about stress at work. I’m not completely sure why. It could be a result of smaller teams having to deal with more complex projects. This often means an individual has to manage responsibilities that aren’t always in their area of expertise or require learning new skills. Naturally, this can be a source of anxiety which contributes to feelings of stress.
Workers experienced a great amount of stress during pandemic-induced lockdowns. New ways of working coupled with the need to come up with creative ways to achieve deliverables meant the old ways of doing things had to be thrown out the window. Under such circumstances, even teams that were able to make a successful transition reported increased levels of stress. I know an educator who complained about having been asked to write scripts for a children’s radio program. He knew how to write textbooks and how to train teachers but script writing was a new experience for him and he felt he wasn’t provided with enough support.
His experience represents the normal for many people lately. In a bid to achieve deliverables on time, team leaders can come across as inconsiderate and not showing empathy to their subordinates’ needs. While the entire burden for helping team members manage stress cannot rest on them, Leaders can go a long way towards creating an environment where it is ok to speak up.
Leaders should start by creating an environment of trust. This is not as easy as people seem to think. The Nigerian Culture of deferring to Authority figures, especially when those figures are older might make people reluctant to share feeling stressed with Team Managers. Leaders can create the necessary environment by:
- Sharing their experiences with team members. A personal story of how the Leader experienced stress on a previous role and the steps they took to alleviate that stress will show team members that stress is an expected response to uncertainty.
- Lead by example. Some behaviours have been known to contribute to stress. Telling team members to go home at closing time will be more effective if the boss also makes it a point to leave the office. This removes the pressure a lot of workers feel to stay in the office after closing time.
- Listen. If a member of the team complains about being stressed, don’t tell them to brace up or that no one else is complaining. Different people react different to different situations. What one person finds challenging could be crippling to another.
The best performing teams have a shared purpose. They do not always agree but they all feel they are contributing to something worthwhile. Effective Leaders can communicate that purpose while supporting subordinates to fulfil that role. In the end, teams that have a supportive system for dealing with stress will achieve more.