Many years ago, going to work filled me with dread. I became ill, taking sick leave to cope with severe anxiety and physical symptoms such as dizziness and nausea. The problem was workplace stress. The cause was my manager.
I ended up leaving that job and haven’t experienced any such problems since. But sadly, workplace stress affects thousands of us every day. Worse, it is an issue, that shows little sign of decline. Indeed, according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), it is now the number one work-related illness in this country and accounts for 12.5 million lost working days a year.
The inescapable truth though is that with better management, I, and many others, would never become ill. I say this because the pressures many of us experience in the workplace are often down to how we are managed. So while individuals can adopt strategies to reduce the impact of stress; and while employers can set up healthy eating, exercise schemes, and so on; the simplest way to reduce stress is to improve how we are managed.
From my experience, this means managers trusting and empowering their staff, not instructing, demanding, failing to listen, and even worse, bullying.
Of course, it helps if organisations have in place effective and fair HR procedures, practice financial integrity, and operate with a good level of openness and transparency. But how managers interact with their team will be the determining factor in how well staff perform, and how much they enjoy their work.
Through regular inter-personal communication, with a proper two-way flow of information, managers can empower their team, benefiting from and sharing their ideas and enthusiasm. In particular, they can create a climate of self-motivation:
- Providing autonomy, so team members have responsibility and control over their work.
- Seeking opinions, and where possible, involving team members in decision-making.
- Showing a genuine interest in what team members are doing.
- Highlighting team members’ strengths; and celebrating success.
- Removing barriers that might prevent personal and team development.
- Helping team members understand and add value to their roles; and giving them a sense of purpose.
- Involving team members in reviewing the organisation’s vision, mission and strategic planning, to help ensure ownership.
By being people-focused, listening to and communicating effectively with their team, managers can build trusting relationships. This culture of engagement can be taken further by showing empathy, fairness and loyalty to the team; all underpinned by ethical behaviour.
This may sound easy, but needs a commitment from the top. In my view, we don’t provide enough support for managers or help them to develop the people skills that help create a motivated and enthusiastic staff team. Instead, we place on them unrealistic demands which are passed down the structure to those on the shop floor.
Of course, some demands, as charities know all too well, are due to external factors like funding pressures and competitive tendering. Nor is every workplace stressor caused by poor management. But for the human factors within our control, building trust and enabling empowerment will make for better management; and in turn, reduce workplace stress. In this current International Stress Awareness Week, it is surely something we should all be considering.