To get the best out of their teams, managers need to realize that they can (and should) rely on the invaluable collective intelligence of their team...
Why managers should obsess about measuring stress in their teams
When it comes to workplace stress, prevention is the best medicine.
Photo by Elisa Ventur
Stress is one of the most pressing workplace issues, but it's also one that can be managed. In this article, we will discuss stress in teams, managers, and the importance of paying attention to, and consistently measuring team stress levels. We'll cover the impact that stress at work can have on your team, project, and organization, as well as what you could do to prevent it from getting out of control.
Stress can be caused by a variety of outside forces — from difficult customers and tight deadlines to demanding managers and personal problems at home. As stress builds up it can have adverse effects on your employees' quality of work, as well as their mental health and general wellbeing. And the effects don't stop there: stress also has serious implications for important issues like team morale, productivity, and turnover rates — which is why understanding its causes is crucial to any manager wishing to achieve success in their team and organization.
Stress doesn’t have an impact only on those who feel most affected by it, but also on the team as a whole, so it's important that managers take immediate action and prevent the problem from escalating. One way to do this is by measuring stress levels in your team on a continuous basis. This can be done in a variety of ways, but the most important part is that you act on the information that you gather. If you find that your team is highly stressed, there are steps you can take to reduce it and improve productivity, morale, and retention rates.
How much stress is too much stress? What are the signs of stress in teams? These questions can be difficult to answer, but they're crucial to pay attention to if we want to ensure the success and well-being of our team and its members. An early indicator of negative stress in a team is when things go from thinking: “This work is challenging”, to “I’m so bogged down and overwhelmed with work”. An environment with zero stress often correlates with a lack of urgency or a lack of stimulating projects — but the trick is to find the balance between pressure and peace of mind.
Why it’s important to pay attention to stress in an organization
In recent years, stress has cost companies over $300 billion annually in stress-related absences, turnover, and health care expenses. The Covid-19 pandemic has only increased stress rates and burnout in the workplace, as those working from home have found themselves working longer hours and getting stuck in more meetings than before. Often in cramped conditions with partners and children at home, remote workers have had to balance their expanding workloads with family responsibilities. Under these increasingly stressful conditions, employees have struggled to find the peace of mind necessary to focus, think creatively, and do their best work.
Why it’s important to pay attention to stress in teams
It’s no secret that stress will inevitably impact team morale, productivity, and turnover rates, and it’s also no coincidence that teams with healthy levels of stress see far superior results. Managers who are proactive and purposeful when approaching the stress levels in their teams ultimately reap the rewards in their teams’ increased productivity and their own reduced personal stress. Having HR conduct quarterly (or even monthly) stress surveys can result in a turnaround time that’s too long for managers to take action swiftly before their teams’ stress escalates to burnout. Recovering from burnout is much more difficult than preventing it. Many organizations only take action when it's too late when it’s already started to impact not only employee engagement but also company bottom line.
What many managers get wrong about managing their teams’ stress
It’s not always easy to understand the root causes of stress, and many managers don’t — which has significant effects on the decisions they make and on the well-being of their team. Too often they choose to not act at all, either because they don’t know what to do, or because they don’t have time for stress management initiatives on top of everything else that requires their attention. Measuring stress by asking “Are you stressed?” or “How happy are you this week?” grants only surface-level insights that are vague and difficult to act on. What's important is to dig deeper and try to understand the root cause. There may be unique causes of stress for each individual, but there will always be certain shared stressors if something on a team- or project-level is going wrong.
The next and most important step is to actually do something about it. It’s also critical to take action that the team thinks is a good idea, and will help them in the context of their current circumstance— not what the manager thinks is a good idea — there is no one size fits all solution when it comes to stress management. Asking the team what would help them to reduce stress and giving them realistic, attainable options that you have the authority to execute is the most simple and effective way to begin reducing stress in your team.
“Never assume that your team is not stressed just because they tell you they aren't, and never force solutions upon them that they haven't requested or approved to help them reduce stress.”
What can managers do to measure stress in their teams?
At Perflo, our guiding philosophy when it comes to team health is - Prevention is the best form of medicine. As opposed to being reactive, we believe and encourage managers to start measuring stress even if there is no current problem or even indication that it may be approaching. Measuring stress doesn’t have to be difficult or time-consuming — and it won’t be if you follow the tips below:
The most common method is to survey employees about their stress levels at work on a regular basis.
We suggest micro-surveys that are continuous rather than a once-off or quarterly pulse, and that always has:
- an open text option to comment.
- anonymous responses
- a scale of at least 3 options.
- follow-up questions on low-scoring responses with 'action options'.
- real-time nudges for managers
Stress Prevention; What should you look out for?
Signs of stress include:
- reduced motivation for certain tasks
- loss of interest in team events or activities outside of working hours
- changes in general wellbeing and work habits such as the number of sick days taken or the amount of overtime worked
- changes in behavior, communication patterns, tone, and engagement
- Withdrawal type behaviors, ghosting, etc
Some organizations go as far as using monitoring devices like fitbits to track employee stress levels. While this might be an extreme measure, it could be useful in certain working environments and cultures, so long as employees are opted-in to this program.
Managers play an important role in stress reduction in their teams, but it's not always possible or feasible to personalize solutions for each individual member. Yet managers can make a difference by asking their teams what would help them reduce stress, and giving them realistic, attainable options that managers have the authority to execute.
What can managers do to improve team well-being?
There are several factors that might cause employees anxiety that managers have the power to address. These include:
- Lack of clarity regarding roles, tasks, project scope, process, and purpose. Conflicting agendas as a result of unhealthy competition and workplace politics.
- Lack of trust within the team.
- Lack of transparency regarding direction, strategy, and work progress.
- Poor communication between managers and team members, which prevents staff from being empowered and obstructs their peace of mind.
- Lack of psychological safety, which impedes efforts to foster a safe workplace where team members can express themselves without fear of being penalized.
- Lack of empathy, culture clashes, resulting in the neglect of differing needs and perspectives of individuals from different backgrounds and business units.
It's no coincidence that you won’t find a lot of these problems in high-performance teams. Stress and team performance are one in the same — which means that monitoring and preventing stress is absolutely critical.
Not all stress is created equal
Research has proven that not all stress is negative, and some degree of stress is necessary for inspiring a sense of urgency and a sense of productivity. There is good stress and bad stress, and we need to be able to tell the difference. Managing stress in teams is all about finding the right balance and stress management activities can help us do that.
We need to start paying attention to managers’ stress
Monitoring and prioritizing the stress of managers is no less critical - their stress often trickles down to their teams. When a manager is feeling overwhelmed, it's very difficult for them to hide it — and this will be reflected in their team. In our ever-changing world of work, many managers are working more hours than ever before, which adds fuel to the fire.
Many articles have been written about team productivity and team effectiveness with the intention to help organizations build and run high-performing teams. However, a common theme that's left out, is talking about stress and the unbelievable impact it has on team effectiveness.
How organizations can help prevent team stress
An organization can help employees reduce stress in a variety of ways — amongst other things, they can:
- Provide stress management training for managers and team members.
- Provide managers with tools to measure stress
- Allow for flexible working arrangements.
- Encourage employees to take breaks and provide space for relaxation.
- Allow time for team members to socialize outside of working hours.
- Implement policies that support work/life balance.
- Ensure managers practice what they preach and lead by example.
At Perflo, our thesis is if you can’t measure it, you can’t prevent it (or improve it). We help empower managers and teams to measure critical factors that relate to team well-being and performance - inevitably stress is one of them. Request a demo of Perflo today to start measuring stress in your team in no less than 5 minutes.