How to build a more stress-resilient culture

Grevis Beard
August 15, 2018

So often when we are asked to undertake an investigation into allegations of problematic workplace behaviour, it becomes clear that it was all about the “how”, rather than the “what”.

1) How adept and skilled were the team members at responding to a range of stressors which may influence behaviour?

2) How competent was everyone within the team at holding each other to account for when unprofessional behaviour does occur?

In relation to the first “how”, no workplace is immune from a variety of slings and arrows that fortune throws our respective ways. A range of tricky factors either alone, or together (and, yes, sometimes cumulatively approaching a perfect storm) can induce significant stress for those working in that team.

So many factors, working together, can bring on stress. They can range from the individual (the personalities and key influencers of the team), cross into team dynamics overall (including, for example, team demographics and technical competencies), encompass organisational pressures overall (say, a recent merger), and also include sector-related issues (such as external stakeholder pressures).

Realistically, stressors won’t and don’t stop happening. What can change and develop over time is the conscious choice that that team can make to improve how it responds to inevitable sources of stress.

No workplace culture is perfect of course. But half the battle is actually growing a workplace culture in your team that is aware of and comfortable to acknowledge stress, and works to build collective ways to constructively cope with these stressors.

How to build a more stress-resilient culture

A key way to build a more stress-resilient culture is for the manager to lead by example. Here are four tips to help you put this into action:

1. Be willing to acknowledge stress in the workplace

Be genuine about the reality of the stress factors at play in your workplace. Don’t ignore them. The mantra “Keep calm and carry on” is not always the solution! In particular, your team is more likely to proactively seek your input and help, rather than silently “keep trucking”, if they know that you won’t shoot the messenger, and will be open to and receptive about staff feedback offered.

2. Be solution focused

Take a solution-oriented approach to help colleagues manage workplace stressors. This approach will over time, build the team’s trust that you “have their back”. This fosters an excellent feedback loop for picking up on intel early, and implementing solutions proactively.

3. Be curious and show you care

Be curious and empathetic when someone is looking frazzled, anxious or escalating in their behaviour. Take time to explore with that team member, and ask questions: “Are you Ok? Is there anything I can do?”.

Sometimes we may be reticent to explore emotions at work. Don’t be. Rather than view an emotional response as getting in the way of the work priorities, see this rather as an opportunity to gauge how well that individual is tracking.

The result of your inquiry is that you are showing that you genuinely care about your team, and how you can assist them with any current problems which need fixing that you were not aware of previously. What’s not to love about a manager that does this?

4. Improve the way you communicate

And now, a question for you!  How are you communicating with a team that you manage? Are you guilty of busily launching endless emails, always in your office (with door closed…) and generally not visible? Take a minute now to reflect of your communication with your team.

Remember, nothing beats face to face communication. Technology, the pace of work, of change, and a host of sector-specific levers, are all affecting where, how and what we communicate. We may be communicating more rapidly via email, but what is quality and impact of this type of communication? How well does a reliance on email communication truly support workplace values of respect, collaboration, accountability?

Emails are not a cure-all. They should not be the unthinking default communication mode. There is always the phone (it’s been around for 120 years or so), or indeed, even a face to face chat (if necessary via Skype). A tete-a-tete will enable you to truly comprehend, listen and engage with your staff. The result? Your verbal dialogue is more likely to yield richer data, less chance of misunderstanding, and opportunities for spontaneity and true creatively. Make sure it is a dialogue too, not a monologue (by you!).

These suggested approaches above will assist you to identify what is stressing out your team and also identifying how to improve team functioning to cope, and/ or mitigate the source of that stress. They will also model ways for everyone in the team to harness ways to be more insightful about team dynamics and their own responses.

Finally, if the negative behaviour gets out of hand it is important to have the difficult conversations and hold people to account for their behaviour. We’ve written extensively about this and offer a half day training course to help managers and team leaders do these well!

About Grevis Beard

Grevis Beard, WorklogicGrevis Beard is the co-founder and Director of Worklogic and has amassed significant knowledge of the dynamics of workplace disputes and their resolution from more than a decade’s experience at Worklogic. Grevis works with a range of clients to improve workplace communication and behaviour, manage workplace risks and handle complaints  by conducting workplace investigationsmediations and reviews.

Worklogic works with employers to resolve workplace complaints and create a positive culture at work.  Please contact Grevis for an obligation-free, confidential discussion on any challenges you face in the workplace.

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