5 Ways to Push Employees to Be Their Best – While Reducing Stress

August 2, 2017

This guest post comes from Fronetics, a boutique marketing firm focused on the Supply Chain and Logistics industries. Written by Elizabeth Hines.

In a new study published in the Harvard Business Review, managers were 30% less likely than their coworkers to be stressed out. 30% LESS!

One might assume that leadership takes the heat when it comes to performance evaluation. But we’ve all probably experienced the trickle-down effect in the workplace: If a manager is feeling pressure, it’s safe to assume the team is feeling it twice over.

Not all stress is avoidable, and sometimes certain periods of increased demand can lead to increased performance. Research shows that an optimal level of stress exists below which employees are unmotivated and above which they are overwhelmed.

Leadership consultant and author Steve Arneson describes this balance as the “leader’s dilemma:” Management works to create a balance between pushing employees and pushing them past their limits. He recommends that leaders create a safe and supportive environment where employees feel respected and, in turn, cooperative and productive.

With this is mind, it’s important to incorporate tangible ways of reducing stress for your employees. Though some of these may be obvious, with record-breaking levels of stress at work, not enough leaders are paying attention to them.

5 tricks for reducing stress while pushing talent

1. Provide certainty and clarity (when possible)

Frederick Herzberg, an influential psychologist in business management, wrote extensively about “hygiene factors” in the work place. These are basic factors that cause dissatisfaction and can include: poor relationships with supervisors, company policies, work conditions, salary, and status.

In order to promote productivity, management should focus on providing a level of certainty to its employees. Herzberg suggests fixing obstructive company policies, providing effective and non-intrusive supervision, and creating and supporting a culture of respect for all team members as a few ways to help nurture a sense of certainty.

2. Be fair

There are three drivers that determine fairness in the workplace. The first is the belief that an employee’s input is considered in a decision. Are their opinions valued and taken into consideration? The second, is how decisions are processed and implemented. Are decisions made consistently and with accurate information? The third is how a decision is reported. Are the managers listening to employees’ concerns and explaining their decisions? These three factors can help foster a sense of fairness in the work place that lead to employee satisfaction and productivity.

3. Show support and gratitude

When Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman studied results from workplace surveys, they found that 37% of managers admitted that they never gave their employees any positive reinforcement. That’s a lot of missed opportunities to tell your team that you appreciate their hard work.

Lisa Commendatore, a program director at Northeastern University, goes to the opposite extreme. She believes that rewarding her team turns them into more productive employees. “After a particularly challenging cycle, I make sure to reward my team with a thank you card or a free cup of coffee. The small gesture goes a long way.”

4. Exhibit self-confidence and competence as a leader

It is important for managers to demonstrate their competency. Through hard work, innovative ideas, willingness to take on a new challenge, and working long hours, leaders want to be seen as capable of their duties. These demonstrations don’t go unnoticed by your teams.

It’s a healthy example for employees to see that their stress and efforts are felt all the way up the corporate ladder. Workplaces lacking in trust often have a culture of “every employee for himself,” in which people feel that they must be vigilant about protecting their interests. Managers that are able to create a foundation of trust are helping to alleviate tensions in the work place.

5. Keep your word

As Karen Firestone, CEO of Aureus Asset Management, said in a recent HBR article, “It’s important that leaders are the prime example of thoroughly executing on their own commitments to the people who support them.”

In work, as in life, if you can’t keep your promises, then you shouldn’t make them. Employees are looking to management to fulfill its commitments, and that starts with being a leader that keeps your word. As the saying goes, treat people the way you want to be treated.

Using these strategies can help relieve employee stress at work, leading to productive and satisfied (if not, happy) employees. Recognizing and helping your team deal with their stress is what makes a leader a great one. 

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