Helping employees manage stress during a pandemic

Helping employees manage stress during a pandemic

stressAt the start of the year, none of us could’ve ever imagined what 2020 would end up looking like.  

The majority of the global workforce has now been relegated to home offices, Zoom meetings, and Slack messages. Many are juggling remote work with childcare, pet care, and household-related errands. And now with August officially here, many parents will also need to take on the responsibility of homeschooling their children in areas where schools remain closed during the pandemic.  

Unsurprisingly, stress levels have surged worldwide as many of us continue to face unknowns and a new way of living and working.  

It’s more important than ever, therefore, for leaders and managers to be able to identify stress in their employees and then help those employees effectively manage the pressures they face.  

 

How to identify stress in employees 

 Are you able to tell when your team members are taxed by stressors?  

Contrary to what you might think, it doesn’t take being a mind-reader to known when your team members are pushed to their limits.  

All it takes is familiarizing yourself with the common symptoms and warning signs of stress as shown in the workplace. They include the following: 

  • Absenteeism, escaping from work responsibilities, arriving late/leaving early (or, if virtual, signing off for the day early)  
  • Deterioration in work performance, more error-prone work, memory loss, trouble concentrating, missed deadlines 
  • Apathy, loss of interest in work 
  • Over-reacting, arguing, getting irritated, anxiety, depression, social withdrawal 
  • Deteriorating health, muscle tension, headaches, stomach problems, more accidents 
  • Improper eating habits (over-eating or under-eating), excessive smoking and drinking 
  • Fatigue, sleeplessness 

Over time, stress can continue to add and build up, leading to low morale and, in some cases, even depression among employees.  

That’s because, according to an article on www.managementstudyguide.com, “even relatively slight stress distracts an employee. People facing stress concentrate more on the repulsive feelings and emotions rather than on the work/job at hand and consequently their work performance suffers. Stress affects people’s intellectual, emotional, and interpersonal functioning.” 

For this reason, it’s imperative to be on the lookout for these common signs of workplace stress, and if you feel an employee may be struggling with coping with their stress, don’t be afraid to pull them aside and express your concern.  

Sometimes, an employee may just need a listening ear to express themselves. Other times, your intervention may be just what they need to connect with the right resources and learn more about better stress management. 

 

How to help employees manage stress 

 Once you’ve identified stress in a team member, there are several things you can do to help your employees feel seen, heard, and validated.  

 

Consult your employees 

  • Talk to them about the specific factors that make their jobs stressful. Some things, such as failing equipment, a heavy workload, a lack of work/life balance, or a lack of supervisor feedback may be relatively straightforward to address. 
  • Communicate with your employees one-on-one. Listening attentively face-to-face will make an employee feel heard and understood—and help to lower their stress and yours, even if you’re unable to change the situation. 
  • Give workers opportunities to participate in decisions that affect their jobs. 
  • Be sure the workload is suitable to employees’ abilities and resources; avoid unrealistic deadlines. This is especially important in present times, when so many workers are juggling other responsibilities during their 9-5 workday such as childcare or providing at-home schooling to their children.  
  • Get employee input on work rules, when possible. If they’re involved in the process, they’ll be more committed. 
  • Deal with workplace conflicts in a positive way. 
  • Refer employees to your EAP (Employee Assistance Provider) or to other resources like a GP or other health provider where appropriate.

 

Clarify expectations 

  • Share information with employees to reduce uncertainty about their jobs and futures. During these difficult times, when unemployment rates have skyrocketed around the world, many people are beset with worries over losing their own job. If it makes sense for your company/department, you can easily take this load off your employees’ shoulders by assuring them of the security of their jobs.  
  • Clearly define employees’ roles, responsibilities, and goals so that no one is needlessly overworking. This is a great way to identify tasks that are better left outsourced to outside talent.  

  

Offer rewards and incentives 

  • Praise good work performance verbally and organisation-wide. 
  • Show that individual workers are valued and appreciated and that job stress is taken seriously. You might consider investing in lunch-and-learn sessions with wellness experts that teach your team members effective strategies and coping mechanisms for better managing stress.  
  • Schedule potentially stressful periods followed by periods of fewer tight deadlines. This gives your team members much-needed breaks instead of seeing them constantly buffeted by workplace pressures.  

  

Stress can be difficult to deal with, but it doesn’t have to dominate the workplace.  

If you want to help your employees manage stress, then communicating with them is the first step toward doing that. When you consult them, clarify expectations, and offer rewards and incentives in the process, you’re maintaining an open-door policy that allows communication to thrive in the workplace and thus enables all parties involved to deal with their stress head-on and manage it in healthier ways. 

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