Your team is successful when they bring their creativity and their strategic thinking skills to the table. As a leader you must find creative solutions to address the chronic stress that stymies that and prevents workers from becoming disengaged or leaving your organization. Stress thrives in the absence of clarity. You can change that and the way your team handles stress by taking the vital approach to assigning responsibility and accountability between team members.
- Critical insights on what the most effective teams do to reduce the collective impact of chronic stress
- Steps to dividing responsibility for retaining energy and increasing engagement
- Concrete ways to define and promote clarity to increase energy and improve well-being at the team level
Andrew Deutscher, founder of Regenerate, helps individuals and organizations develop sustainable, human performance-centered processes to thrive in today’s always-on, always-connected work world. He recently led an interactive session for Customer Engagement Leadership Council Members on employee engagement and retention. He opened the discussion by asking members to comment on an important situation they’d be facing in the coming days or weeks, a thorny issue lurking in the back of their mind, or what they were looking to gain from the event. Replies included:
“How to handle the great job cut era.”
“We are doubling the size of our team, want to ensure we can onboard smoothly.”
“I’m really hoping to learn best practices to tackle upcoming staffing issues.”
“I want information on keeping employees happy in the role with difficult customers and frequently changing processes.”
“Seeking a smooth transition and retention through a merger process.”
“[Need help with] employee full circle oversight from onboarding, training, performance management, retention, and overall engagement.”
As Andrew noted, we are living in an increasingly borderless, new world architecture today. Many employees are navigating their responsibilities on a time, not energy paradigm. Worldwide, workers report feeling more stressed than ever and are working longer hours. In fact, 91% of employees say that stress negatively affects their work.
Andrew cited his work as the founder of Regenerate, a company that helps organizations, leaders and teams build and sustain energy for better performance and business outcomes. He noted that he’d be sharing some key insights and solutions designed to help members optimize energy and more effectively lead their teams.
Stress exists when demand exceeds capacity
Andrew queried the group about how they typically experience reaching their “personal breaking point.” Specifically, he asked the group, “How do you know when you are about to overheat?” Signals included panic attacks, being overly bothered by mundane situations, difficulty getting up in the morning or immediately feeling negative when someone reaches out for something. Other members cited sleepless nights, stressing a lot about the day ahead, racing thoughts and health issues. Lack of clarity about what to focus on, and difficulty making decisions were other signs that stress levels were too high.
Stress exists when demand exceeds capacity. And, as Andrew commented, “we take our capacity for granted.” But the reality is that our capacity starts to decline around age 30 to 35. Just around the time work and family stressors are likely pretty high. But the good news is not all stress is bad. To this end, several members shared instances of impressive, albeit challenging moments when they successfully rose to stressful occasions. They included:
Competing for a world championship… incredibly stressful and demanding – but I won!!!
International relocation – moved to the other side of the world!
I always feel stressed before presenting at our large customer event.
Ditto, public speaking!
My supervisor got sick right before a client presentation. I had to step in last minute and travel across the country.
Handling workplace stress
Worthwhile endeavors often come with a certain amount of (conquerable) stress. But when stress is unchecked, or there is too much of it for too long, it becomes chronic. Unfortunately, humans are designed to respond to temporary and physical stress, not long-term, chronic stress. Too much chronic stress can rob you of vitality and affect overall health. Additionally, it will likely lessen innovation, creativity and executive function capabilities. Primary contributors to chronic workplace stress include:
- A heavy workload
- Overuse of email, no time to think or plan, which leads to decision fatigue
- Lack of time to reflect or assess big picture
To help members address some of these challenges, Andrew shared the example of a pit crew refueling a race car driver’s vehicle as he takes a quick break. Pointing out the team’s purposeful, synchronized actions, Andrew highlighted the cohesion and harmony of the crew, and noted that it was a good example of a team operating with role clarity that served a bigger purpose. He also pointed out that no matter how well a race car driver is performing, they stop for a quick recovery and vehicle maintenance. If they don’t the crew will flag them in. The key takeaway: It’s a performance discipline to renew and recover. Further, in our always-on, multi-task culture, it now also needs to become a business discipline.
The importance of clarity
Andrew suggested that leaders approach their roles and responsibilities as a team sport that requires recovery and renewal for best performance. Disconnecting regularly, taking your vacation time and delegating tasks among team members are tools to help accomplish this. Getting clarity on expectations and strategy is also desirable. Clear boundaries about your role on the team are important. To avoid wasting time or effort, make sure you’re clear on what is expected of you. For leaders, it’s critical to communicate regularly with your team and make sure they understand responsibilities and priorities.
As the session began to wind down, the group discussed some small, manageable ways to regroup or recoup energy throughout the day. Taking a break away from your computer, doing a little yoga or even getting in a brief workout with music were some suggestions. This is a productive practice, as most people lose focus if they don’t take breaks. One member shared his company’s practice of having slightly shorter meetings (50 minutes versus an hour) and ending with meditation or a brief exercise routine.