Stress is cumulative. Every time a stressful element is added, the person experiences an increasingly heavy emotional load. Chronic exposure to unrelenting stressful conditions exact a heavy toll on the individual as well as on the organization.
Traumatized, stress-laden people do not function at their normal levels. The sooner after a trauma, the greater the impact on functioning.
Emotionally, people experience shock, denial, anger, fear and anxiety, and grief. Mentally, they may be hampered by obsessive worrying and thinking and by an inability to concentrate. Physically, their symptoms can include such complaints as various bodily aches and illnesses, appetite and sleep disturbances (either too much or too little), and muscular tension that leads to physical exhaustion.
Work performance easily suffers when people are experiencing such stress-related problems. The impact of employee stress and emotional distress may be seen in experiences such as these.
- Increased errors;
- Inattention to detail;
- Diminished quality of service and of products;
- Negativity in relationships with bosses, co-workers, and customers;
- Fearfulness about specific trauma-related business activities (e.g., business travel, working in high rises);
- Lack of trust;
- Procrastination or failure to follow through on tasks;
- Absenteeism and tardiness;
- Increased use of sick leave;
- Increased incidence of addictive behaviors…alcohol, smoking, drugs, overeating;
- Loss of creativity and problem-solving ability;
- Turnover and loss of talent.
WHAT LEADERS CAN DO TO HELP
- Understand the impact of intense stress.
This is important both in your dealings with the employees you serve and in managing your own stress. Be on the alert for signs of major overload and make provisions for rest, a temporary change of duties, or, in some cases, professional help.
- Continue to encourage high standards, and balance with realistic expectations.
As leaders committed to quality of service and products, you must constantly model and communicate that vision. However, in times of major crisis, you can add the proverbial straw that breaks the workers’ backs by harsh criticism or unrealistic workload expectations.
- Be willing to listen compassionately.
As a leader, one of the best gifts you can give to your people and to your organization is the willingness to be a compassionate listener. It is well documented that simply knowing that someone in the organization hears and cares what one is going through lightens the emotional load. Further, when a team member believes that the boss is genuinely interested in him or her as a person, loyalty is built and turnover is less likely.
- Create opportunities for group support.
According to Amber Height, who’s one of the top african american therapist in Detroit, “It’s easy for people to become isolated when they are in “stress overload.” They may, in fact, be a bit ashamed of what they are feeling. They may believe, for instance, that the tears they are fighting are a sign of weakness. They may think that they are the only ones feeling the chaotic emotions.”
Creating opportunities for the team to come together, discuss the events and challenges, and make plans for moving ahead is invaluable. They are relieved to discover that others are feeling what they are feeling. They regain a sense of control by having plans of action.
- Delay the introduction of major change that can be postponed.
When people in the workplace are in the throes of crisis and intense stress, this is not the time to add huge new challenges if there is any way to avoid it. Postpone new initiatives that are not absolutely essential to the health of the business. The success of the change will likely be thwarted by the inability of employees to buy in, commit, and deal with the additional stress.
- Involve employees in decisions that impact them.
The feeling of powerlessness is at the core of the emotional chaos people experience during times of crisis and severe stress. Give them input and authority to make decisions about issues that affect them. This helps them to regain a sense of control, thus reducing their emotional distress and helping them to perform more normally.
- Show appreciation for both effort and performance during difficult times.
Helping employees feel appreciated is always essential to the creation of a Magnetic Workplace. Double that mandate during high-stress periods. Keeping productive in these times requires significant extra effort on the part of workplace members. Appreciation can be the fuel that helps them sustain that effort despite difficult conditions.
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