Don’t bank on stressed employees

It hit the headlines last week that bankers suffer from excessive stress and that it affects their risk-taking skills and hence their performance. Bankers are not alone, excessive stress will undermine the performance of any employee. It is not just that employees go absent from “stress”, the day-to-day effects on performance can lower productivity, undermine sound decision-making and hit the bottom line

Stress can also cause a huge variety of physical and mental health problems such as heart disease and medically recognised depression. But it also creates a dysfunctional working environment, poor employee performance and high absence; themselves causes of stress for the employer as well as for employees. There is no shame. One banker, Sir Hector Sants, decided to take almost three months away from his top-level role at Barclays, It  shows this phenomenon can affect anyone.

Here are some tips to reduce excessive stress on employees:

Listen to employees; not just to what they are saying but to the underlying emotion. Often simply the feeling of being recognised can relieve stress. Easier said than done – as there is always a temptation to offer un-solicited advice!

Eliminate “role ambiguity”. Being encouraged to build rapport with customers while concurrently being under pressure to meet sales targets is a typical example. You need to be clear about targets and priorities that you set for employees.

Resist the temptation to micro-manage. Your way of doing something may conflict with the reality that your employees are facing at the “coalface”. Be prepared to stand back a little and allow them to use their judgement.

Recognise values. Imposing your values on others (where it is not necessary) can be a serious cause of stress. You can, of course encourage and persuade but imposition, in conflict with values, may be best reserved only where really necessary and as a last resort. In some cases an employee may be better finding another employer, in the latter case, it needs to be communicated delicately.

Have a bullying and harassment policy. A misnomer, really! It should be an anti-bullying and harassment policy. You want employees who perceive themselves as victims to feel confident to either confront the perpetrator or raise the issue with you. Remember the “bully” may need  help too – they could be victim to role ambiguity or other stresses themselves. If you perceive that yourself are too critical or robust with employees, then consider some of the personal growth options such as relaxation techniques, neuro-linguistic programming, cognitive behaviour therapy or mediation.

Feelings are important – so don’t ignore them in making decisions – for yourself or for ones that affect employees.

Be prepared to consider personal circumstances. Balancing home life and work can be a major source of stress. It has been suggested that most stress arises at home rather than work. Indeed life changes such as moving home, having a family or bereavement cause or affect resilience to stress. Employers can take this into account when considering performance. Such stresses relieve with time and performance can return.

If you would like professional advice on managing stress in a work context, please contact us.

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