Even the most halcyon of offices can run into stressful times, and it’s the responsibility of the leader to get their team through it. Times like these, though, are far from peaceful: the fallout from Covid-19 has made managing workplace stress a seemingly impossible task. With no end to the pandemic or its effects in sight, managers need to refocus on how best to help their team through the wreckage.
Each workplace is different, but business is business. There are a few common sources of on-the-job stress that every business leader needs to know how to combat. Here are some of the most pervasive:
1. Tight Deadlines
Everyone knows just how brutal an impact tight deadlines can have on mental health. A study from jobseekers platform CareerBest found that tight deadlines were the leading cause of workplace stress, with nearly twice as many respondents selecting it than selected the next most common response. If the research on the impacts of tight deadlines is settled, why then do so many workplaces still implement them?
The short answer is that it’s hard to push back against a decades-long norm: as projects crop up, the incentives are high to finish them as quickly as possible. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to break that trend. Set schedules very early on in the planning process in order to make sure that no one feels crept up on by onerous deadlines. Most importantly, always prioritise the wellbeing of your workers over early or ontime project completion—too much of the latter will cause some vicious burnout in the long term.
2. The Shift to Remote Work
Last year, workers were expected to embrace remote work almost overnight. While the virtual commute undoubtedly comes along with some benefits, the whiplash many employees experienced continues to be felt to this day. Mental and behavioral health provider Pathways found in a survey that half of all workers experience stress related to remote work—is your business doing enough to combat that?
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The key to making remote work work for your employees is balance. While every office needs some degree of continuity, do your best to accommodate the preferred working styles of each of your employees. Some of your employees may prefer Zoom calls while others opt for Slack chat. Any method is fine so long as no one is forced into using platforms or workflows that cause them anxiety on the job.
3. Low Morale
This one should be self evident: how could any business possibly keep morale high in times like these? Traditional office pastimes have been curtailed, growth is erratic, and meetings are now more characterized by fatigue than they are by collaboration.
There’s no easy answer here, but there is one thing you shouldn’t be doing: bemoaning the circumstances. As tough as things may be, you still have a bevy of tools at your disposal for keeping your team motivated. Defining your purpose and setting goals are perhaps the two most important stepping stones to strong morale, and they can be done just as easily over a Zoom call as they can in person. Adapt to what you’ve been dealt instead of waiting for things to change—who knows when they will, if ever?
4. Not Enough Time Off
The lull in vacations and travel associated with Covid-19 has also meant a general decline in the usage of vacation days—a troubling omen for workplace stress levels. Employees need regular breaks in order to stay satisfied, calm, and productive. If members of your team are nearing some critical points of overwork, talk to them about taking some time off. Even consider expanding your business’s time off policies in the hopes that those in need of a break will finally take one.
5. Bad Tech
Every employee knows that no relationship between technology and job satisfaction could ever be simple. Bad tech can slow down work and cause more problems than it solves, inducing high levels of stress in the process. A study from customer service technology developer Verint, though, paints a rosier picture of the impact technology can have on work: 72% of workers with low stress levels attribute that at least in part to technology lightening their workloads.
The simple takeaway here is that you should never dive head-first into adopting a new technology. Try it out, get worker feedback, and search for better options before you marry your business to it. The best tech should streamline existing processes and alleviate workplace anxiety in the process—if it can’t do that, it’s not worth your money.
Workplace stress may be ubiquitous, but that doesn’t mean that it’s inevitable. Taking the right steps now can put your business on the right path for years to come. It may not be easy, but it’s worth it for your employees.