Help your team thrive in times of stress

Workplaces have changed, and how we experience them, have changed in recent years.

During the active years of the pandemic, the world experienced a collective trauma.

The physical, economic, emotional, and psychological impacts of the pandemic have a strong correlation to events which are considered to be traumatic.

While many consider us to be in a post-pandemic, post-lockdown world, the impacts remain prevalent in our workplaces.

The Australian Unity Wellbeing Index has found that satisfaction with life in Australia and life as a whole both declined to their lowest levels on record in 21 years.

Many employees, managers, and employers – beyond the great resignation – are grappling with depleted energy, efficiency, innovation, and overall performance.

For anyone in these circumstances, toughing it out is not a helpful approach.

It is at these times, a strong connection within your workplace can help steer the team through tough patches, rather than stress induced self-isolation.

"Many leaders say they are available, but due to the more common way of communicating through virtual meetings, there are more back-to-back meetings scheduled and less time for in-between personal chats" Assure Programs Global Clinical Services Director, April Jones observes.

Leaders and managers can help reduce anxiety, stress and reclaim their sense of belonging at work for everyone.

"We need to give our staff reasons to be present, making time to get to know each other again is so important."

"Getting a coffee together or suggesting a walk at lunch time will help build personable relationships again" she added.

How stress changes us

Chronic stress changes our bodies.

While stress is part of our body’s survival mechanism, the prolonged experience of stress can be harmful.

The International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies lists 12 examples of traumatic events, nearly half of which could fit within our experiences of the pandemic.

These include serious medical events, unexpected death of a loved one, seeing death or a person who has passed away, witnessing violence and unrest and natural disasters.

A flow on effect of this is people who have experienced stressful events are more likely to develop depression and, in some cases, even post-traumatic stress disorder.

The World Health Organisation estimates 5% of adults live with depression globally – which is roughly 394.4 million people.

Examples of stressful experiences certainly include the lived experience of a global pandemic, chronic stress, self-isolation, financial worries, abrupt changes to working conditions and routine, grief, long-term health anxiety and interrupted sleep patterns.

How this can manifest in the workplace may look different to what we might think:

Fostering recovery

Wellbeing at work is a shared responsibility between employees and managers.

It is possible to thrive at work in a post-pandemic world by mitigating illness, preventing harm and promoting thriving.

In their book “The Happiness Track”, Annie McKee and Emma Seppälä note we live in a world “where overwork is overvalued.”

Over-extending ourselves across all areas of our life, particularly work, is accepted as a good thing, despite the well documented negative impact this has.

Long-term, repetitive stress can trigger inflammation throughout our body, even in our brains.

This inflammation can affect memory, motivation, mental agility and further health problems.

Increased cortisol and reduced serotonin production can cause sleep problems and affect our ability to emotionally regulate.

Making the need to deal with stress clear and present, for all involved.

McKee and Seppälä dispel the need to work harder and faster in order to succeed at work, affirming it is not a sustainable, ongoing way to live.

Working smarter

A way to work smarter is to review your work processes and find what or where the most strain is for employees and managers.

  • Is it number of review and approvals required?
  • Is there enough detail in the initial brief?
  • Are there issues with resourcing and turnaround time?
  • What steps do your employees feel comfortable taking when a piece of work is falling behind?
  • Are there enough opportunities for communication and feedback?

Making the effort can make an immediate difference in your day-to-day work.

This can reduce the time taken to complete work, as well as avoiding fatigue and maintaining motivation levels.

Tips for employees to thrive at work

Don’t avoid the feelings you have, there are ways you can explore and diffuse them.

  • Seek out new learning opportunities – this has positive effects on the brain, opening and utilising new knowledge and emotional centres.
  • Observe yourself when it comes to stress – make some simple notes of what symptoms you experience when it’s affecting you and some positive coping strategies you use to recover.
  • The positive impact of exercise cannot be understated – even a simple lap of movement around the block or the end of your street during the day, or regular exercise like sport or gym sessions does wonders for diffusing stress.
  • Connect with the people around you – through being open with each other you are helping reduce stigma around mental health. Find a way to communicate and a time and place which work for you.
  • Enquire with your manager or human resources team what wellbeing support services or initiatives your workplace offers and use them when required.

Tips for managers to create a thriving workplace

  • Stay up to date on ways you can best support your workplace and employees’ wellbeing – you can follow certain pages or people on LinkedIn, find a podcast, or subscribe to a newsletter/publication
  • Set goals as a team – the combined power of everyone’s knowledge and input can create a smooth path towards an outcome, with everyone aligned from the beginning
  • Promote what support services your workplace provides – things like an employee assistance programs (EAP), or how to engage with human resources or a health and safety representative
  • Check in with your team members – learn how to have difficult conversations effectively, lead and set an example of your wellbeing strategy
  • When giving positive feedback to employees, acknowledge individual differences and seek to promote their strengths.

Sources and resources