Work has always been one of the major stressors in most people’s lives. This has perhaps never been truer than it is today. The coronavirus pandemic of 2020 and subsequent governmental lockdowns have sent economies reeling and cost millions of people their jobs or businesses. Many of those still working have had to adjust to new practices and oversight in the workplace in an attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19 or have had to learn to adapt to working remotely.
All this upheaval and change can create anxiety among employees, which can in turn negatively impact a company’s performance and hurt productivity. However, there are steps business leaders and managers can take to alleviate stress among their associates and reduce the effects of anxiety in the workplace.
Step #1: Lead by example.
- For a variety of reasons, employees often try to model their behavior at work after their bosses. Therefore, it is important that you as a business leader model an appropriate home/life balance. If those working under you see you constantly working through lunch or staying late at the office every evening, they are more likely to start doing the same. Unfortunately, this will usually result in higher levels of stress and discontentment in your workers, which could lead to a whole host of other issues. If you want your employees to maintain a healthy work/life balance, be sure to keep that balance in your own life.
- To keep productivity high, you will want to encourage employees to take breaks. We are all subject to fatigue, and studies show that intermittently taking breaks during a shift can revive us and keep us working efficiently. Remind your team members to take breaks when they are feeling overly stressed or fatigued, and once again model this behavior in your own work habits.
- Do things you enjoy outside of work to cope with prolonged periods of stress. This will help you bring a positive perspective back to your life and help stave off feelings of anxiousness. Encourage your colleagues and employees to do the same when the pressures of the job start negatively affecting them. Sharing experiences that you enjoy outside of the work environment may have the added benefit of developing closer bonds among members of the team.
Step #2: Develop your emotional intelligence, otherwise known as EQ.
- A good first step in sharpening your EQ is to practice self-awareness and self-regulation. Recognize your own feelings about a situation at any given time. Don’t ignore them or simply bottle them up. Once you recognize the emotions you are experiencing, demonstrate self-control and act conscientiously to deal with them in an appropriate, positive manner. Modeling this kind of behavior will encourage your employees to do likewise.
- Display empathy towards your coworkers and employees. Keep the doors of communication opened wide, and let your associates know that you are available to listen to what they have to say. Understand that if you are in a position of authority, many people will be reluctant to talk to you at first, but continue demonstrating a willingness to engage through small, friendly conversations and outward expressions of concern for those going through personal or professional trials. This will help you develop a greater degree of trust with your employees, and they will be more willing to honestly open up about things that are bothering them at work or even at home. Such honest feedback can be invaluable to making informed decisions and getting to the root of problems before they metastasize.
- Employ effective conflict management and team building techniques. Any time you have a large number of people working together, there are bound to be differences of opinion and personality clashes. Learning how to deal with those differences without ruining team chemistry is a key to success. Effective coaches use these social skills to develop and maintain harmony on their teams. That being said, not all people are equally equipped to provide effective conflict resolution or team building due to time restraints, personal characteristics, etc. Therefore, don’t be afraid to bring people in who can effectively mediate disputes or foster better team cohesion if you are struggling to do this yourself; likewise, don’t be hesitant about seeking outside assistance if bringing aboard additional staff is not a possibility.
Step #3: Be flexible while maintaining a pleasant work environment.
- In this time of stress and uncertainty, one way to provide your employees with more peace of mind is offering flexible work schedules or allowing them to work from home if it is an option. Many people have found their normal routines greatly disrupted with school closures, sudden layoffs in the family, fear of contracting coronavirus, etc. One way to show empathy towards your employees and address their concerns is to offer more flexibility in their schedules to accommodate their changing needs or giving them the option to work from home if the nature of their work would allow for it.
- In the work environment itself, look to improve efficiency and morale by keeping the workspace clean and uncluttered. Minimize unnecessarily loud or distracting noises. Enhance the aesthetic quality of the building by improving the lighting and décor. Maintain a well-regulated temperature to keep employees comfortable, and don’t be afraid to let in some fresh air when practical. Doing these things can improve the attitudes and outlooks of the workforce. After all, we are physical beings, and when our physical needs are not being met, it negatively impacts our moods and productivity.
Stress and work have always gone hand in hand, and some levels of stress can be good for individuals. Anxiety is not healthy though, and feelings of anxiousness must be addressed in this time of economic uncertainty. Understanding how changes brought about by widespread shutdowns may have increased stress levels and anxiety in your workforce is the first step in constructively dealing with these challenges, but it isn’t enough. You must then take action. Utilizing the aforementioned suggestions will help you combat the negative impacts of stress and anxiety on your employees and keep your business operating effectively.
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