Release the pressure: improving mental resilience for your team
Workplace stress continues to be a major issue for employers, particularly in times of heightened anxiety such as the recent bushfire catastrophe or COVID-19 pandemic. But there are steps you can take to protect your employees and yourself.
According to SafeWork Australia, 7,140 Australians receive compensation for work-related mental disorders each year. These disorders increase absenteeism as well as presenteeism – where employees turn up to work but are less productive – costing employers $6.3 billion per annum.
So there’s a strong business case for protecting the mental resilience of employees.
Here are ways you can make the workplace a little less stressful for your employees.
Respect working hours
Modern technology makes it easy to work from anywhere where there is an internet connection. But unfortunately, 24/7 connectivity often blurs the line between work and personal life.
Good mental health relies on being able to switch your brain off from work to enjoy other things such as rest, family or hobbies. But that’s hard to do when the phone keeps pinging with messages and emails.
Unless it’s essential, avoid contacting employees outside of work hours, even if you don’t expect an immediate response.
Reassure your team
In tough times small businesses will struggle. The uncertainty means your employees will be worried for their livelihoods. In that climate, don’t make your stress their problem.
Yes, you need everyone to work hard to keep the business going, but productivity suffers when employees feel threatened and powerless.
Be honest and inclusive. Discuss tough decisions, like cutting shifts, with the team. They might even have valuable suggestions or workarounds to avoid losing employees. This also gives your team greater ownership and acceptance over the course of action.
In harder times, it’s also more important than ever to show your appreciation. A simple team lunch (when these become possible again) or even regular expressions of heart-felt thanks can help to boost morale.
Some employers try to drive productivity through strict monitoring practices, particularly when employees work from home. But obsessive clock-watching and remote-worker tracking software can backfire, increasing stress while eroding employee engagement – and loyalty.
Allow your employees to work as fast and as well as they are able. If that proposal was still ready to go to the client on time, does it really matter if the employee took a little longer to pull it together while they adjust to working from home?
Prioritise tasks appropriately
All tasks have a priority, but no matter how tempting it may be to treat every task as critically important, you need to prioritise. If a new task becomes the top priority, communicate that to the team to avoid unnecessary stress. If a task can wait, say so, and avoid setting arbitrary deadlines that don’t reflect the genuine need. Does that report really need to be complete by COB when the meeting isn’t until next week?
Reduce email stress
Don’t send an email if you need a quick response. If you’re in the office, go to the person’s desk or call their phone.
Expecting rapid replies to emails increases employees' anxiety - they’ll constantly check their inbox every few minutes. Be aware that every time an employee interrupts a task to check or respond to email it can take over 20 minutes to regain their focus.
When employees work from home, clear communication is even more vital. Agree on times when each person is available, so you’re not expecting your call to be answered during the school run, for example. If you need to send an urgent email, perhaps with attachments or details, alert them with a text message.
It’s your pressure too
Let’s not forget that, as a small business employer, you can be under incredible pressure to navigate the tough times. Plus, you have the added pressure of wanting to keep your employees in stable work.
It’s a two-way street. Protect the mental health of your team and running the business may become easier and less stressful for you as well.