Ten ways leaders can reduce workplace stress

Written by Dr Lynda Shaw Tuesday 20 April 2021
Pushing your team is okay as long as there’s an acceptable time limit and you show appreciation for their effort
Person with head in their hands at their desk

The pandemic has brought many of us anxiety, grief and huge amounts of stress as we struggled to deal with the challenges, isolation and feelings of being overwhelmed. But while stress itself can cause mental (and physical) health problems, it can also make existing problems worse.

Most of us know we need to avoid living with long periods of stress, but why can stress be so detrimental to our physical and mental health and what can we as individuals and as leaders at work do about it?

Looking after your team

  1. Much stress comes from being overloaded. If you need your staff to put in more hours for a specific project, then make sure it is for a set, acceptable length of time and always show you appreciate the extra effort. Ensure that staff take breaks throughout the day and take all their holiday entitlement.
  2. Encourage employees to push themselves to the next level but know and accept with respect if they simply don’t have the skills, where training is needed, as well at times what they are simply not well-suited to.
  3. Be flexible to different workers’ requirements such as working from home and being open to part-time work; some of the best workers want to work part time and keeping their skills in-house is vital.
  4. Be quick to identify if a team member has mental health issues of any sort or is simply going through a difficult period and offer your support in the best way you can.
  5. Involve your staff in key decisions by listening to opinions from a diverse cross-section. Give respect and time to your team and be open to constructive criticism or suggestions where possible. Actively listen to reduce stress.

Reducing your own stress

  1. Identify the signals of stress as early as possible such as anxiety, depression, sleepless nights, overwhelmed and irritability, as well as physical signs such as high blood pressure, heartburn and muscle tension. Know when things are out of balance, if stress has turned into distress, take action to prevent it from taking over. Talk to someone whether it’s a colleague, friend or family member.
  2. Manage external pressures. During a stressful work period, concentrate on one task at a time and prioritise your work instead of trying to do everything at once. Multi-tasking is a myth. When we try to do more than one thing at a time we are in actual fact switching rapidly between tasks. This is costly in terms of efficiency because we lose precious time with each switch and costly in terms of our stress levels. Concentrate on one thing at a time and get it done.
  3. When you are in the moment of high stress, know when to take time out. Sometimes it is best to allow your mind time to recover and recuperate. Just going for a ten-minute walk outside can really help.
  4. Accept that there are periods of stress at work when you have to put in longer hours that may be acceptable as long as it doesn’t dominate your life. Make sure you find ways to have downtime, relax, disconnect and recharge.
  5. Remember that small amounts of stress for short periods can help us be more creative in finding solutions, develop resilience and even build confidence if we succeed at resolving any issues.

CMI is partnering with Kooth, the UK’s leading online mental health platform to provide our members with a free, safe and anonymous space for online support and counselling. Find out more here. You can see more articles and advice relating to stress and burnout on our Mental Health and Wellbeing hub.

Dr Lynda Shaw is a neuroscientist, business psychologist and change specialist.

Don’t miss out - get notified of new content

Sign-up to become a Friend of CMI to recieve our free newsletter for a regular round-up of our latest insight and guidance.

CMI members always see more. For the widest selection of content, including CPD tools and multimedia resources, check out how to get involved with CMI membership.