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Leading Your Team In Stressful Times

Thursday 17 February, 2005
While you can never predict the unexpected, you can develop strategies to cope with it. This will help you in a crisis and will reduce ongoing stress by minimising uncertainty in your business.

Workers will suffer less stress if they know that effective plans have been made to protect them in case of a crisis. They will also be reassured by effective communication of what those plans are.

Crises come in many forms, and problems that are minor for one business could be disastrous for another. A crisis could be caused by burst water mains, fallen power lines, technical failures that shut down information systems, leakage of hazardous materials, workplace violence, a death in the workplace, fire, etc.

Prepare a crisis plan

Although it is never pleasant to think about the consequences of a workplace crisis, most employees will benefit from the confidence that they know how to behave in an emergency. Prepare a plan to cover your various crisis scenarios. You will need to appoint a leadership structure that can react effectively to a workplace crisis. The leader does not need to be the CEO, who may spend much of the time away from the workplace and could be absent during a crisis. Leaders could be the managers for different shifts, for example.

Develop a crisis procedures manual and assign roles for employees. The procedures set out in the manual need to be drilled. Evacuation procedures should be practised, for example, so that workers will not be thinking about what to do in an emergency – they will actually be doing it.

Fostering resilience

Not all stress comes from crisis situations. We all cope with moderate levels of stress as a part of normal life. We even thrive on moderate levels of stress, as low levels of stress can lead to boredom and depression.

Rather than trying to eliminate all stress, good leaders help people to develop resilient attitudes and strategies for dealing with stress.

A lot of workplace stress is subjective. The distress that a person may feel is not necessarily a result of what actually exists objectively in the job, it can be a result of how the person perceives what is happening.

Stress varies according to an individual’s skills, knowledge and attitudes. For example, some people hate working to deadlines. Others thrive on it.

If you introduce a new computer system to your workplace, you’re likely to find your older employees stressed, while younger employees are excited by new possibilities. But the situation could be reversed during a business crisis. The veterans might cope coolly, using their experience, while their younger colleagues flounder.

Match skills and jobs

One way to minimise stress is to match employees with their areas of skill. When you hire or re-deploy, try to identify the team member’s personal inclinations and strengths. For example, if an individual loves to take initiative, don’t put them where they will be closely supervised, and don’t leave employees alone if they need a lot of support.

Give people options

Building resilience also means giving people options. People suffer less stress when they feel they have some control. Encouraging people to take ownership of a situation will build their resilience. This may not only help your business to weather difficult times - it may add to your bottom line too.

Basic stress tips

Reducing workplace stress does not always mean full-blown industrial re-engineering. There are a few basic things you can do to minimise workplace stress.

For example, stress can be caused by poor air quality (due to air-conditioning or workplace chemicals), poor lighting, high noise levels, and poorly designed and uncomfortable office furniture.

If the workplace is depressing your employees, change it. This is likely to increase their productivity and reduce absenteeism.

You can’t tell your employees how to run their lives. But it won’t hurt to include health tips in documents such as induction manuals. Communicate the benefits of good nutrition and exercise, as many people are simply unaware of key facts about their daily diet.

Regular exercise helps people cope with and minimise stress. And your employees should not feel guilty about setting aside time for relaxation, pursuing hobbies or simply doing nothing in particular. Everyone needs downtime.

If both you and your employees keep an eye on stress, your workplace is likely to be a better, happier and more productive environment.

Author Credits

Reprinted with permission of chartered accountants and business advisors, Bentleys MRI. For further information please contact Bentleys MRI. Visit www.bentleys.com.au.

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