Best practice communication underpins the alleviation of most work related stress – in SHE for Health and Safety Professionals

Posted by on Jan 9, 2017 in Features

It’s important for employees to be aware of their company’s mental wellbeing support available, and for some companies Diana is part of that offering and is a resource offered to staff so that they can talk to someone objective, confidentially, and be supported and challenged to find their best personal solution in times of stress. In this blog Diana shares the approaches and tools that have worked best for her clients from different sectors and industries.

The symptoms are normally a mixture of any of the following:

– frequent headaches and/or difficulty in sleeping
– diminished immune system
– quick to anger
– suspicious attitude
– chronic fatigue and bad concentration
– self criticism
– cynicism, negativity, irritability
– emotions quickly out of control.

The very nature of these symptoms makes them feel isolated, even abandoned, so they are in the worst possible place to draw support when it’s most needed, share the problem and workload, and often appear cold, detached and even angry so that they seem less approachable than normal.

Much of Diana’sr coaching is by phone and it is surprising how many of her clients actually just need to express their woes and feel properly listened to, to feel a whole lot better – even though they’ve never met me and I can’t even make them a cup of tea or provide a tissue! Some even get to the solution with me doing nothing more than asking relevant open questions and wind up saying something like ‘I know what I need to do…’. The solution can be obvious once the anxiety, anger or fear that blocks emotional intelligence, is vented.

At other times, it’s often about training the stressed individual to communicate better. Just as one person’s natural modus operandi is to say ‘it’s hardly life or death if I lose this customer’, another will say in the same situation ‘it’s the end of the world…’ Diana uses DISC psychometric profiling to ascertain whether an individual’s communication issues are likely to be about being people pleasers with a possible lack of boundaries and inability to diplomatically push back or say ‘no’. Others may suffer from a lack of assertiveness, oversensitivity or inability to properly address constructive criticism or conflict. All these skills can be learnt.

Sometimes her role is to achieve some ‘quick fixes’ so that the stressed person can return to better productivity as soon as possible. For example, this may be about monitoring time spent and introducing strategies or tweaking behaviours to gradually reduce the time lost anguishing. Meditation and decision making skills can contribute.

The profiling also helps to address stress relating to toxic office relationships, understanding others’ motivations, drivers and fears and to communicate with them, according to their preferences, for best results. Understanding Kilman’s styles for dealing with conflict along with some role playing can be life changing.

A lack of prioritisation lies at the root of a lot of workplace stress. Employees can be helped by knowing the company vision as well as working out their personal vision. Research shows that a sense of progress is motivating, the antithesis of stress, and this progress cannot be achieved if an end point isn’t envisaged. I encourage clients to use Covey’s Quadrant as a prioritisation tool and share it with their teams. An individual (or manager) can quickly see if the priorities have been correctly judged, or whether there are simply too many urgent tasks to fit into one person’s working week.

Where stress is an anxiety about the future, individuals can be taught how to focus on their area of influence only and let go of the rest. This allows them to come up with a specific, plan and focus on the present, achieving the plan, which removes the overwhelming nature of the problem. Many people are helped by establishing a clear, timelined ‘Priorities Chart’: breaking down the workload into up to 6 Vital Few specific goals, a short journey goal, barriers that may hinder progress, and key actions for the week ahead. A load is lifted off their shoulders by simply slicing overwhelming must-dos into achievable chunks. And by scoring themselves out of 10, and revisiting the score weekly or so, they can feel motivating progress and keep on track. As Abraham Lincoln said, ‘A goal properly set is half way reached’.

A by-product of stress is not being able to see the wood for the trees, so having all one’s priorities ‘chunked down’ onto one sheet of paper returns clarity, and decision making ability, as well as a sense of purpose. These people can benefit from considering Pareto’s law also known as the 80/20 rule: where 20% of your actions generate 80% of your results. It can be liberating to know what your 20% is.

Best practice delegation can also be learned. Often people are working untenable hours rather than putting somebody else in the same situation. They need to be helped to see how much of their job list could be done by someone else and why they are hanging onto tasks – perhaps because they have such high standards that they fear no-one will do the task quite like they would? They can learn to judge at the outset which undertakings should involve others, and to ask for each task ‘is this something I can delegate’, and can thus achieve so much more and concentrate on the things that really need them. By starting by delegating the items that will repeat themselves most or those that need least explanation, the ‘delegation muscle’ quickly tones up!

The most useful actions undertaken by Health and Safety Managers and HRs to alleviate the problem for my clients seem to be:

– Clarifying employees’ business priorities and roles, ensuring non conflicting roles
– Promoting positive working relationships to avoid conflict, and engaging the support and resources of line management and colleagues to assist stressed individuals
– Rotating repetitive jobs
– Facilitating time off to replenish and recharge
– Ensuring people know how important they are
– Honest conversations when the first signs of stress manifest themselves
– Finally, training managers not only in stress management, including sensitivity after long leaver from work after a life changing event. Also relevant is good communication especially of organisational change; healthy and supportive delegation without micromanagement where possible; understanding their teams’ personal priorities; the importance of co-invention in delegation; and delivering specific feedback: the best praise reinforces a sense of identity when delivered, and criticism avoids destroying identity when negative. Diana says she’s yet to meet a stressed individual who feels they get enough recognition for a job well done!

About the author

Diana is a business growth coach, specialising in stress and productivity , the majority of her clients present with problems of work overload (perceived or actual), anxiety inducing deadlines and communication issues.

Her newly launched 1-hour online course on managing time and workload related stress is available at half price (£20) to friends of HealthandSafetyZone via the link: https://www.udemy.com/productivity-time-management-techniques-tips-skills-strategies-hacks/?couponCode=HealthandSafetyZone. The course owes its success to giving viewers free psychometric profiling then tailoring the techniques to how each viewer thinks and feels, their personal ‘DNA’.