Stress test – In LGE

Posted by on Jan 9, 2017 in Features

With local government workers being asked to take on ever-growing workloads in the face of demoralising cuts, performance coach Diana Jervis Read offers her advice on identifying and addressing the signs of stress.

As a business coach specialising in stress and productivity, I see common threads to dealing with stress, whatever the setting.

I have more experience than I should have in low morale staff being asked to take on ever-greater workloads that overwhelm them. The very nature of this situation 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 – when communication is their lifeline.

Thus it important to undertake an honest conversation when the first signs of stress manifest themselves, asking plenty of open questions that can’t be answered by a monosyllable, and paraphrasing or summarising the conversation regularly to be sure of complete understanding. I have seen at first-hand how if I listen without once interrupting, some clients are able to vent and shed the emotion, see the bald facts for what they are and come to their own conclusion – without me saying a word.

The most discernible signs of stress are likely to be 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.
Heads of departments can also help alleviate stress by instituting the following best practices:

Clarify employees’ work priorities and roles, ensuring non-conflicting roles. A lack of prioritisation lies at the root of a lot of workplace stress. 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 – which divides jobs into four quadrants based on their importance and/or urgency – as a prioritisation tool and share it with their teams. An individual or their 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.

Promote positive working relationships to avoid conflict, and engaging the support and resources of line management and colleagues to assist stressed individuals.

Rotate repetitive jobs.

Facilitate time off to replenish and recharge.

Ensure people know how important they are. I’ve yet to meet a stressed individual who feels they get enough recognition for a job well done. The most motivating praise is specific to the job done and reinforces the person’s identity. Likewise, the most constructive criticism takes care not to destroying identity, eg “you are still the gifted manager you were this morning…”.

Good communication, especially of organisational change and how it will benefit the organisation (and ideally the individual too). While some people embrace change, others need to experience it in small, incremental modifications.

Healthy and supportive delegation without micromanagement where possible, varying the level of support according to the individual’s competence and attitude. An under-confident but proficient employee needs more personal support to believe he/she is up to the task, whereas a less skilled but confident individual needs more experience-based guidance. Where possible, consider the task together, co-inventing the solution to a challenge so that the individual takes ownership rather than feeling used or abandoned.

Understand teams’ personal priorities outside of the workplace.

Finally, train managers in stress management, including the necessary sensitivity after a life-changing event happens to an individual.
There are also plenty of tailored techniques that can be directly taught to individuals to increase their prioritisation and delegation, control over their day, clear communication and ability to push back, collaboration and more.

See Diana’s recently launched one-hour online course on managing time and workload-related stress available at half price (£20), to friends of LGE. Click here.

Diana Jervis Read is an accredited coach with the Coaching Academy, specialising in productivity and stress, and has been consulting for over 20 years.