Teaching Employees Stress Coping Techniques That Work
“Stress is physical and emotional wear and tear on the body resulting from either real or imagined pressures, conflicts, or frustrations.”
While job stress affects worker productivity and job satisfaction, it also costs U.S. industry more than $200 billion per year. Leaders have an obligation to teach their employees coping techniques for managing the stress in their lives. Think about your team members who are currently having difficulty managing their personal and job stressors, and consider how you can assist them.
Most of the successful leaders I have worked with see themselves as teachers who are willing to impart the stress management coping techniques that have worked for them. This is critical leader behavior since stress is an inevitable part of our daily lives. You can discuss coping techniques in a team meeting or one-on-one mentoring sessions; but you can also model techniques that work for you. For example, if I have a student who requests to take the quiz/ exam later in the week due to a death in the family, I reply to the student, “Yes, let’s reschedule the assignment due to your circumstances. Class is important, but family comes first.”
In 54 years of teaching, I am not aware of anyone taking advantage of this situation. However, I remind myself not to be naive since a student has a limited number of grandmothers. I also use the same technique with employees, but I become suspicious if the request for taking a leave occurs routinely on Monday mornings.
When dealing with faculty, students, and support staff, as a teacher and administrator, I am open with them concerning when I am going through a stressful situation, such as having a stroke in 2012 or the illness of a grandchild. I try to behave in a manner that allows them to see my personal concerns and how I handle the situation.
In my leadership classes, I discuss the coping techniques that have worked for me and other leaders, as well as techniques that were not successful. For example, I discuss how I attempt to create balance in my life with proper exercise, nutrition, mental stimulation, developing and maintaining relationships, and my spirituality. I admit to slowing a bit physically as I get ready to reach 80 years in a year, but it is relative as I continue to teach online, travel, and write with renewed passion.
Techniques for Helping Employees Deal with Stress
Consider implementing the following techniques that I have used to help my team develop their own stress management behaviors:
- Provide effective performance feedback as you assist each employee in reviewing her/his personal vision and work performance, and develop an improvement plan together for the next evaluation cycle.
- Provide opportunities for employees to participate in the decision-making process by moving the decision to the appropriate level of interest and function.
- Give orders and task assignments with priorities, so employees do not have to guess what is important to you.
- Don’t allow yourself to be a “stress carrier” where you “give” stress to the team and then leave the area.
- Look for signs of job burnout in your employees and yourself.
- Encourage your team to read daily for both enjoyment and education. I attempt to read a book every 1 to 2 weeks. I rediscovered the joy of fiction reading during my stroke recovery. I currently read about global intelligence and detective stories for fun, e.g., David Baldacci, Tom Clancy, and James Patterson. I also enjoy reading the history of WWII. I learned to implement reading as stress management technique by following the example of Bill Gates.
Bill Gates indicates that he reads 50 books per year, regardless of his work load. He specifically recommended five books he read in 2016, including Archie Brown’s The Myth of the Strong Leader. Brown is Professor of Politics at Oxford University (UK). Gates comments: “Brown shows that the leaders who make the biggest contributions to history and humanity generally are not the ones we perceive to be ‘strong leaders.’ Instead, they tend to be the ones who collaborate, delegate, and negotiate—and recognize that no one person can or should have all the answers” (accessed January 22, 2017).1
Consider these ten excellent strategies provided by Merrill Raber and George Dyck for supervisors to follow in helping employees to manage job stress:
- Maintain a safe and organized work environment.
- Clarify work unit goals and objectives.
- Be sure individual job expectations and instructions are clear.
- Evaluate workloads and deadlines. Are they reasonable?
- Have regular reviews to provide accurate and timely feedback. Give assurance that good work is appreciated.
- Show patience, understanding, and support in dealing with employee problems.
- Deal with personality differences directly and constructively.
- Coach and develop employees to their full potential.
- Involve people, as much as possible, in decisions that affect them.
- Keep communication flowing with an open-door policy.2
1. Bill Gates Says These Were the 5 Best Books He Read in 2016 (posted on 12/05/16); and Bill Gates Shares the Critical Lesson He Learned from His 4th Grade Teacher.
2. Raber, Merrill and Dyck, George. (1993). Managing Stress for Mental Fitness. Los Altos, CA: Crisp Publications; Sauter, S., et. al., (2013). Stress at Work. (pub. 99 – 100). National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The Myth of the Strong Leader: Political Leadership in the Modern Age by Archie Brown
TEDxSydney – Nigel Marsh – Work Life Balance Is an Ongoing Battle
Buy your own copy of Stress: Living and Working in a Changing World today!
Kent Curtis, Author
Jennifer Zimmerman, Editor