How Leaders Can Push Employees Without Stressing Them Out

Studies show that bosses feel less stressed than their employees do. Bosses’ perceptions of stress are offset by factors such as status, autonomy, and job security – these are generally higher for managers than for their employees.

Steve Arneson describes the “leader’s dilemma” as a quandary, of how to secure the greatest output at a company without building stress to the point of diminishing returns. He recommends the transformational style of leadership, in which a manager provides support and positive feedback to his/her staff; building respect, commitment, and cooperation within the workforce. It’s a great idea! Unfortunately, the corporate landscape is littered with violations of this concept.

No leader, no matter how in the hierarchy, can have all the answers to all the questions an employee might ask; but one must be honest, considerate, and try to answer them. Studies show that, when a leader create a safe and supportive environment, individuals tend to feel more connected to that leader, perform at a higher level, and experience less stress than when they felt unattached to their boss.

So what should we be doing to reduce the stress of our employees? Below mentioned are some suggestions:

To the greatest extent you can, provide certainty and clarity. This is especially important for job functions, lines of reporting, compensation, and any significant changes in or to the organization. In a classic article, Frederick Herzberg called these things “hygiene factors.”  Without clarity on important issues, everyone’s mind goes to the ‘worst-case scenario’ and productivity suffers.

Be fair. When people feel that they are being treated unfairly, they tend to suffer anxiety, assign blame, and become stressed. Fairness can take the form of: spending equal time with those in your next level of command; listening to everyone at a meeting; explaining your decision-making processes more clearly; and recognizing when someone might feel slighted.

Show support and gratitude. That sounds easy in theory, but it isn’t in practice. So, get up and walk around to talk with people and thanking them for helping on a project: hitting a sales goal; bringing in a new account; or staying late. Putting resources, money, and praise behind their efforts will alert colleagues that the firm cares about supporting people who do good work.

Exhibit self-confidence and competence as a leader. When executives demonstrate their own abilities, it provides an assurance to co-workers that they are under the direction of a “pack leader” who can protect them. Feeling safe, as described above, is a key factor in stress reduction and job satisfaction. The best executives need to illustrate both warmth and competence.

Keep your promises. It’s important that leaders are the prime example of thoroughly executing on their own commitments, especially to the people who support them. Too much stress results from people becoming worried about the lack of follow-through by the boss on promises or offers made, even when they are well intentioned.

Applying these principles into daily leadership practice should help relieve employee stress. The team at Actuate Business Consulting, a knowledge based management consulting firm in India, believes that some of the aforementioned may be second nature for many leaders, but less obvious for others. The high rates of stress and low rates of engagement in organizations show that even if they sound like common sense not enough bosses pay attention to them.

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