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handling stress at work

When the canary in the coal mine stops chirping, you know there’s a problem. When your team stop telling you about issues, you have a problem too.

Many leaders seem to think that their team members will tell them when they are unhappy. That their team will come to them and say that they have too much work. You need to make sure your team is handling stress at work, otherwise they’ll burn out.

Your team won’t tell you they are burning out

People don’t want to tell their manager that they have too much work, because:

  • They don’t want you to see them as lazy
  • If they are being given such a large workload, then they feel that it is expected as part of the role. If they don’t handle it, they feel they’re underperforming
  • Saying “no” can be an uncomfortable conversation
  • They may think their manager is horrible and raising the issue will be pointless.

If you are a good leader (or want to be), then you might be upset to find out that team members aren’t coming to you for help. So how can you work out whether your team is handling stress at work or remaining silent? Have they checked out?

Unfortunately, even if you try hard to develop open communication within your team, some people may still feel uncomfortable coming to you with workload issues, because they might think you will see them as underperforming. Cultural differences can also matter here. Some cultures don’t encourage speaking up to leaders and they may absorb the heavy workload instead.

This is why you can’t rely on your team telling you when there is too much work. You need to spot the signs that your team is handling stress at work, or if they are burning out.

To make sure your team is handling stress at work, assess their workload

In the hustle and bustle of work, leaders are busy. As a result, they end up pushing tasks down to their teams. This is what eventually leads to overworking your team members.

It’s important to set aside time to actually assess what your team is doing. You can’t monitor what they do every day, so you need to stop and do some analysis. Some things to look for are:

  • The amount of meetings that a team member is expected to attend. If they are in meetings all the time, when do you expect them to be doing work?
  • The number of people they need to deal with. If one of your team is dealing with many people all requiring support, this takes up a lot more of their time.
  • The number of pieces of work they need to handle. Doing work one person can be easier than needing to do lots of unrelated work. The amount of task swapping that occurs in someone’s day can have a dramatic effect on their stress levels and productivity.
  • The number of deliverables they are expected to complete. Is the amount that needs to be produced by this person reasonable? Or does it make it difficult for them to focus and actually get some work done?

To make sure your team is handling stress at work, monitor the behaviour of team members

It’s not enough to look at the work of your team members in isolation. A key indicator that your team is not handling stress at work is in their behaviour. Some key aspects to look for are:

  • Stress behaviours: Irritability, headaches, anger, lack of communication, disengagement with peers are all good examples of stress behaviours to look out for.
  • Working hours: Does your team member work late often? Do they send emails after hours during their personal time? Do they answer emails when they are on holiday?
  • Behavioural change: Sometimes a change in behaviour tells you that something is wrong. Maybe your team member is normally bright and bubbly, but now they are silent. Perhaps they used to go do lunch with their team mates and now they eat alone at their desk.

Taking the time to check what your team is doing is critical, and many leaders overlook it. Many leaders rely on the saying “no news is good news” when it comes to dealing with their teams. If this is you, you won’t know whether your team is handling stress at work. Or if they are close to burning out.

Some managers expect their team to come to them with workload issues. If their team doesn’t do that, there needs to be another way to check and balance the workload. Otherwise there is a real risk of leading your team to burnout and unhappiness. Maybe they will simply choose to work elsewhere.

Stop, take notice and balance the work of your team before it’s too late.

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