In seeking to prevent stress, the aim is not to reduce pressure for the sake of it. The right amount of pressure can be motivating and good for both health and performance. However, excessive pressure or demands will cause stress, especially when the pressure is unremitting or ‘chronic’.
In today’s workplace, the risk of stress comes mainly from ‘overload’, or too much pressure. But you should also bear in mind that a lack of challenge or too little pressure (‘underload’ as it is sometimes called) may also cause stress-related problems.
While enabling control, reducing uncertainty and providing support (the C, U and S of CUSPTM) will make an enormous difference in terms of how well your staff can cope with the inevitable pressures in the workplace, there may also be things you can do that will directly reduce the pressures they are under. When thinking about how you can prevent stress in your team, it is useful to think about the pressures on your staff, identify the ones you have some influence over and look at ways to reduce them. The following points give common-sense, general ideas on ‘pressure-reducers’:
- Set achievable objectives. Make sure when you set your staff objectives that what you are asking them to do is reasonable. Avoid giving anyone an excessive workload. Monitor this regularly, not just at the time of appraisal.
- Distribute tasks fairly between team members. When considering who should do what within your team, ensure that you are not giving anyone an unfair proportion of the overall workload.
- Set realistic timescales. Allow people enough time to carry out the work you give them. Bear in mind how long tasks take and what other priorities a person has when setting deadlines for particular pieces of work.
- Make priorities clear. When you ask staff to do work, make clear which responsibilities or tasks are the most important. Also clarify which are the most urgent. Help staff prioritise their workloads to ensure that the important things get done and that deadlines are not missed.
- Plan ahead. Think about workload planning and scheduling. Aim to minimise peaks and troughs wherever you can. If your work area has particularly busy periods for any reason, ensure that you don’t make the busy periods busier by making demands for things that could have been handled in a quieter period.
- Hand over tasks as soon as you can. Don’t sit on requests or pieces of work that have come in and only hand them over when the deadline is approaching.
- Avoid giving staff conflicting tasks or roles. When setting objectives or giving staff work, think about the range of roles, responsibilities and tasks that they have. Look to see whether they have conflicting roles or priorities within their workload and aim to resolve any conflicts.
- Match tasks to skills. When allocating work, bear in mind the strengths and weaknesses of your team members. Aim to play to people’s strengths and give them tasks for which their skills are a good fit.
- Avoid giving staff repetitive and boring work where possible. Giving people insufficient challenge and stimulation in their work can cause stress. Consider how you can add interest and challenge to people’s jobs.
- Minimize environmental pressures. Consider aspects of the work environment such as noise, lighting, temperature, pollution etc. If these things make the workplace uncomfortable for staff, they can cause stress. Find ways of tackling these issues wherever possible. This is an area where ‘quick wins’ are often possible. Anything you can do to improve the working environment for your staff will contribute to preventing and reducing stress.