It is a fact of life that as uncertainty increases, so do our feelings of anxiety and insecurity which, in turn, increase our risk of stress.
This cycle can provide a constant challenge for managers in today’s workplace. However, by developing certain skills, managers can reduce uncertainty and ambiguity which will substantially reduce the risk of stress for those they manage.
In this article, we outline 10 skills worth developing:
1. Good communication
Effective communication with each member of your team is essential as without it people are left in the dark and then tend to imagine a worst case scenario. Remember that, in stress terms, what is known is better than what is unknown. The unknown invariably causes worrying thoughts and rumination which can lead to symptoms of anxiety as the body goes into “fight-flight” mode. If this continues over a period of time it can be very damaging to mental and/or physical health. Even if the news is not good, talking about it can generate alternative strategies which not only reduce uncertainty but increase a sense of control. Developing active listening skills is also essential as, to be effective, communication needs to be a two-way process.
2. Be Approachable
This ties in with good communication and helps it become a two-way process. If you are perceived as a manager who has an ‘open door’ and who is approachable, your team are more likely to share their fears with you. Investing in relationships and seeing each other as human beings as well as work colleagues, will reap many benefits and, in terms of stress prevention, will be one of the best investments you can make. Being supportive and making sure staff know about support structures which are available either through HR, Employee Assistance Programmes or the local community will also be appreciated.
3. Avoid ambiguity
Be clear as uncertainty and ambiguity, particularly when discussing job roles, tasks or priorities, can become a major source of stress for team members. It is worth highlighting 2 such major stressors –
- ‘role ambiguity’ when a team member is unsure what their role really is or who they are answerable to
- ‘role conflict’ when team members have conflicting demands and priorities
Again it is obvious to see how good communication plays a critically important part in minimizing the uncertainty these ‘role’ stressors can cause.
4. Never assume
Just because something is obvious to you, don’t assume it will be obvious to anyone else. Assuming that team members will work out why you are doing something in a particular way is very dangerous. Again, communication plays a vital role so everyone is clear. Clarify which responsibilities or tasks are most important and help team members to prioritise their workloads so imperative tasks get done and deadlines are not missed.
5. Set achievable objectives and realistic timetables
Think ahead by planning and scheduling workload. Try to minimise peaks and troughs wherever you can. If your business has particularly busy periods, ensure you don’t make them even busier by scheduling tasks within those times which could be dealt with during a quieter period. When setting objectives or passing work to team members think about the range of roles, responsibilities and tasks that they have. Pay particular attention to any conflicting roles or priorities within their workload and aim to resolve any conflicts, allowing them enough time to carry out any work given.
6. Don’t take anyone for granted
Taking people for granted undermines their sense of control. It is therefore vital not only to ensure that you don’t do it but also to encourage those within your team not to do it either.
7. Refrain from giving mixed messages
This may sound easy but, in practice in today’s complicated workplace, is far from it. Take the example of a manager encouraging their team to show initiative and think ‘outside the box’ to achieve a set task but then emphasising that they shouldn’t make any mistakes. Mixed messages such as this will increase ambiguity and therefore increase team member’s risk of stress. Developing a reputation as an approachable manager and encouraging your team to speak up when they are unsure, will help them feel able to let you know when you give mixed messages and allow you to clarify what you really mean.
8. Reduce email stress
Emails can cause a great deal of stress to those who receive them. Remember that they are another source of communication and should be handled as such. Think about the impact they may have when they appear curt, even rude, and often ambiguous. Unlike the spoken word, the reader cannot query something or ask for justification. This, coupled with email overload, can add to the pressure felt by team members which will increase feelings of a lack of control and an inability to cope. The rule here is to use sparingly and go to speak to or phone team members whenever possible rather than taking the easy approach and firing off an email.
Delegation enables individuals to have control and so, in stress terms, is a critical management skill. It passes a message to your team members that you trust them to get the task done without constantly looking over their shoulders. In turn, this feeling of control generally makes people work harder, achieve more and be more satisfied with the outcome. Another important aspect of delegation is planning, thereby handing over tasks as soon as you can rather than sitting on them and only delegating them when a deadline is approaching. Many managers find that enabling control is not an easy skill to learn and, at first, feel very uncomfortable and vulnerable but sticking with it will pay great dividends in the long run.
10. Provide regular feedback
By giving regular feedback you will reduce uncertainty and reduce team members’ risk of stress. People need to know both what you think and how they are doing. If you don’t tell them, they will make assumptions which may not be positive and may therefore cause them stress. So providing regular, constructive criticism is vital to reduce uncertainty and the risk of stress.
If you would like to learn more about how managers can manage stress in themselves and others, you may be interested in the following training course:
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