An article from the Harvard Business Review claims that the higher up you rise in a business, the less stressed the leaders will be. According to Professors James Gross and Jennifer Lerner, having more autonomy counteracts the negative effects of more responsibilities.
A study by Cameron Anderson found higher socio-economic status is linked to better general well being. And it’s not surprising. Feeling like you are respected leads to confidence, leaving you feeling more secure.
Karen Firestone of the Harvard Business Review was originally sceptical. She runs a small investment firm as CEO, and feels that she too can become very stressed under pressure. Thinking about the firm’s performance in investment seems to be her primary source of worry.
But is she actually calmer than those under her direction? A number of researchers have found that those in superior positions are less likely to fall victim to stress. Their employees generally don’t have offsetting factors like job security, independence, and higher status.
Does less stress equal more success?
So many studies all point to the same thing: no matter how much stress you feel as a boss, your employees will be feeling it more. As Firestone writes, this requires you to take steps to decrease stress and tension in your workforce.
Steve Arneson talks of the “leader’s dilemma.” According to him, this is the issue of creating a balance between company success and stress levels. When stress levels are average, they can create an atmosphere of growth, but too high, and the company will start to lose momentum.
His solution has been suggested by a number of experts attempting to improve a business. He suggests working under a transformational leadership style. The boss should work to support their staff and give positive feedback, so they can put forth their own ideas.
While this seems fantastic in theory, in practice it often doesn’t occur. Firestone provides the example of her friend Terri, a regional sales manager. Her firm was acquired by a larger business, and she suffers anxiety about her job security. Managers and bosses have remained ambiguous about whether she will continue to have a job in three months time.
Of course, no leader can say for certain the answer to every employee need or question. But remaining obscure whether you know the answer or not, can contribute to an atmosphere of stress. Try to remain truthful and sympathetic of how the employee might be feeling, and the motivations behind the question.
When a leader strives to create an atmosphere of security, employees are more loyal, perform better, and stress less.
How to lower stress levels in your workplace
Aside from working on your transformative leadership style, what other steps will lessen employee stress?
Create an atmosphere of certainty and be transparent
There are a number of instances where this is particularly vital. In times of upheaval, it is more important than ever to be open about what is occurring. People often don’t know what will happen to their job, and lose confidence. Be clear about issues such as chain of command, compensation, and job roles. Frederick Herzberg calls these “hygiene factors” in that they’re small changes that are the absolute minimum you should be doing. It doesn’t take much, but the absence of these small assurances will be felt. The Harvard Business Review article stresses that if something is important to someone’s job or tasks, you should tell them about it.
Treat everyone equally
Treating everyone equally seems easy in practice, however it’s often easy to forget, especially if some employees are quieter than others. When people feel slighted, they can become stressed, anxious or angry. In a meeting, make time to listen, and understand everyone’s contributions.
According to Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, 37% of managers didn’t give teams positive reinforcement. They were in fact far more likely to criticize than praise.
Try not to separate yourself from your employees. Get to know them, talk to them about their successes and failures. Thank them for their specific contributions.
While overconfidence can seem cocky, if you are sure of your own abilities, your employees can feel more secure in their job. While it’s important to show that you aren’t a hard-line robot, you can still be compassionate while exhibiting competence.
Only make assurances you can keep
‘Promise’ is a loaded word, so if you can’t keep you word, don’t say anything. If you can’t follow through on something you’ve promised, you become unreliable, and this can be a major source of stress. If you can be committed, employees feel they have something to depend upon.
In all, every effort you make gives employees one less thing to stress about, and the combination could help change your workforce for good.