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Sue Pridham is co-president of Tri Fit, a developer of workplace wellness programs.
Sue Pridham is co-president of Tri Fit, a developer of workplace wellness programs.

LEADERSHIP LAB

Five ways for executives to cut stress at work Add to ...

This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab

Are you concerned about the lacklustre response from your team lately? Are you seeing low productivity and quality of work slipping? Are your staff complaining about workload and time constraints? Are they off sick more often? You are not alone. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 47 per cent of Canadians are reporting feeling stressed anywhere from several days a week to all the time. Doing more with less, long work days and commutes, sedentary lifestyles and the day-to-day pressures of two-income families are just a few of the reasons employees are feeling burnt out.

As a leader you have an opportunity to influence your team’s health, energy and performance. Working well is all about being physically, emotionally and mentally fit for work. Leaders can help employees manage stress through cultural routines, education, programs and flexible policies and procedures. Looking at stress as a team effort will demonstrate compassion and show that you are doing more than just paying lip service to this costly condition. The following examples will help your teams build resilience while fostering a healthier and happier workplace.

Create cultural norms and routines

Creating a healthy workplace culture is a continuous process that needs constant focus and attention. Culture is not determined by motivational words on a wall but by an organization’s day-to-day practices and routines.

Connect with your staff regularly. Ask about their family and activities they are passionate about. Showing you care about them as an individual first can go a long way to building resilience. If issues arise, offer support, and refer employees to an employee and family assistance program (EFAP) where necessary and ensure employees know about this resource.

Give plenty of notice for project deadlines and encourage your team to provide progress reports rather than you micromanaging. When you give employees autonomy over their work it helps to reduce stress. Monitor your employee’s ability to handle their workload and provide time to recover from demanding tasks.

Celebrate and reward small wins. Say ‘thank you’ more often and directly. It is not about the value of the reward but more about the acknowledgement.

Encourage routines that promote regular physical activity such as taking the stairs and standing up regularly throughout the day to stretch. These small changes will improve attention.

Offer programs to promote resilience

Survey employees to find out how the company can support their health and well-being. Communicate how you are going to address their needs and offer training on personal strategies to manage stress. Here are a couple of ideas:

1. Create a wellness intranet site and post tips monthly. Invite employees to share their strategies on social media. The message needs to be continuous.

2. Have an employee recognition day and bring in a registered massage therapist to provide seated massages.

3. Introduce programs that promote relaxation such as yoga classes, meditation sessions, and mindfulness training.

4. Promote breaks throughout the day whether it be a stretch break or a noon hour walk or a walking meeting. Your employees will welcome the chance to ‘quit the sit.’

Conduct an attitude of gratitude campaign.

One of the best ways to de-stress is to focus on the people around you and the things you are grateful for. Provide tips to help employees maintain a positive outlook and find unique ways for them to appreciate co-workers and family members.

Initiate clubs and forums to support employees and help them stay connected. For example, we know new moms returning to work after a maternity leave find it stressful to balance work and family. Have a New Mom’s Club to support this group.

Educate managers on how to recognize signs of stress, burnout and mental health. Provide strategies to approach employees which demonstrate respect, compassion and privacy.

Feature senior leaders in your organization sharing their tips on managing stress and work-life balance.

Review your workplace policies and procedures

Take a look at your workplace policies and procedures. Do they support employee well-being?

With advanced technology, the line between work and home has blurred. Help employees protect their personal time and lead by example. Discourage managers from sending e-mails before 6 a.m. and after 6 p.m. and avoid weekend messaging wherever possible. Also discuss strategies to reduce the amount of e-mail in everyone’s inbox.

Refrain from scheduling meetings over the noon hour to give employees time to do errands, relax or get some exercise. Promote a flexible work environment that gives employees permission to make their own schedules and take breaks when it suits them. Reward and recognize results versus time spent at a desk.

Be a role model

Leading by example will go a long way in sending the message that you care about your employee’s mental, physical and emotional well-being. Bring positive energy and optimism to work every day. Reward and recognize employees who are positive role models for health. Don’t be the last person to leave work every day. Some stress is important in keeping us engaged and productive, but there is a breaking point at which stress becomes a liability. Put your team on the de-stressed list.

Sue Pridham is co-president of Tri Fit (@trifitca), a developer of wellness programs to enhance health and performance in the workplace.

Want to take the pulse of your stress level at work? Take the Globe Careers’ Your Life At Work Survey.

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