Do you have a team who seems constantly stressed out, always running at the last minute to get things done? When you ask “how are you” are you constantly met with “really busy” as a reply?
Have you ever stopped to reflect on the impact of being in such a reactive state?
Or on whether you may be contributing to these patterns in your role as a middle manager? Or what you could do to help shift them?
Too many teams function in a state of chaos and reactivity on a regular basis, at a great cost to the entire organization. Granted, we’ve been dealing with COVID. And yes, COVID has thrown A LOT of uncertainty and unknown variables into business that have catapulted many teams into a state of high stress.
For understandable reasons.
When you’re in a management or leadership position, it’s particularly important to become aware of the impact that unmanaged stress can have both on your and your team members’ ability to get things done efficiently.
The complaints of lack of motivation, difficulty concentrating, poorer performance and not feeling connected to others? They’re all side effects of chronic stress.
So how did we get here?
Expectations for productivity, performance and profits have continued to increase over the years. Even prior to COVID-19, boundaries between home and work life had significantly eroded, with business communications popping up on our cell phones at all hours.
Kids were being chauffeured straight from school to extra-curricular activities, back to home for dinner, homework and a bath. Parents would then find themselves spending the rest of their evenings catching up on work, housework or planning for the next day. Only to flop into bed later than they’d wanted, already counting how few hours of sleep they would get until their alarms rang the next morning.
COVID-19 didn’t create the stress we’re under. We did.
We did it through the decisions we made. Small decisions, each and every day which amounted to a life that was overly busy, disconnected and sometimes downright miserable.
And yes. These decisions were made in the context of a society that has put increasing pressure on performance and achievements. Many times, they were made without even realizing that there could be a different way.
Yet, at the end of the day, you are the only person who can truly make the decision to no longer be a hamster in a wheel. You’re the only one who can no longer expect your team members to do so. YOU can be the person who can start to influence this type of change.
COVID-19 has simply amplified what was already not working
A year into the pandemic, it’s become increasingly clear the extent to which unmanaged stress seeps into every facet of our lives. When we’re under a lot of pressure, we tend to fall back into automatic habits. Some of which don’t always serve us.
COVID-19 has been a catalyst that is helping us to see more clearly which of our behaviours and decisions have never truly served us. Many teams and individuals have been in a state of reactivity for years. Both at work and at home.
COVID has simply amped it up.
One thing that can happen when we find ourselves caught in this high-stress, adrenaline-flowing, mind-whirring state is that we can push our own stress onto those around us.
We set super-human expectations upon ourselves and expect others to do the same.
We become less present in the moment and our communication with others suffers.
We end up being more impatient and demanding, less accepting of imperfection, less forgiving.
We turn into a version of ourselves that doesn’t quite reflect how we truly want to be showing up in the world.
It happens to me and it happens to my clients. Because we’re human. And it’s how stress impacts the brain.
The stress of COVID-19 will likely not be going anywhere anytime soon. But we can use it as a catalyst for change. When we start to recognize what drives the habits and behaviours that no longer serve us, we then have the power to make decisions that serve us better.
How do we find our way back?
1. Redefine your relationship with performance and achievement
Many of us have been praised for our achievements since the time we were small children. This may have created a relationship where your sense of self-worth may be tied to what you accomplish. Finding our way back to less automatic, reactive ways of being means starting to untangle this relationship.
It means truly buying into the notion that your worth is not based on what you produce and achieve. It means trusting that prioritizing well-being is not mutually exclusive with reaching your goals and that doing so will not lead you and your team members to stop being effective.
2. Notice the relationship between stress management, well-being and performance.
Start noticing how your own performance and well-being are impacted when you’re under too much stress.
Do you have a tendency to focus solely on project deadlines and brainstorm ideas for how to get more done, while letting go of most of the healthy habits that help you to manage stress? Do you push your own stress onto your team members, demanding more and more out of them?
Do you tend to freeze and lose a lot of time by thinking about how stressed you are and frustrate your team members through a lack of clear direction?
By recognizing your reactions to stress, you’ll be in a better position to step out of the types of patterns that don’t serve you.
3. Prioritize managing your own stress.
When you find yourself hitting a moment when stress is significantly impacting your well-being and/or your performance, use it as a sign to focus on stress management first. Even better, do this consistently, before you even hit those moments.
Modeling setting limits on what you will take on and prioritizing your well-being as a foundation to performance will send clear signals to your team members that it is ok for them to do so also.
4. Check in with your team members regularly.
Don’t solely check-in regarding project deadlines or next steps. When you interact with team members only in a transactional way, they start to feel like cogs in a wheel. Take a moment to ask them how they’re doing. As a person. Encourage them to make decisions that prioritize their well-being, such as making sure they take their lunch break each day.
The problem isn’t when people make a decision from time to time to prioritize a work deadline over working through lunch. The problem is when it becomes habitual and when it’s done at the expense of the person’s well-being.
5. Support, without feeling entirely responsible for the well-being of your team.
As a middle manager, your role is to support your team members as best as possible, without becoming entirely responsible for their well-being. Your team members also have a responsibility to manage their own stress and to speak up when they need help or when something isn’t working for them. Your role is to create an environment where they feel comfortable doing so.
Although I would never say that someone is responsible for someone else’s stress, being in a management or leadership position does come with the responsibility of ensuring that your authority isn’t being misused in a way that encourages team members to forego their own well-being.
If you’re interested in exploring how you can create a culture where psychological safety and well-being are the foundation to sustainable performance, book a complimentary 30-minute discovery call and let’s chat.
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