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How To Combat Employee Stress Through Regular Performance Discussions

Illustration of a man holding multiple items who stresses about regular performance discussions.

How can man­agers detect stress in their employ­ees and make efforts to alle­vi­ate this problem?

Employ­ee stress can prove to be a very cost­ly prob­lem for organ­i­sa­tions — and this wide­spread issue appears to be get­ting worse by the year.

Between 2015 and 2016, there were 488,000 cas­es of work-relat­ed stress in the UK, result­ing in 11.7 mil­lion lost work­ing days. This equates to 23.9 days per case. When you con­sid­er the mas­sive impact and the loss of pro­duc­tiv­i­ty that can result from this num­ber of work­ing days, you can begin to under­stand why it is such a press­ing per­for­mance man­age­ment con­cern.

The first thing man­agers need to do is to keep an eye out for behav­iours and symp­toms that indi­cate a high lev­el of stress in an employ­ee. This can include the following:

  • A loss of motivation
  • Mood swings and irritability
  • Social with­draw­al from co-workers
  • Con­fu­sion and indecision
  • A gen­er­al state of apathy
  • A lack of concentration
  • Pro­cras­ti­na­tion
  • Poor mem­o­ry
  • Changes in eat­ing habits
  • Increased absen­teeism, leav­ing work ear­ly or com­ing in late

If you notice a num­ber of these qual­i­ties in your employ­ees, or if you have been approached by a num­ber of indi­vid­u­als com­plain­ing of high lev­els of stress, there are steps you can put in place to alle­vi­ate the sit­u­a­tion and coun­ter­act the neg­a­tive effects of stress. This will result in a hap­pi­er, health­i­er work­force in the future.

Hold reg­u­lar per­for­mance dis­cus­sions and show your employ­ees you’re listening

A lot of the time, stress and anx­i­ety can arise when peo­ple think they have nobody to turn to or share their prob­lems with. Your employ­ees should know that when they are deal­ing with a demand­ing work­load, unre­al­is­tic objec­tives, or if their home life is caus­ing prob­lems at work, they can come to you to dis­cuss the sit­u­a­tion.

Man­agers should incor­po­rate reg­u­lar per­for­mance man­age­ment check-ins to give employ­ees the chance to share what they are think­ing and express their con­cerns. It isn’t always easy for employ­ees to approach their man­agers, as they are wor­ried about giv­ing the impres­sion that they can’t han­dle their jobs. But, when man­ag­er-employ­ee meet­ings are more reg­u­lar, trust and a mean­ing­ful con­ver­sa­tion start to devel­op, mean­ing employ­ees are more able to open up.

When employ­ees voice con­cerns over cer­tain work­place process­es or their work­ing hours, take their prob­lems on board and work with them on solu­tions. In time, this will help to cre­ate a com­pa­ny cul­ture that is accept­ing and under­stand­ing of employ­ee stress. Your work­force will feel com­fort­able approach­ing their line man­agers when needed.

To help devel­op a trust­ing rela­tion­ship, we rec­om­mend you have at least one month­ly check-in with your employ­ees. To track these check-ins and to keep HR updat­ed, you can make use of cloud-based per­for­mance man­age­ment soft­ware.

Per­for­mance man­age­ment: give employ­ees rea­son­able, clear SMART objectives

Where objec­tives are con­cerned, employ­ees are like­ly to suf­fer from stress if goals are either unclear or unre­al­is­tic. If goals are vague, employ­ees won’t know what they are doing at work and even the most ambi­tious indi­vid­u­als won’t be able to per­form to stan­dard. Impos­si­ble goals, on the oth­er hand, will most like­ly lead to frus­tra­tion, resent­ment, and burnout.

Dur­ing your month­ly check-ins, use your time to agree employ­ee SMART objec­tives, progress and any issues that might be stand­ing in the way of goal com­ple­tion. Objec­tives should be spe­cif­ic, mea­sur­able, attain­able, rel­e­vant and time-bound. Using this sys­tem along­side a col­lab­o­ra­tive goal-set­ting process, employ­ees will feel less over­whelmed and more con­fi­dent with their abil­i­ty to succeed.

Remem­ber the impor­tance of trans­paren­cy at all times. Employ­ees should know how their objec­tives feed into com­pa­ny goals. This will show your stressed employ­ees that their efforts mat­ter and enable them to focus.

At Clear Review, we have put togeth­er some instruc­tions on how to write inspir­ing SMART objec­tives for mil­len­ni­als which will keep them engaged at work.

Stop micro­manag­ing and embrace autonomy

When employ­ees are stressed, it can be tremen­dous­ly lib­er­at­ing for them to take work at their own pace, work hours that suit them and deter­mine how they are going to approach their work. Such a flex­i­ble approach will result in them feel­ing less restrict­ed and under pres­sure while giv­ing them a sense of own­er­ship and con­trol that can real­ly coun­ter­act their stress.

A lit­tle flex­i­bil­i­ty with regards to your per­for­mance man­age­ment sys­tem can go a long way when it comes to stress. As long as it is com­pat­i­ble with your busi­ness and employ­ees hit their tar­gets, you should con­sid­er doing every­thing you can to grant your employ­ees more auton­o­my. You might con­sid­er telecom­mut­ing options, flexi-time or even a job share. Such an approach can have a huge impact on work-life bal­ance, which can make all the dif­fer­ence to an employee’s atti­tude and engage­ment lev­els at work.

Per­for­mance man­age­ment: don’t fret over smart­phone gaming

If you notice an employ­ee tak­ing anoth­er break from work and open­ing up a game on their smart­phone, take a moment to con­sid­er the upsides. A recent study found that tak­ing breaks and play­ing games on mobile devices can be a great way to com­bat work­place stress. This study revealed that employ­ees who sim­ply sat qui­et­ly, with­out stim­uli, dur­ing their breaks were less engaged with work and suf­fered from more wor­ri­some thoughts, while the par­tic­i­pants who played a video game felt more refreshed fol­low­ing their breaks.

Man­agers should remem­ber that employ­ees need — and deserve — fre­quent breaks to help them recharge.

Encour­age employ­ees to take reg­u­lar breaks and lunch­es away from their desks

Lunch­ing at your desk is one of the worst things you can do for stress lev­els, as you aren’t real­ly get­ting a gen­uine break from work. Your brain is still switched on and focused on the task at hand. What’s more, it has been shown that employ­ees who take time away from their desks to get a breath of fresh air or to socialise with their col­leagues have low­er lev­els of stress and improved blood pres­sure lev­els.

Con­sid­er imple­ment­ing a work­place rule requir­ing employ­ees to step away from their desks for their lunch breaks. Going for a quick walk or vent­ing frus­tra­tions with col­leagues at the water cool­er could go a long way to improv­ing morale, pro­duc­tiv­i­ty, and over­all wellbeing.