Is your employees' stress stressing you out?
Well, of course, the answer is “Yes!” In my last blog, we looked at why we can’t afford to ignore the record stress levels anymore. Too much is at risk: mental and physical health, happiness, creativity, focus, production, business agility, human brilliance, and profits! And there is so much to gain if we shift away from symptom-oriented/piecemeal approaches to systematically apply strategies that leverage the science of human performance and resilience at the individual and organizational level. This is the path to thriving humans and successful, agile organizations—flexibility in action!
What works in resilience building?
Top-down and bottom-up approaches must be integrated to change conversations. Focus on optimizing energy, opening curiosity, creating safety/transparency/vulnerability, playing to strengths, and counteracting the natural negative bias of the mind to cultivate (real-life) positivity and possibility. Insist on integrity with the values and goals in every aspect of language and operations. Aim for creating a culture that will encourage desired behaviors and growth mindsets. Use a multi-pronged approach that meets each individual where they are. This will empower the strength and flexibility of your people and you.
Of course, this all takes courage and patience! But doesn’t anything with great payoff? You are asking humans to make behavior changes—brain changes--that take motivation, time, and practice. But the really good news: even small shifts can add up quickly to large results!
Here are some keys to successful resilience building:
- In a non-judgmental, curious way, solve the organizational parts of the puzzle. Identify key sources of job-related stress and get creative with new ways to get the work done without eroding your workforce capacity. Employees on the frontlines often have solutions in mind and engagement increases when they are involved in strategizing. Look at how communication plays a role in your organization’s flow. It can be a huge source of stress or resilience. Sometimes something as simple as a meeting between 2 departments to understand how they can better collaborate solves a lot of friction. Remember, resilient employees still don’t last if the organizational issues aren’t addressed.
- Leadership must be fully engaged! Leaders must use empowering language, appreciative inquiry, model vulnerability, and mentor curiosity and a growth mindset. They are role models for learning new skills to manage energy, including self-care. Leaders do not need to have the answers, but to ask the better questions. Language is critical to how toxic a stressor is to humans, including the language between our ears. This does not mean glossing over or avoiding hard challenges but elevating the conversation with humanity and compassion to tap creativity and possibility and leverage meaning and purpose, the intrinsic motivators. Leaders hold the vision of what thriving could look like on every level.
- Normalize what people are feeling. Because we were not taught these resilience skills, far too many people are feeling unnecessary shame on top of their stress. We must take the stigma out of stress, burnout, and mental/emotional diseases. Recognize that each human has their own challenges—this is real life. We have kids, aging parents, health issues, and personal challenges at the same time we have brilliance and enormous contributions to make. We have different genetics, experiences, circumstances, ways of processing, and strengths. Help everyone develop better self-awareness, of how they are, what they need to thrive, and how to get the support they need. Brainstorm together in nonjudgmental ways.
- Provide a model of stress management and resilience that everyone can understand. This allows each person to better figure out their own puzzle, the different ways they can make shifts, and what skills would benefit them to manage their own stress and build mental and emotional fitness. This puts everyone on the same page of understanding, using common language to promote more effective conversations and solutions. Helping your employees manage any type of stress benefits the company.
- Then slowly build a culture that supports humanity, ongoing curiosity, learning, and the experimentation with and practice of new patterns. Learning new behaviors, like learning any new skill, requires repeated attention to the intention to create the brain pathways to make them stick. Start meetings with non-judgmental energy check-in’s. Notice and celebrate any positive changes—research proves this step actually wires the brain for future success. Keep reinforcing the power of small changes, Kaizen steps. Build in reflection to capture lessons learned. And frequently brainstorm future possibilities.
It has taken many years (decades!) of well-intentioned, but misguided practices and a series of intense challenges to get us to this level of stress and burnout. But the conversation has started. We have learned so much, most importantly, that the human spirit is remarkable. Let’s create a more human-friendly world of thriving organizations!
Author: Cindi Ackrill MD, Fellow of the American Institute of Stress