Leadership Development

Step-by-Step Guide for Managing Stress as a Leader

Leaders are faced with challenges from every level of their organization – there’s the overwhelming sensation of deadlines, co-worker tension, performance expectations, shifting priorities, work overload, and having the responsibility of leading a team, to name a few. Although your stressors may be different from a colleague’s, these occupational pressures lead to high-stress levels for all leaders. Regardless of your stressors, you’ll need to find ways to manage the impact of your stress and still be an effective leader. Once you can manage your stress, you can learn how to manage your team members’ stress, leading to higher engagement, morale, and performance. The impact of having a more engaged team will in-and-of-itself reduce the number of stressors popping up, increasing productivity all around.
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Stress in the workplace often impacts relationships and can take an emotional and physical toll. According to a survey conducted by The American Institute of Stress in 1999, the number of hours worked increased by 8 percent to an average of 47 hours a week with 20 percent of individuals working 49 hours a week. Each generation continues to work longer and harder. It is important that employers train leaders on how to manage stress and conflict, as well as ensuring their needs are being met to promote job satisfaction, which leads to productivity.

 

Stress at Work

According to a 2018 survey by the American Psychological Association, 64% of American adults suffer from work-related stress. With job pressure being a top cause of stress in the United States, it is easy for tension and conflict to arise between yourself and a colleague or manager, resulting in a strain that distracts employees from focusing on the bottom-line. To exaggerate this stress further, it also impacts other team members who are inevitably affected by the tension around them.

It costs employers $300 billion annually in stress-related health care and missed work, which makes sense when 33 percent of people live with extreme stress in their everyday lives, according to the same survey. A 1997 study conducted by a large corporation found that 60% of employee absences could be traced to job stress. To combat this stress, leaders must discover the right coping mechanisms for our unique personality, when we fall into our stress mode. Stress occurs when pressures or demands get out of hand, forcing you to react when things happen outside of your comfort zone. Gone unmanaged, stress is uncomfortable and unproductive, but when individuals learn how to manage their triggers of stress, they can change the impact it has on their health and lives.

On a personality level, if you are someone who needs structure and processes put into place within your role and you are not receiving that, you may become over-insistent on rules and resist change. Leaders who prefer more flexibility might have the opposite reaction when they experience a less-than-ideal work environment. But how can you determine your stressors? By identifying your expectations (Birkman Needs) and ensuring they are met.

 

Understand Your Different Stressors

Stress is our reaction when the world around us doesn’t operate as we think it should – when our Needs are not being stress-pie-chartmet. Therefore, different personalities react differently to stress because our expectations of our workplace environment differ from person to person. Let’s walk through three steps to understanding your stress triggers to combat your stress reactions.

1. Stressors. Start by identifying what is causing your stress. Is an employee not listening to feedback? Are you experiencing miscommunication? Is there conflict in the workplace? Are you working increasingly longer work hours? Most likely, you will realize there are multiple areas of your work life, creating tension.

2. Stress Indicators. Next, recognize your stress indicators. Does your heart rate accelerate? Do you become more impatient? For some, it’s natural to withdraw when under stress, while others tend to become more vocal and animated. Recognizing your natural tendencies is crucial to making changes to your stress reaction.

3. Needs. Finally, learn and understand what your unique Needs are. Do you need a quiet environment with room to think, or do you prefer a collaborative team? Do you prefer blunt, direct conversations with coworkers, or are you more productive when others use a more suggesting approach? Once you know what you need, or expect, from your environment, you can recognize that it’s when these Needs are not being met that you immediately go into your stress mode.

Once you attain awareness of your needs, the stressors causing tension, and how you react when those needs aren’t met, you can start to take action!

Our Birkman Stress Behaviors Workshop Toolkit set will help you gain a deeper understanding of your stressors and blind spots. This Birkman at Work toolkit was created to empower you with resources for yourself and your team to help you discover your sources of stress, stress behavior, how to get your needs met, coping techniques, and how you can increase your self-awareness. Self-awareness is challenging to practice, especially when under stress. However, by knowing your behavior and needs, you can learn how to leverage your good behavior, acknowledge stress triggers and reactions, and curb bad behavior.

 

Manage Stress Before It Manages You

To increase productivity and reduce burnout, you must learn how to be an effective leader by managing your stress. Your emotional intelligence, knowing and understanding your emotions, is an essential trait of all good leaders – and ultimately the key to keeping your stress under control. When you can recognize the presence and causes of stress, you can be more productive and curb your negative behavior that begins to arise. Manage your stress by fulfilling your needs and leaning on productive behaviors. The same person who may be withdrawn when in their stress behavior may need to focus on being more direct, mitigating the unproductive behaviors associated with stress-related introversion. The Birkman Method is the only personality assessment that measures a person’s underlying Needs that drive positive behavior. At Birkman, Needs are your social expectations, while stress is the unproductive behavior that comes out when your Needs aren’t being met, and each person is different – your stress behavior may be your colleague’s usual behavior and strength.

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Once you understand where your stress comes from, you can choose to prevent those situations from occurring, or at least be aware of your natural tendency under stress, to try to have an alternate path ready to choose from. Use the self-awareness you gain in exploring your stressors and stress behaviors to make a game plan to know what to expect when stress does come and how to tackle it when it does.

Keep in mind that stress can also cause burnout. Remember to incorporate your interests and passions into your workplace environment. What motivates you? How can you put meaning back into work? Identify your interests so that you can connect them with your real-life workplace situations. In return, you will stay energized at work by being able to prioritize daily tasks by focusing on your interests, whether those are task or people-oriented.

Stress also affects your team dynamic. The American Medical Association says that staying connected to your team members through collaboration allows you to better deal with stress. It’s important to note that not everyone has all the answers, including leaders. Trusted colleagues help you work through your challenges, and often provide you with valuable input when you can’t find the answers.

 

How Birkman Can Help:

We know that the ability to manage stress has essential consequences in our professional and personal lives. The Birkman Method provides you with strategies on how to manage your stress, along with stress management techniques and how you can stay motivated. Our assessment can address what most assessments miss. Birkman uncovers the hidden social perception that leaders expect from their workplace environment to help you thrive. Our reporting provides you with insight into how you are likely to respond at your best and how you will react under stress in the workplace. Our Stress Management report specifically targets better self-management. Since few of us take the time to acknowledge or articulate our own needs, we may especially react to unmet needs in interpersonal relationships, schedules and details, and decision making. This report offers information to help you manage your own individual Needs and to avoid areas of potential stress more easily.