We all respond to stress in different ways, in any one given situation our reactions and behaviour can be effected by what we as an individual would consider stressful. When we find the situation, or thought facing us stressful, it can create observable out of character reactions. And sometimes, those reactions are not so directly observable, especially when the person has learnt to control any observable responses. When people live with the effects of stress and anxiety for a long period of time, they can manage to perform as if they are feeling confident by hiding their true thoughts feelings and reactions.
Stress is defined by Psychology Today:
“Stress is simply a reaction to a stimulus that disturbs our physical or mental equilibrium. In other words, it’s an omnipresent part of life. A stressful event can trigger the “fight-or-flight” response, causing hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol to surge through the body.”
In psychology, stress is a feeling of strain and pressure. Small amounts of stress may be desired, beneficial, and even healthy. Positive stress helps improve athletic performance. It also plays a factor in motivation, adaptation, and reaction to the environment. Excessive amounts of stress, however, may lead to bodily harm. Stress can increase the risk of strokes, heart attacks, ulcers, dwarfism, and mental illnesses such as depression.
Stress and leadership
In leadership positions there is responsibility to recognise the reaction of staff monitor and manage their responses to stress, as part of working practices to enable effective and fair work rotation as well as maximising the performance and the development of the team. A leader learns about their team’s strengths, and needs through effective supervision, by observing responses and reactions to different pressures and situations; we can develop an awareness of where pressure points and stressors exist.
Stretching individual team members to step out of their comfort zone, to develop and learn new skills is also very much a part of people development and team management. Therefore, in order to engage the individual to extend their personal abilities, we need to know what motivates and creates the positive learning stimulus to create the right response that will enable them to achieve and feel encouraged by extending their immediate parameters. Through individual discussion and reflection on previous performance, as part of staff development is one method. However, there is not always a sufficiently regular interaction between the employee and line manager. As annual performance appraisals are not regular enough to gain necessary insight into individual reaction to development and motivation or stressful circumstances.
Regular engagement and 1-1 sessions are effective engagement methods to understanding and reflecting with individual team members about how they feel about their performance, as well as discussing any boundaries or stressors. One to one engagement on a regular basis creates a greater understanding of the person and the way that they are coping with the whole life balance situation in their lives.
This is important when considering stress, because there is often more than one element of our lives that takes us beyond the parameter of what we might consider or interpret as being a healthy form of pressure.
How do we become aware of the possible effect of stressors?
1. Any changes that are out of character or an unexpected, unusual reaction, presentation changes such as body language, or avoidance of situations, irritability to extreme anger.
2. A lapse in personal care and grooming
3. Loss of weight, gaining weight
4. Overworking, under-working, under-performing, or over-performing.
5. From being organised to being disorganised or dysfunctional, becoming intensely obsessive about organisation and precision.
6. Physical observations of being under stress, wringing of hands, nail or lip biting, generally looking uncomfortable.
7. More introverted behaviour or more extroverted behaviour
8. Increase in consumption of alcohol or nicotine or other medication prescribed or over the counter medication.
Some of the more extremes of the described behaviours above are often as a result of trying to hide the symptoms of stress; this could be true of someone who is desperate to maintain some level of what they perceive as normality. To create this they could over perform become obsessive at work, start to work excess hours and apply strict regimes, or the opposite could also be true. The type of reaction is dependent upon the individual character and their coping mechanisms for managing stress.
Essentially as a leader we are managing and becoming aware of how to avoid the extremes of “Fight-or-flight.” When we are able to create a balanced environment one of acceptance for the individual and the team, we are less likely to encounter this extreme response. To create positive reaction rather than the two extremes relies on being open transparent and developing a dialogue based upon trust. And in a working environment where continuous learning is acceptable (a no blame culture) so that boundaries of potential pressures are identified, explored and discussed with both the team and the individual.
Key to understanding where the individual boundaries lay between “fight-or-flight” is part of a continuous learning and awareness process for leaders.
The value in relationship and engagement can promote transform and enable the extension of the boundaries for each individual and enhance the team to achieve increase performance levels.
Using Briefing and debriefing sessions, as part of the work process, creates opportunity for immediate reflection learning and positive endorsement of new skills knowledge and awareness.
Effective people management requires a commitment to a continuous self-learning process. And then consolidating the positive learning experience of the team and the individual. Then combined with team engagement, regular 1-1 sessions, in addition to briefing and debriefing as part of project management, in addition to being able to highlight and discuss those observable boundaries, perimeters and potential stressors will enable options, to both effective personal development and some solutions to managing workplace stress.