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Taking the stress out of stress in a stressful era

Jan 12, 2023

In the past few years, phrases like “unprecedented” and “unheard of” have been flung about with such routine abandon that we can be forgiven if the true strangeness of the times we’re living through no longer registers. Perhaps nothing would surprise us as we try to process the chaos we’ve been through.

We truly have been subject to profound stress as nearly every channel of our lives has been impacted by the range of physical, financial, political and civil strife that has enveloped the last few years.

Stress exerts a very interesting influence on us, from creating states of heightened awareness and a capacity for improved focus, to triggering full-blown dissociative episodes.

A little stress can be positive, even necessary, for us to operate at our best. We’re designed to accommodate stress as part of the human adventure. When we put a muscle under considerable stress, say through focused weight training, we make the muscle grow and become capable of handling greater weight. That is a form of productive development.

But working with too much weight or with too great a frequency can actually damage the muscle and make us weaker.

The sort of sustained, omnipresent stress that we have experienced over the last few years has had that sort of deleterious effect. We’re the worse for it when burnout and disengagement is increasingly common.

As leaders, we have two equally important concerns: our own welfare and the welfare of our employees.

Our efforts to help our employees deal with stress lose a lot of credibility if we’re consistently showing up like we’ve just put our finger into an electric socket. Extending yourself a little self-care and ensuring that you are performing at the top of your game is your first priority. You can’t save anyone when you’re the one drowning.

Stress less

Self-care includes understanding how you’re wired: What are your behavioral motivators and behavioral weak spots? In effect, what pushes your buttons? If you’ve never had a simple behavioral assessment, consider investing five minutes of your time to get very concrete and reliable insight into what really motivates your best self. The results can be eye opening, especially when you’re convinced you know yourself oh so well.

The Predictive Index Behavioral Assessment, for example, can even provide clarity around the specific areas of stress adaption that you are undertaking. You might not fully realize it yourself, but this simple assessment can pinpoint just how you are adapting to the current demands of your environment. Not only can that be a revelation, but it can also help you to consider ways to readjust your work focus to reduce those stress adaptations.

In a similar fashion, emotional intelligence assessments can be particularly insightful, as they tend to provide measures on our stress response and areas of heightened sensitivity around impulse control.

Taken together, behavioral and emotional intelligence assessments provide deep levels of awareness around how we respond to stress, including adaptions we make and how likely we are to sustain engagement over prolonged periods of high stress.

Additionally, consider the need for meaningful time off away from work. With the increase in remote work, it’s not unusual for individuals to be spending significantly more time engaged with work.

Suddenly, the oasis that was your home life has become invaded by your work life and it’s increasingly harder to pull away. You find yourself rationalizing doing just a few more emails before dinner or doing research on an upcoming project because your laptop is right there on the kitchen table, and you have a few minutes to spare. However, for our mental health, we need to take a break.

Lastly, if you’ve never explored a meditation practice, or any similar practice that allows you to disconnect from daily drama and create some space to breathe, this can be a transformative step. Even five to 10 minutes of simply giving yourself permission to simply “be” can have a tremendous impact.

Helping employees deal with their stress

When we’re operating at our best, we can focus on creating the right outcomes for our employees. Using a behavioral or an emotional intelligence assessment with them can help both grow their own self-awareness, as well as appreciate operative differences between the two of you that can contribute to added stress and misunderstanding.

Often, we misdiagnose performance issues as problematic behaviors, instead of appreciating fundamental differences in how we are wired. Assessment work can take the emotion out of personality differences and reframe our understanding of one another in more productive ways.

Assessments can also help us discover employees who have disengaged from their work and are at risk for leaving the company. The Predictive Index Behavioral Assessment, for example, readily explores areas of common disengagement. It can provide excellent guideposts for you to use with employees to ensure they are not becoming disengaged.

Meeting with them regularly to reinforce your commitment to their success and to develop their potential helps to offset these issues and provide assurance when it’s most needed. It assures them that they are valued and have a future with the organization.

These areas of potential disengagement can be excellent subjects to explore in regular coaching conversations. And their converse — areas of engagement — are a roadmap to creating maximum alignment and maximum performance from employees.

What adaptations does it put into motion? What is our stress tolerance and our capacity to maintain function over prolonged periods of stress? Greater understanding of our stress tolerance makes us a healthier and more effective leader — one capable of helping their employees to similarly acknowledge and combat workplace stress.

Spending time understanding and developing a strategy for stress — both for you and your team — will ensure everyone continues to function at their best and will set your company up to succeed when others have lost focus or succumbed to the pressure.

How Wipfli can help

Let us help ease your stress and the stress of your employees. Wipfli’s leadership development programs and assessment facilitation help leaders cultivate a leadership mindset that empowers others to thrive, especially when navigating these stressful times.

Learn more about our leadership development programs and Predictive Index assessments.

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Steve Hopkins
Director, Organizational performance
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