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How to Monitor Stress Levels in the Workplace

We’re all familiar with stress – it’s a natural experience. But that doesn’t mean that we should accept elevated stress as an unvarying aspect of our working lives. Fostering and maintaining a high-performance workplace culture requires us to be well attuned to stress levels in the workplace. 

Stress is usually the first marker of a range of systemic and interpersonal issues. For leaders in any business, being able to identify and monitor stress levels is an essential skill to develop. But how is that achieved? 

Let’s dive in on what it takes to monitor – and work to address – stress in the workplace.

Defining workplace stress

Broadly speaking, when we talk about workplace stress, we’re talking about scenarios in which there’s a mismatch between what we expect our teams to achieve and their ability to achieve it. A small amount of stress is usually a good thing – as it can be a strong indicator that you’re providing your teams with goals that challenge them to grow. But ongoing stress that doesn’t resolve itself despite challenges being met is a marker that there is something deeper wrong with how your business operates.

It could be that individuals or teams are being saddled with a workload that isn’t sustainable or it could be the product of interpersonal issues between team members. It could also be a more complex product of the way that your organisation defines and manages work related responsibilities. But the key understanding that you need to develop is in situations where it is prolonged: stress is a tell-tale sign that you’re required to address an issue of some sort in your business.

The risks of ongoing workplace stress

High-performing workplaces are typically dynamic environments. They often require your teams to be across a great deal of information, acting effectively on that information, and doing so in a way that contributes positively to the efforts of those around them.

Persistent stress is bad for business precisely because it makes these processes difficult to maintain. It can affect the long-term viability of your business model and render your goals unachievable for reasons that can be difficult to spot and address. 

Stress can undermine the performance and productivity of your teams, negatively impact your workplace culture, and even cause your team members to look elsewhere for work. All of which can have a snowball effect that can bring instability to your organisation.

Recognising the signs of workplace stress in your employees

We each experience stress in our own way – so recognising stress in a given employee is usually a function of how well you understand the way they work and who they are. But more broadly, there are common markers of workplace stress that most employees will exhibit in some way or another.

These key indicators might be:

Learning to broach the subject of these markers of stress is another topic (it needs to be done with care and compassion). But simply being able to spot markers such as these is an important step toward developing an effective response. Let’s take a look at some of the most common root causes of stress in the workplace.

Common causes that can bring about elevated stress levels in the workplace

Your teams might have a very clear idea as to what the source of their stress is, or they might not have the overview they would require to correctly identify it for themselves. This is where the talents of an experienced people manager come into their own. To give you an idea as to what these causes might be, let us set out some of the more common causes that we see across a variety of businesses.

Problems of individual competency

As we’ve observed, ongoing workplace stress is a systemic issue – but it’s experienced and perpetuated by individuals. The gap between the tasks at hand and the skill level of the individuals carrying out those tasks needs to be managed effectively. Issues with individual competency are a source of interpersonal conflict, they can compromise the quality of your deliverables, and hamper your organisation’s ability to take effective steps toward your business goals. They also derail the efforts of promising high performers within your team before they’ve had an opportunity to develop the skills required to handle the task at hand.

Ill-suited tools and processes

How your teams navigate their work commitments is largely shaped by the tools they use and the processes that inform their use. Project management tools, knowledge management platforms and communications tools will all typically have their ideal use cases that are simple to emulate, but if there is something uneasy about their interaction, they can fast become a source of problems.

Issues such as these can be a great source of stress, as they can bring about poor effort coordination and hamper an individual worker’s ability to manage their workload. All of this can lead to double handling, poor work execution, and even affect the commitment that employees feel to their work. 

Unpredictable work conditions

We’re creatures of habit, so instability is something that most people tend to wish to avoid. However, a high-performance work culture is one that will often require your teams to remain adaptable and performing well in the face of challenges that are usually defined as the work continues.

This is not something that is simple to address, as it will often feel as though you are being asked to sacrifice a goal in favour of the longevity of your teams. But often it is more that you are required to present a stronger sense of stability and lean on the values you have instilled in your business to support your teams in pushing forward.

Getting structured about dealing with stress in the workplace

Continued workplace stress is typically a systemic issue that evolves over time. For that reason, it will often take time to address, and it’s essential that your organisation is on the front foot. Being proactive as an organisation means getting structured about your efforts to address the root causes of stress in your workplace.

Getting structured about how you address the problems that accompany workplace stress means:

Perhaps the most difficult step in this process is the second. It’s one thing to schedule meetings and encourage free and open communication, but it’s another altogether to seek to cultivate an in-depth understanding of the root causes of that stress.

Having leaders that are capable of facilitating conversations like these is essential in monitoring the lived experience of stress in your workplace. Through workshops, individual coaching, and broader culture code development, the team here at Performance by Design can assist your organisation in developing the leaders you need to navigate these efforts.

Get in touch with Performance by Design

From our bases of operations in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto, Canada we work with teams across the globe. Wherever you are, you can look to us for help in fostering the sorts of workplace culture and mode of operation that will see you working at your best.

If you have a question about Performance by Design, please drop us a line. You can get in touch by emailing us at info@performancebydesign.co