Ways To Reduce Your Team's Stress, Even If Things Are Hectic

As you've probably discovered many times over, being a manager isn't exactly the all-powerful opportunity that many employees think it is.  There are many things that are outside of your control.  When your team is under a lot of pressure, whether it's for a product launch or a period of short-staffing , it's easy to feel even more powerless.  However, there are a few things you can do that don't require a lot of effort or (perhaps more importantly) approval from anyone else.  There are three areas you can tweak, and none of them involve hiring new staff or extending any deadlines.  Even if your team is doing great, it might be helpful to look at these areas because they can dramatically affect the team's output in addition to influencing morale.

Area 1: Opportunity to choose

People like to feel in control of their life.  Study after study shows that giving people a choice (ideally, one with not too many options) increases their motivation and their buy-in.  Even if the options are not ideal, it's still more motivating if they can choose.

Area 2: Opportunity to focus

Part of what is stressful in daily work life is the constant interruptions and task-switching.  Some of it is external - meetings, calls, e-mails, chat alerts, etc. - and some of it is internal.  Regardless of the cause, the result is not our best potential work.  If you want your employees to both enjoy and excel in their work, they need to be able to focus. 

Area 3: Opportunity to recharge

Productivity starts to decline after working 50 hours in a week, and it drops off dramatically after 55, so much so that employees working 70 hours a week are actually producing less and lower quantity work than those working 50 hours a week.  It's in everyone's best interest to ensure that employees are not working such long hours that their work and their health suffers.  It's also important to make sure that when they're not working, they're truly off work.  No one on the team should be so indispensable that they can't be away from work e-mail for a few hours, and this includes you.

Possible strategies

When things are stressful and overwhelming, the last thing you need is twenty more things to do. So, choose one or two items you think will make the biggest difference for your team right now, or better yet - ask them.  Give them the opportunity to choose, and you've already started addressing one of the three areas without much effort at all.

Allow them to choose their typical start and stop times.  

If coverage is an important issue, then they'll have to commit to what they decide, but hopefully you'll be able to stagger everyone's preferred scheduled enough to meet the organization's needs while also being flexible with your employees.  

Set standards regarding expected response times to e-mail during the day.  

Recommendation: e-mail should not be used for anything that requires a response within four hours.  Once the standard is established, encourage everyone to turn off their notifications so that they are not constantly being interrupted. 

Set standards regarding after-hours e-mail.  

If there really is a need to monitor 24/7 (for example, your organization operates across every time zone), can coverage be alternated somehow, perhaps by using a central mailbox for urgent requests and alternating shifts to monitor it?  And if 24/7 coverage isn't required, make it clear to your team that they are not expected to check e-mail when they are not working.  If you find yourself working late and writing e-mail, even if it's so you don't forget something, save it as a draft and send it first thing in the morning so that you're not sending mixed messages about what is expected.  If you wouldn't call and interrupt their family dinner with it, it can wait until morning.

Ruthlessly eliminate everything that doesn't directly contribute to the nonnegotiable goals or deliverables.  

Make sure that no one on the team is in a meeting that he or she isn't directly contributing to and/or benefiting from.  Minimize all administrative tasks and details that core team members have to complete.  If you have any room in your budget, consider using temps or virtual assistants for some of the necessary but non-core tasks.

With the "little stuff" managed in a way that better suits your employees, your team will be better equipped to handle the non-negotiable, big stuff.

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