Workers are in the driver’s seat these days — in March a record 4.5 million Americans quit their jobs — and that means business leaders must tread carefully. While you can’t change your entire personality, you can tweak your leadership style to reduce the health-damaging stress that employees feel.
Most people are “spending eight hours a day weaving in and out of a stress state [that] will have a devastating impact on [their] health,” according to the Wall Street Journal. Here are typical sources of stress for those who work in the office:
- Your heart beats faster as your harshly critical boss marches towards your office;
- Your anxiety spikes after you’ve spent 45 minutes looking for a parking spot with five minutes to go before your meeting starts
- Your annoyance mounts as an email you sent your boss — to which you wanted a quick response — sits unanswered for hours
If you are contributing to such stress, you may be unintentionally encouraging workers to seek employment at competitors who will treat them better.
Here are four things business leaders should do to reduce the stress they cause employees.
1. Make emails clear.
Bosses have the power to make people feel tremendous fear — and they may not even realize it. As the Journal wrote, a case in point is when the boss sends out an email on a Friday evening that reads “We need to talk. How’s next Thursday?”
How could a boss not realize that such an email would cause unnecessary anxiety? If I received an email like that I would surely fear I was days from losing my job. As the Journal wrote, if an employee receives such an email from someone high up in the organization, they are likely to lose five hours of sleep worrying about just that.
Business leaders can easily reduce such pointless worker anxiety. Their email should make it clear what leaders wants and why they want it; propose a time and place for the meeting; and set a deadline for when they need a response to the email.
2. Eliminate small physical discomforts.
If leaders want people to return to the office, they should eliminate many of the ways in-person work can annoy employees. These include loud noises, strong smells — such as perfumes and cooking odors, too much time to find a place to park, and office temperatures that are too hot or too cold — 70 degree Fahrenheit is best, according to the Journal.
Leaders should minimize such physical sources of stress for workers. A good place to start is to ask your people what annoys them most about working in the office.
Based on those results, leaders should eliminate those stressors as quickly as practical so that workers see the company as better employer than the competition.
3. Talk about tasks — rather than personal problems.
I think leaders should ask their people how things are going and listen carefully to how they respond. If people are encountering significant work or life challenges, leaders should not act as healthcare professionals.
Instead leaders should talk with their employees about tasks. As the Journal wrote, “bosses should replace therapy hour with structured, task-focused check-ins with co-workers, and use this time to sniff out conflicts early, before they get out of control.”
This approach can help identify, for example, the stresses workers feel because of a team member who is not doing their work. To sniff out a free rider, the leader can ask each team member to report on the work they expected to do during the project followed by a weekly review of unplanned work.
As the Journal noted, “This early-detection method will do loads more to decrease stress people feel from relationship conflict at work than playing therapist will do.”
4. Give people control over how they get work done.
People dislike giving up control of how they spend their time and this is particularly true of those who have been working from home since March 2020.
Many of the problems I cited at the beginning of this article happen when people work in the office. So if you ask people to return to the office, you should give them control over many of the details.
For example, let workers choose what days they need to commute to the office, “who caters lunch, whether you can wear jeans to work, and whether it’s OK to leave your Zoom camera on (or off),” noted the Journal.
Do these four things and keep paying attention to how much progress you are making. In this way, you can remove stressors that make people look for the exits.