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Keeping stress down and motivation up in challenging times


Keep motivation levels upDuring a recession, stress levels in the workplace are likely to be higher than usual. Annie Lawler offers some top tips on maintaining a healthy, motivated and competitive team that can kick-start the recovery of your business.

During challenging times, it’s more important than ever to be aware of undue stress levels amongst your team. If you can spot those who need additional help and boost the state of mental and physical health of your workforce, you’ll see the increased productivity and creativity needed in current market conditions.

1. Communicate openly

In the current climate, staff can feel demotivated and fall into a negative mindset. Many may simply be waiting for the ‘night of the long knives’ and wondering when it will be their turn. In these circumstances, they can’t possibly be working at their best and this affects your business at a time you can least afford it.

Be sure that you and your management team involve your staff in the challenges you face and keep them informed. Not all the news will be good, but an open dialogue reduces stress and encourages your team to find new, better and more economical ways of running the business. It may also result in some great and unexpected solutions, some great team work and could even be fun.

2. Ensure additional pressure doesn’t become undue stress

As an HR professional, you and other members of staff will be under significantly increased pressure at present. Those responsible need to be particularly vigilant in spotting the difference between temporary increased pressure and the more lethal undue stress in yourself and your colleagues, so that you can protect your organisation from potential stress-related litigation and maintain productivity.

“Support staff by providing short seminars and workshops giving loads of practical advice on how to manage stress.”

Make sure team leaders are trained to spot signs of undue stress amongst their colleagues and to recommend relevant interventions if need be.

Support staff by providing short seminars and workshops giving loads of practical advice on how to manage stress by working smarter, maintaining a positive attitude, communicating positively, and so on.

Some companies say they are reluctant to spend money on this type of activity at present, considering it non-essential expenditure, feeling it inappropriate if they are laying staff off or asking them to take pay cuts. However, people who are unduly stressed are not performing at anything near the level they should and the cost of that loss of efficiency needs to be taken into account.

If budgets are restricted, there may still be ways to provide support and it could pay huge dividends in terms of motivation and productivity. For example, it’s possible that you may also be eligible for government funding for this type of training under various grants which are being made available at this time.

Some organisations are happy to provide free or low-cost talks to employees, sessions on wellbeing techniques, free downloads and so on, which reduce stress and improve productivity. Being seen to be providing support at this point could prove to be a great morale-boosting initiative.

3. Maintain a positive work environment

Even when staff are being asked to take pay cuts or freezes and profits are reduced, HR managers and other leaders within the company have to be seen to be confident in a positive outcome longer term. Otherwise how can you expect your colleagues to do so?

“Being seen to be providing support at this point could prove to be a great morale-boosting initiative.”

Of course it would be foolish to ignore the current trends and simply stick your head in the sand, but having acknowledged the challenges the organisation faces, encourage everyone from management down to focus on the positives and what is possible if everyone pulls together and makes extra effort during this period.

Become aware of the language you use, your tone of voice, your facial expressions and your actions and go out of your way to inspire confidence in your team.

Buy into the ‘doom and gloom’ crew and you’ll encourage that behaviour in the rest of the team. That’s what lost the confidence in the financial markets in the first place and the last thing any business needs in trying times.

Even though there’s clearly a lot of work to be done, people don’t have to feel they’re about to attend a funeral and a little levity at work will keep the spirit upbeat and motivation high. As they say, laughter is often the best medicine and, along with a positive attitude and environment, is a real stressbuster.

4. Actively discourage negative talk and gossip

Encourage staff to avoid getting into huddles and talking themselves and the company down. Conjecture and gossip are extremely unhelpful both on an individual and on a company level.

Negative thought processes not only stress us out, they also reduce our ability to make effective decisions and even compromise our immune system, which means we’re more likely to be subject to sickness and absence.

Ask employees to get involved in spotting negative trends in each other and to give their workmates friendly reminders to ‘keep it light’ or disengage themselves from this kind of talk.

5. Continue to celebrate success

It’s easy in downturns to be focused on what’s not being achieved and to avoid celebrating achievements. But because team members may be feeling fearful and uncertain, it’s more important than ever to make people feel that they are noticed and that their efforts are appreciated.

I have worked in companies where people win hard-earned business in these kind of market conditions. They’ve probably had to double or quadruple their efforts to win it and are met only with, ‘that’s great, but it’s not enough’. This approach will simply not generate the kind of effort and enthusiasm that you need for your organisation to succeed.

“Make sure that you follow the correct legal procedure, and treat people with respect and dignity.”

Actively encourage your team to report anything good that happens – from savings achieved on operations to major business wins. Congratulate people in company literature and on intranet sites for a job well done. Make sure the simple ‘pleases’ and ‘thank yous’ are observed and introduce small, fun and inexpensive rewards to publicly recognise effort ‘over and above the call of duty’. Few things motivate people more than public acknowledgement and praise and a positive approach is one of the keys to maintaining healthy stress levels.

6. If you have to make cuts

If you have to be involved in announcing cut-backs, consultancy periods and so on, make sure you maintain a professional demeanour and give yourself frequent breaks between interviews and meetings, so that you can shake off the negative energy around this. People may be upset and/or angry but your HR training will provide you with the skills you need to help you cope. Take particular care with your own wellbeing, including getting exercise (if only a walk round the block), lots of fresh foods and some light relief.

Make sure that you follow the correct legal procedure, treat people with respect and dignity and if your company allows it, provide them with relevant services to assist them in finding new employment. If a full outplacement service is not possible, there are other, low-cost options from Job Centre Plus and other commercial organisations that could be explored.

I appreciate it’s not all sweetness and light out there at the moment and that perhaps HR roles are amongst the most challenging at present. However, you are also amongst the most influential and have a key role in reducing stress levels by maintaining a positive and professional attitude and by setting a good example on how to take care of yourself.

Annie Lawler is a stress management expert from Breathing Space for Business. Email her at [email protected]

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