By Megan Kates & Suzanne Rappaport

November 3rd is Stress Awareness Day. A moment to pause, reflect and re-evaluate the mental health of yourself and your team.  To learn more about our Headway program and how your organization can foster healthier minds at work, visit https://sklarwilton.com/headway/

Whether you’re working at an office or at home, there is likely no role that is immune to stress. And, while stress may have been present at varying levels pre-pandemic, the last 18 months have seen unprecedented increases in stress levels with burnout symptoms on the rise.

During the period from April to June 2021, one-quarter of Canadians reported experiencing high levels of stress most days, and nearly half of Canadians considered that their stress levels were worse than prior to the pandemic. 1 A recent survey also found that nearly 20 per cent of Canadians who resigned amid the pandemic did so because of work stress.

While some stress can be good and drive us forward into optimal performance, everyone manages stress differently and what may be manageable for one person can be debilitating for another. This creates a unique challenge for leaders to understand this balance and manage their teams accordingly.

Here are some tips business leaders can adopt to better manage stress in the workplace:

  1. Model healthy behaviours: According to Harvard’s Health and Behavioural Science, managers and leaders have a direct effect on their employees’ stress and anxiety levels. What they say, feel and do hugely influences their team’s emotional and physical well-being and the more senior the leader, the more impact they have. Therefore, the best way to manage the overall stress levels of your employees is to better manage your own stress as a leader. Know your triggers, take time away from the team when you need it, and leverage healthy habits like going for a walk or breathing techniques. Not only will this ensure you’re not inadvertently passing your stress down, but it will also model positive stress management behaviour to your team. 
  1. Be mindful of your tone, message, and body language: Much like second-hand smoke, second-hand stress can be picked up on from verbal and non-verbal cues from the people around us, negatively impacting the brain’s performance. Observing someone who is stressed, like a co-worker, can have an immediate effect upon our own nervous system.  In fact, 26% of people reporting elevated levels of cortisol just by observing someone who was stressed, according to this study.  Leaders who are more mindful of how they present, including their non-verbal communication like body language and facial expression, will be less likely to create additional stress for their team. 
  1. Communicate clearly, honestly, and often: Many times, stress can be caused when we feel our needs or wants are not being met. The best way to alleviate stress is to communicate!  Ensure your team clearly understands expectations and deliverables – and update them in real-time as much as possible. Business executives should also provide training to senior and mid-level managers to ensure they have the necessary skills to identify and support team members who may need help in stressful situations. 
  1. Build stress-management into your culture: While avoiding stress altogether may be impossible, managing it as a team doesn’t have to be. Companies who can create practises and offer tools to better manage stress are more likely to have employees that are engaged, productive and less burnt out.  Simple things like encouraging frequent breaks, listening to your team, offering flexibility, and encouraging team bonding can all help alleviate workplace stresses. 

Download Headway resources and guides to help your workplace start the conversation about mental health.

  • Business Case for Healthy Minds at Work: Hard facts that show the positive financial impact of implementing mental health programs in the workplace.
  • Resource Roadmap: Links to Canadian organizations that specialize in supporting mental health in the workplace.
  • Employer Guide: An integrated and holistic way of thinking about workplace mental wellness.

[1] Stats Canada. Canadian Social Survey: COVID-19 and well-being. September 24, 2021