According to the CDC’s Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, between 29-40% of Americans report being extremely stressed at work. With the busy holiday season approaching and year-end deadlines looming, it’s important to find healthy stress-management techniques that promote self-care in the workplace. The most common sources of stress include physical discomfort, interpersonal conflict, multitasking, and disorganization. Below are some strategies to reduce the negative impacts of these stressors and make the workday more pleasant.
As the holiday season inches nearer and life becomes even busier, we hope you employ these strategies to practice self-care. To help you further, check out our other free resources designed with you in mind!
A recent Fast Company article posits that remote workers’ “personality type” predicts how they’ll manage their daily workload. The author uses three examples of employees who work remotely: an introvert, an extrovert and an ambivert. All three say the same thing: They enjoy being around others, solitude makes them more productive, and schedules help.
These examples hint at the way our unique talents predispose us to like certain ways of doing things, and also the way those talents vary by context; everyone likes being alone sometimes and not others, and everyone needs some structure.
While it is useful to understand that we all approach work a little differently, the introvert/extrovert/ambivert framework simply isn’t robust enough to help remote workers perform measurably better. Managers need a certain lens to clearly see the nuances of these workers — to see their innate talents.
With a more complete picture of remote workers’ talents, we can learn so much more about supporting and engaging them and improving their performance.
Over 22 million people now have that complete picture because they’ve taken the CliftonStrengths assessment. Their results give their leaders insights into how they think, feel and behave — even if they never meet in person.
That’s vital information: Teams coached to use their strengths are up to 15% more engaged, have up to 72% less turnover and are up to 29% more profitable. Great managers understand how their remote workers do the following.
Think. Talents dictate how people approach a task — some are analytical puzzle-solvers, some need partners to ideate with, some are best motivated by tight deadlines. Whatever the person’s default setting, managers must know how workers think to create the conditions they’ll succeed in. Managers also need to set clear expectations, especially for remotes. Expectations are the most basic and fundamental employee needs, but almost half of the workers don’t know what’s expected of them at work. Managers who know how workers think and are explicit about expectations create conditions that enable top performance.
Feel. Scientists say that up to 70% of decision-making is emotional (and up to 95% of purchasing decisions). Managers who understand their workers’ emotional landscape can better coach workers’ decision-making process and adjust their work style. Consider, for instance, the employee who takes corrective feedback as personal criticism and gets mad at whoever gives it. A manager would need to guide that worker past his emotional response, helping him understand feedback as useful advice and not an insult. Such depth of understanding increases remote workers’ feelings of being seen and valued, which is especially important for workers who rarely are seen, and helps employees improve their performance.
Behave. Our behavior is shaped by our dominant talents, the mental wiring that filters the way we see and understand the world. Integrating CliftonStrengths into their culture can help managers understand their employees’ motivators and help them predict and direct their employees’ behavior. Consider the employee described above, who takes tough feedback the wrong way. He gets angry because the perceived insult challenges his need for Significance, for example, or maybe it dings his sense of Responsibility or shakes his Belief. Whatever the case, his manager will need a tailored approach to coach him effectively. Strengths-based coaching not only helps workers perform better, but also tells them their boss cares — and remotes who feel isolated, Gallup finds, can experience performance declines of up to 21%.
Those are big-ticket cultural issues, but day-to-day performance hinges on day-to-day management. So managers need to ask themselves a few questions about the conditions in which each remote worker thinks, feels and behaves:
- What circumstances or strengths have enabled this remote worker to have a peak in performance? When you can articulate the case, you can replicate it in future projects.
- Who was involved? Partnerships are critical for remote workers. When managers pair people who have complementary strengths, managers eliminate any chance of workplace isolation while increasing the proficiency of the remote team.
- How can I further develop this employee in the areas of their greatest strengths? Remote workers’ talents need to be developed over time with projects and partnerships that expand their abilities.
Four in 10 U.S. employees say they have the opportunity to do what they do best every day. Move that to eight in 10, and a company could realize an 8% increase in customer engagement scores, a 14% increase in profitability and a 46% reduction in safety incidents.
A genuine understanding of their talents helps remotes work with more success, greater enjoyment and the confidence that they contribute something that no one else can. Managers need to know their workers’ talents so they can coach them to perform better in their role, to build better relationships with their team members, and to feel like they’re learning and growing every day.
Work-life balance matters to your employees.
In the U.S., women and millennials in particular say that they seek companies with flexible policies when looking for a new job because work-life balance is so important to them. Many organizations have responded by offering flexible work arrangements, alternative work schedules and remote work options.
However, not every job can be flexible — you can’t tend to a hospital patient remotely or run a manufacturing line from a coffee shop — and maintaining a culture that supports flexible work arrangements isn’t always easy.
The good news: Gallup’s data show that having realistic performance goals is actually a better predictor of work-life balance than having flexible work arrangements. Further, among full-time U.S. employees, workers who strongly agree that they have realistic performance goals are 2.4 times more likely to also strongly agree that they have a healthy work-life balance.
Setting realistic performance goals is something that every manager can achieve. Regardless of the industry, all managers can create a better sense of work-life balance by establishing clear and realistic goals.
Two Things Every Manager Can Do to Set Clear Goals
1. Include employees in setting their performance goals. Gallup research shows that employees who say their manager includes them in goal setting are 2.3 times more likely to say their performance goals are realistic than employees whose manager does not.
Having a conversation with employees before goals are set also helps to clear up potential misunderstandings about role expectations. Gallup finds that nearly half of all U.S. employees don’t know what’s expected of them at work. This reduces engagement and hinders the organization’s ability to successfully cascade companywide initiatives to individuals and teams.
When employees are not included in setting their goals, less than half (47%) strongly agree that they know what is expected of them at work. When they are included in establishing their goals, more than three-fourths (76%) strongly agree that they know what is expected of them.
Including individuals in their goal setting gives them a greater sense of ownership over their work and control over their performance metrics. That creates autonomy, which is related to improved engagement, performance — and even physical wellbeing.
Employees who say their manager includes them in goal setting are 2.3 times more likely to say their performance goals are realistic.
2. Explain the consequences of not meeting goals. Gallup workplace research finds that employees who know the consequences of not meeting performance goals are more than twice as likely to say their performance goals are realistic.
Consequences, of course, can be positive (rewards, bonuses, recognition, promotions) or negative (demotions, reprimands, termination). Employees should be aware of both the positive and negative outcomes of their actions at work. Managers should take the time to clearly explain the outcomes related to performance — for example, “X promotion or bonus will only result from Y goals being accomplished.”
Conversations like those give employees targets to hit. They also allow managers and workers to identify and address potential barriers to performance before they impact success. This process provides workers with greater ownership, gives managers more perspective, and results in more practical solutions and fewer surprises down the road.
The Benefits of Realistic Goals
Setting realistic goals with employees can also help prevent some negative behaviors that may affect the organization’s bottom line and brand reputation.
Too much pressure, unclear expectations and unfair consequences can incentivize unethical behavior — lying and cheating, for example. In fact, an Academy of Management Perspectives article, Goals Gone Wild: The Systematic Side Effects of Overprescribing Goal Setting, states that “managers and scholars need to conceptualize goal setting as a prescription-strength medication that requires careful dosing, consideration of harmful side effects and close supervision.”
Caution and supervision are natural byproducts of setting realistic goals together. In addition, Gallup finds that employees who strongly agree their performance goals are realistic are 1.6 times as likely to say they plan to stay at their organization for at least another year (compared with those who do not strongly agree their goals are realistic).
In addition, employees who strongly agree their performance goals are realistic are three times as likely to recommend their organization as a great place to work.
Setting realistic goals with employees can lead to a wealth of advantages for companies. But it can offer individuals some valuable rewards as well — in particular, feelings of autonomy and living a balanced life.
That’s hard to come by in industries that simply can’t allow flexible hours or remote work. Gallup’s findings show that work-life balance isn’t just about having permission to work from a coffee shop or to leave early on Fridays. It’s about feeling some control and ownership over the work you do. And those qualities come entirely from within the workplace.
My client is a bank in Maine who now is the #1 bank in their community. 90% of the employees have a community activity of their choosing. Results new customers have come to the bank, customer service ratings for the bank are fantastic, unwanted turnover is nonexistent and profits of the bank substantially. I can help you achieve similar results
What Leaders Can Do to Build Optimized Workers
First, it starts with simply recognizing the synergy among strengths, engagement and wellbeing and that their interactions represent clear opportunities to be leveraged. Getting leadership fully versed and committed to these principles is a required vanguard to successfully implementing the concepts in a practical manner.
Next, it involves taking a step back and realizing that it’s hard to manage to someone’s strengths if you don’t know what they are. A critical, basic step for many organizations is to simply determine the unique strengths of everyone who works there.
The CliftonStrengths assessment and supporting online and in-person courses are designed to help people “name, claim and aim” their strengths. Once you have laid the foundation of strengths throughout the organization, you can begin to build your culture around them.
The final step, of course, is applying the principles in practice. One Gallup client, for example, is currently exploring the strengths-engagement-wellbeing relationship in one of its groups responsible for community outreach — a smart strategy for improving community, social and career wellbeing alike. Teams are encouraged to sign up to support different community programs sponsored by their organization, with their leaders having ongoing conversations about how to introduce strengths and engagement initiatives into those teams in the context of the outreach. As these volunteers come together, their strengths can be explored to better understand who they are both individually and as a team and how this can be leveraged to help them successfully navigate the community projects they are working on. The 12 critical psychological needs of employee engagement can, in turn, be used to both prepare for and debrief the experience, such as:
- Are we clear on what is expected of us regarding this community project?
- Do we have what we need to succeed? Based on who we are as a group, is each person’s set of strengths being kept in mind?
- Is my role on the project best aligned with my own personal strengths?
- Are we celebrating our successes on the project based on how each individual uniquely prefers to be recognized?
- Am I given the opportunity to propose ideas about how each person on the team can best contribute to the project, based on their individual aptitudes?
By weaving both strengths and engagement initiatives into organizational processes already aimed at driving wellbeing, leaders can fully benefit from existing opportunities. And by building robust coaching models aimed at capitalizing on the interactions among strengths, engagement and wellbeing, organizations can take their performance to the next level and fully leverage these indispensable components of optimized human potential.