April is Stress Awareness month. This month is a time for companies to contemplate how they support employee well-being and make it a priority to create stress-free and wellness work cultures. The business that wins against its employees, destroys itself. That comment was adapted from a famous quote from anthropologist and social scientist Gregory Bateson who said, “The creature that wins against its environment destroys itself.” Think about that. Bateson was pointing out that all things are interrelated. If we continue to destroy the environment in the quest for more fossil fuels, more industrial growth and more consumption of consumer goods, we will destroy ourselves. Our well-being is inextricably intertwined, and this perspective is now being applied to the workplace as an interdependent ecosystem of considerations and offerings. The affordances of the organizational ecosystem become a set of benefits. You can’t have a top without a bottom, a right without a left or a back without a front. It follows that company wellness and success and employee well-being and success are inextricably intertwined.
The State Of The Manager’s Dilemma
Since workplaces have existed, corporate America has set up a top-to-bottom win-lose culture between itself and the employees hired to carry out the business. This is like fighting the fire department when your building is on fire. It doesn’t work. Workers cannot be healthy if the workplace and manager are unhealthy. This approach is supported by a wide body of research which shows that toxic, unsupported workplaces sabotage the company’s bottom line. On the other hand, healthy workplaces—where companies employ a win-win approach and employees are treated with respect and empathy—have happier and more productive workers who drive business profits. It’s such a simple and obvious concept, yet many organizations and managers keep fighting the fire department.
With the escalation of burnout, the Great Resignation, remote work challenges, the blurring of work-life boundaries and increasing challenges with mental health, managers worldwide are struggling to figure out how to better support their employees. “To make matters worse, it appears they are failing,” said Steve Glaser, cofounder and CEO of ComfortZones Digital, an innovative company that helps companies and employees address work stress. “Studies have shown that 57% of turnover is driven by employee’s dissatisfaction with their managers.”
Clearly, many managers are not adequately trained and are ill equipped to handle these challenges, according to Glaser. They are promoted for their technical or functional skills, not their management skills, he added. And they are under significant levels of stress themselves, often constrained when dealing with employee’s personal life and health issues. “At ComfortZones Digital, we have identified and evaluated over 60 of the most common stressful situations found in most workplaces,” Glaser said. “These stressors are the main causes of burnout, turnover, lack of engagement and many of the mental and physical health problems created in workplaces today.”
How Managers Can Care For Their Employees
Glaser and his team at ComfortZones Digital have been taking a different approach to work stress management with “a digital companion for every stressful situation.” While on demand support of workers is foundational to the prevention of problems in the workplace, it can’t stand alone. “We need to help workers actively cope with the environment they work in today, while also helping to improve that environment. Managers are a linchpin to the improvement of workplace environments,” according to Glaser.
The team has connected a few dots to provide a simple and actionable guide for “caring” managers to contain and/or reduce their employee’s work stress. “Our approach includes the ‘pairing’ of human-related elements with work elements that often are never developed together and are often in conflict,” Glaser explained. “This conflict causes significant stress. In contrast, the ‘pairing’ of these human and work elements by managers and their employees has the potential to reduce many of the most common workplace stressors.” Glaser listed five work-to-human “pairs” that managers can employ.
1. PAIR recognition of the person WITH recognition of the worker. When you show recognition and appreciation for your employees’ efforts, it instills in them strong support, motivation and reinforcement, and they feel valued. You can couple the recognition of the human with the work itself, by vocally recognizing employees as they are, and communicating appreciation for certain behaviors—such as their integrity or optimism. Your actions open possibilities for manager-employee bonding that creates a new level of human-centered trust, psychological safety and loyalty to the company.
2. PAIR life priorities and boundaries WITH work priorities and boundaries. When you sit down with employees to define work priorities and boundaries or limits, it gives them clarity and alleviates stress that comes with not knowing what to expect or how to make tradeoffs. If, at the same time, those work priorities are considered with the employee’s life priorities and work-life boundaries, it enables work-to-human tradeoffs that ordinarily couldn’t be made. This alignment helps avoid future work-life conflicts. Work priorities that violate work-life boundaries can’t be completely avoided. But the goodwill associated with this initiative—along with some improved level of alignment between life and work—goes a long way to reduce employee stress and opens critical communication channels.
3. PAIR purpose in life WITH purpose in work. Employees are more motivated when you lead with a stated purpose of the employee’s role and that of the company. Plus, it gives workers a guiding light to make better decisions. If you also proactively ask and support an employee’s personal purpose in life, it opens up new possibilities for work-human alignment. It can also help to personalize how he or she draws their own unique meaning from work and impact how to craft roles, career opportunities and other meaningful activities. This pairing has the potential to create tremendous goodwill and boost loyalty toward both you and the company.
4. PAIR personal flexibility WITH work autonomy. When you allow employee autonomy, you send a message that you respect and trust them to do their best. The more you advocate for autonomy, the more employees feel in control of their work and the more ownership and accountability they will demonstrate. There is a great opportunity to proactively pair a discussion about autonomy with a discussion about personal flexibility. This can include the consideration of an employee’s unique personal situations and conflicts and their own unique preferences in how they work and where they work from. This pair can reduce conflict and stress plus allow employees to be their best. Another advantage is the employee’s appreciation for you and the company in supporting them as a whole human being, not just a laborer.
5. PAIR values in life WITH values at work. When you demonstrate strong workplace values—such as transparency, accountability and fairness—you create a healthy and safe environment for most employees. This is a great opportunity to understand the personal values of employees—such as sustainability, integrity and kindness—and align those values with their specific jobs. This can further reduce or eliminate stressful situations and conflicts that could otherwise deeply affect them. It’s not unusual for managers to underestimate the uniqueness of each individual and to know that each employee’s sensitivity is different. But taking an active role of pairing and aligning both personal and work values goes a long way in creating a strongly engaged and loyal workforce.
A Final Word
Once you actively manage with these five work-to-human Pairs, you have a better connection with employees, reduce conflicts, create psychological safety and lower stress. Plus, you will be in a better position to help them mitigate many of the root causes of work stressors that perpetuate turnover, burnout, low engagement and mental and physical health problems such as:
Conflicts with Managers Unrealistic Deadlines
Lack of Recognition Lack of Control
Inadequate Work-life Balance Misaligned Values
Work Overload Unclear Roles