Stress is a universal and common challenge to organization and employee productivity, it is the reality of the modern-day workplace.
After all, many remote team members have experienced burnout at work and increased mental health issues.
To create sustainable remote teams and encourage healthy work-life balance within our culture, we must first understand stress and the physiological process that happen within our systems.
One of my favourite authors, Gabor Maté writes that ‘’the experience of stress has three components.
The first is the event, physical or emotional, that the organism interprets as threatening. This is the stress stimulus, also called the stressor.
The second element is the processing system that experiences ad interprets the meaning of the stressor. In the case of human wings, this processing system is the nervous system, in particular the brain.
The final element is the stress response which consists of various physiological and behavioural adjustments made as a reaction to the perceived stressor.
When we think about the first stress event- I think about how everyone interprets life differently, through a lens of their own perceptions, created by their own reality.
Therefore, we’re all going to have different ‘threats’ or ‘triggers’.
A conversation with a leader about underperformance might trigger some people into stress but for others, it could be receiving a strongly worded email from a client late in the evening.
So what do our stressors all have in common?
Ultimately, they all represent the absence of something that the organism perceives as necessary for survival.
The stress trigger about underperformance triggers your need for your job in order to survive.
The stress trigger with an aggressive colleague triggers your need for connection with other humans in order to survive.
So, now that we understand more about the stress cycle using these examples in a remote team environment, what is the link between stress and performance in our teams?
In my research, I’ve found that stress contributes to decreased organizational performance, decreased employee overall performance, high error rate and poor quality of work, high staff turnover, and absenteeism due to health problems such as anxiety, emotional disorder; work-life imbalance; depression and other forms of ailments such as frequent headache; obesity and cardiac arrests. (Meneze 2005)
The question is, how are we taking stress seriously within our teams?
Acute stress is stress that is short-term, it might be in the lead up to finally finish that big project or right before you take that new promotion.
Chronic stress is when our systems are in the stress cycle for longer periods of time and here’s what I find interesting- this is caused when we cannot escape these stress triggers, either because we have no control over them or we do not recognize them.
So, if we know that job stress significantly reduces the performance of an individual and a team, what should organizations do about it to prevent employee burnout?
The research and our logical thinking about a stress-based pandemic point us in the direction of the employer.
How can employers proactively minimize stress by providing adequate administrative support to remote employees, even in some cases where our teams might not even know they are stressed.
We can create the time, space, knowledge and resources to empower our teams to be proactive towards their physical and mental health.
We can engage accredited trainers and coaches to deliver engaging training to help our remote teams to:
- Coach them to help them identify their own stress triggers
- Optimize their workloads
- Effectively manage customer and colleague expectations,
- Better separate work from home
- Create time management systems that support healthy routines
- Help them reduce the need for constant meetings by leveraging asynchronous communication so that they can have more uninterrupted time each day to focus on fulfilling work and prioritize their wellbeing
If we really want to create calm cultures that thrive from a place of creativity and innovation and reduce remote team burnout , we need to work on reducing stress from a cultural perspective- after all, there is a MINDSET shift that needs to happen to sustain more healthy environments.
We should support all of our remote team members to be empowered to reduce employee burnout by understanding the risks that remote working can have on mental health.
We should encourage remote employees to create and follow remote-first processes that enable our teams to have flexibility throughout the day.
The shifts that I work with my clients should be implemented by all remote employers and organizations like;
- Creating environments of psychological safety so that employees feel safe to separate work from home and take breaks
- Understanding that performance has nothing to do with the number of meetings in your calendar or the volume of noise in your Slack channel. Remote work has everything to do with the output of quality work, not about the input of hours your team members accumulate.
- Empower leaders to lead by example so that these shifts become embedded in your culture.
So, it’s time for us all to reflect deeper on the question:
What can we do to actively reduce stress in our work?
P.S I’ve been actively researching stress and how it manifests in the body. Gabor Maté has an incredible book on this topic ‘When the Body Says No’. I’d highly recommend it if you’re on your own healing path and want to be more empowered.
All the best,