Stress is defined as the physical pressure, pull, or other force exerted on one thing by another; strain. There are different levels of stress that can range from fun, healthy, active, competitive, and all the way up to life-changing, unhealthy, fearsome, depression, and constant illnesses.
As a practice owner, it's important to know your staff well enough to know when stress is starting to consume a staff member. As we all know, when stress takes over it not only changes a person's behavior, but their ability to perform some of the simplest functions in their daily life; including their jobs. A few months ago, I wrote a blog talking about change in the workplace. Sometimes it's the change alone that can produce enormous amounts of stress. But when it's not about change, but how the employee perceives their position or job duties within the company, when is the time right to intervene? The answer is: right away.
Here are some ideas on how to approach an employee, tips on how to discuss how it is affecting their work, and tools you can provide to them to help them work through their stress.
Approaching an overstressed employee is like lighting a firecracker. So approaching them can seem that you are attacking, when your intention is simply to get to the root of the issue. By the time an employee's behavior has changed so much from being overstressed, they are already in a panic and defensive mode. Keeping this in mind and having that understanding is critical. I would pick a meeting spot outside of the office to chat with them. That way other employees will not hear any part of the conversation. You do not want gossip to spread (and you know it would) if the argument turned into a heated conversation. So, a non-threatening atmosphere already puts you both at ease.
If you don't have time for a lunch, then just talk a short walk outside, one on one. This tells the employee that you are investing in them with your time. That kind of giving goes a very long way with employees.
Once you have a meeting time and place, begin by asking them how they are doing and that you are somewhat concerned. Some may open up immediately and share their concerns. Others will continue to stay closed off. Perhaps it is not work related issue, and they do not want to share. You can calmly explain that you have noticed some changes in their work product and behavior and are there to help. This will also put them at ease, because you are talking with them and not at them. Employers who show compassion to their employees yield greater results in productivity than those who let situations get so far out of hand that employees end up leaving the company.
When you are discussing how you see the stress affecting the employees work product, this should be done with very specific examples of errors or poor performance. Have your facts ready and do not be afraid to show those. Employees who can be honest with themselves, will step back and realize this is not an attack on their character, but that you are genuinely concerned about what they are producing.
There are many tools that you can provide for employees to better manage their stress. Oftentimes, there is a push to get a lot done by the end of the month. Breaking down the tasks and compartmentalizing their time is a great suggestion.
For example, Mary is bombarded with e-mails all day and can't seem to get anything else done but answer questions and solve problems. The first thing Mary needs to do is to stop reading her e-mails all day long. Pick three times during the day, first thing in the morning, before lunch, and say her cutoff time should be 4:00 p.m. She gets done what she can and the rest has to wait. Does Mary need help from an assistant? This is a great identifying tool that you can help her use to asses this.
Mary also needs to group her e-mails into categories and find out why everyone e-mails her. Is more training needed? Is staff reluctant to use their training manuals, and instead would rather ask Mary since it's quicker, and she answers immediately? Put those types of questions back onto the staff and let them learn.
Stress can strengthen or weaken a person. By helping support your staff and teaching them how best to work through stress will pay off to you ten-fold. Sometimes, it's better to be compassionate than it is to be right.