Another day of working from home without spontaneous interaction with colleagues, opening the laptop again at the uninspiring uncomfortable kitchen table, and once again having energy-consuming online meetings…
Do you recognize this feeling in yourself or in your team? Although appreciation for the possibility of working from home has increased, its necessity and duration create dissatisfaction. For many employees, the stretch is lost and working from home leads to increased work stress. Stress that employees have difficulty controlling. Despite the (well-intended) help or solutions from managers, colleagues and themselves. Us humans typically have a number of habits that only further increase work stress:
1. Managers tend to take their role to the next level
In order not to lose control, managers tend to check their employees working from home extra. Something that, ironically, quickly causes you to lose control. If employees feel controlled, they do not feel freedom and trust from their manager and they keep any problems or stressors to themselves.
The other side of this micro-management is expecting too much autonomy from employees. Freedom then turns into a lack of structure. Especially when working from home (and when the workload is high) this can cause stress. Are all employees able to prioritize their agendas, motivate themselves for less enjoyable tasks or slow themselves down? The office environment and peer interactions that normally provide structure in a “natural way” have disappeared. We are often busy with ten things at once (including private distractions) that prevent us from finding focus.
2. Colleagues tend to offer help or seek contact continuously
Now that we see each other less in real-life, many employees are more inclined to seek contact via video (calling), chat or e-mail. Especially if they feel that a colleague is in a stressful situation, whether that is because of work or private life. On the one hand, this is good for support and connection, but it also has a downside. Video calling takes a lot of energy and every chat message can take you out of your focus, while it takes 8 minutes to get into it on average. When employees who work from home feel they should always be available, this can actually cause unrest. Feeling no space to be inaccessible every now and then can increase the emotional pressure considerably.
3. Employees working from home tend to bury their heads in the sand
Working from home has made it easier for employees to shut themselves off completely from colleagues and keep problems to themselves. After all, you see and speak to your colleagues less and emotions are simply more difficult to gauge through images. The camera often does not even turn on. It feels safe or nice to retreat to our own bubble and resolve things on our own. You finally have some time to make up for all the overdue work! Or you work longer to reduce the workload. However, we forget that this structurally does not positively contribute to employee happiness and actually increases work stress or affects our vitality. Employee happiness is also largely our own responsibility when working from home.
How should you tackle (home) work stress?
Although it may seem like a difficult task, fortunately there are also enough actions and tips to reduce work stress within teams working from home. Perhaps you currently recognize certain work stress signals in your team or you simply feel that something is going on. Or perhaps the data from your team clearly shows that there is stress. It may also be that, partly due to the home working situation, you are not well informed about what exactly is going on within your team. What the best thing you can do to deal with work stress while working from home is, depends on your situation.
1. DO YOU NOTICE THERE IS STRESS?
During (online) contact moments with the team, you may notice that the overall energy level is low, team members appear tired or tense, have less motivation and concentration, are more irritable and curt, or are not (mentally) present at all…
Do you recognize (one of) these situations within your team?
Then put the subject on the virtual table!
Make work stress negotiable. What is currently causing stress? Gather your team or colleagues online and discuss the current circumstances, obstacles, events, feelings and behaviors that are causing the stress.
TIP: Focus on the “why”
Managers are often inclined to think solution-oriented. However, in order to find effective solutions to work stress, it is important to clarify the various causes. Therefore, focus on the current situation and the “why”. What is or is not present at the moment that causes stress? Look for concrete examples together before you think in solutions. In addition, assure your employees that all answers are appreciated and that they can be open and honest, without negative consequences. The latter is a must for creating a safe environment in which team members dare to share their “why”. Start with your own honest story and set an example. Also indicate that a 1-on-1 conversation is possible if people do not want to discuss things in the group.
2. DOES YOUR DATA PROVE THAT THERE IS STRESS?
Negative emotions quickly increase in your team’s data. You see the energy level plummet and see employees experience frustration and tension. In addition, important stressors such as work-life balance, relationships with colleagues, or leadership get a lower satisfaction score. As a result, you may see an increase in absenteeism, or even staff turnover!
Do you recognize (one of) these stress indicators in the data of your team?
In this case, your own data forms the basis for stress reduction
View your data together with the team and determine which stressor you would like to tackle in the near future. Then formulate a goal for this stress factor. What score (on a scale of 1 to 5) would you like to achieve, when and why? For example: We want to improve our work-life balance from a 2 to a 4 within one month, because…
TIP: One step at a time
As tempting as it is to tackle all the stressors at once, the impact is much greater when you focus on one thing at a time. Therefore, work with your team to determine which factors are now within your grasp to address, and which of them are causing the most work stress. This topic is a priority and will have the most impact in the short term.
3. DON’T KNOW WHETHER THERE IS STRESS?
The fact that work stress can express itself in many different ways makes it more difficult for you as a team leader to recognize and prevent work stress complaints in time. Are employees often (too) busy, tired, withdrawn, irritable, emotional, forgetful, and so on? You often have to deal with an accumulation of signals that occur incidentally and then very gradually worsen and become structural. Now that we work from home more often, it may well be that you do not or hardly recognize work stress within your team…
Do you want to check your gut feeling or suspicions?
Get insight into the occasional moments when team members experience stress
In order to be able to tackle work stress within your team despite working from home, it is necessary to discover in which (incidental) situations team members experience work stress (and from which events they recharge or revive). This way you prevent incidental tension from becoming structural!
TEAM EXERCISE: Evaluate your team work stress balance
The following team exercise will help you with this. The exercise provides insight into your current team work stress balance. As a team you can draw wise lessons from this balance. Lessons that help to better deal with daily tensions and work stress due to or in the (home) work situation.
STEP 1: Keep a personal stress diary
Each team member keeps an individual stress diary of all personal stress situations that arise for one week. Check for yourself at which times, days or at which activities / situations your stress level skyrocket. Does stress arise during certain tasks or in collaboration with certain colleagues? Do you find it stressful to attend online meetings? Or are you not sure what is expected of you that day at the start of your home working day?
STEP 2. Determine the associated stress level
Indicate behind each stress source how high the work stress you experience is, on a scale from 0 (minimum stress) to 10 (maximum stress).
STEP 3. Become aware of your current stress reactions
Now that you have all mapped out your own stress sources and associated stress levels, you individually consider how you normally respond to personal stress situations. For example, do you panic, withdraw into your own bubble, spend hours worrying about certain situations or avoid certain stressful tasks?
STEP 4. Think of helpful stress responses
Then think (together) about how you can convert your stress reactions into reactions that help to lower your personal work stress. In certain stress situations, for example, it is good to bite the bullet and look your stress straight in the eye, such as an exciting online presentation or meeting. In other situations it can help to discuss feelings of stress, for example when you experience stress when collaborating with a certain colleague.
STEP 5. Create your own happiness at work!
Keep an eye on your personal work stress moments and stress reactions in the coming weeks from home. Try to convert unhelpful responses into responses that can actually help you reduce work stress. This way you take back control and create your own happiness at work!
Monitor work stress safely online in 15 seconds
Through the 2DAYSMOOD software, organizations, teams and individual employees can keep track of their moods during work quickly, simply and securely. Every week or even every day you can indicate in 15 seconds, via email or the app, how you feel and why. This data is displayed anonymously in a dashboard of your team or as a digital “personal diary”. Request a demo or free measurement here.