How are you currently feeling, and what about your team? These are pivotal questions that all leaders should regularly ask themselves. Recognizing and understanding the symptoms of exhaustion and stress is the initial step in effectively managing stress factors.
To tackle stress effectively, leaders must first assess their own well-being and that of their team. Identifying early warning signs of exhaustion is a crucial part of this process. Often, these signs aren’t immediately visible, making it essential for leaders to be proactive. Early indicators of exhaustion can manifest in various ways, including:
1. Sleep disturbances and disorders.
2. Digestive issues.
3. Muscle tension.
4. Frequent headaches.
5. Restlessness and nervousness.
6. Increased irritability and heightened sensitivity to challenges.
7. Loss of interest and motivation.
8. Persistent fatigue and exhaustion.
9. Excessive rumination about problems.
10. Difficulty concentrating.
11. Aggressive behavior.
12. An inability to switch off.
While this list is extensive and could potentially relate to other issues, specific indicators warrant immediate attention. These indicators include any unusual and out-of-character behaviour, fluctuations in performance or mood, social withdrawal, and evident changes in social behaviour. Leaders should also be concerned if team members exhibit a loss of motivation or struggle to initiate tasks, become unreliable or unpunctual, display irritability, aggression, or argumentativeness, take frequent sick leave or single-day absences, or raise suspicions of substance use.
Leaders should be particularly attentive in high-stress situations, where team members may appear to be white-knuckling through their work. Unfortunately, many leaders only step in once employees are on the verge of burnout, missing the opportunity to address the issue proactively. Signs that necessitate intervention include:
1. Low motivation and engagement.
2. Increased tension within the team, between teams, or with customers due to shorter fuses.
3. Frequent and extended sick leave.
4. High employee turnover, which places additional stress on the remaining team members.
Unchecked stress can lead to a detrimental downward spiral that can be challenging to reverse. As a leader, recognizing these early signs and addressing them promptly is essential not only for the well-being of your team but also for the overall productivity and effectiveness of your organization.
When team members face stress-inducing challenges, their well-being, and consequently, their performance, are at risk. As a leader, you may find yourself managing day-to-day activities while juggling your own workload. When team members express their struggles, it often falls on you to take action, whether by engaging with HR, the department head, or lightening their workload. This added responsibility can increase your own stress levels and consume valuable time.
Stress-induced behaviours can have a contagious effect within teams. One individual’s discontent can spread like a ripple, affecting team dynamics. Leaders must consider not only the well-being of individual team members but also the collective well-being of the teams they work with. Additionally, there are broader business implications to address. Productivity, job satisfaction, and overall performance may be compromised if stress is left unattended.
In conclusion, leaders must be vigilant in recognizing early warning signs of stress and exhaustion within themselves and their teams. By proactively addressing these issues, leaders can foster a healthier, more productive work environment, preventing the downward spiral of unmitigated stress and ensuring the well-being of both individuals and the organization as a whole.
(This article is based on a chapter in Better Work: A Leader’s Guide to Creating Happier, Healthier, and More Productive Workplaces.)