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Time we all took a chill pill

Blair McPherson - former Director, Author and Blogger
If you really  want to improve the mental well-being of your employees, to de- stress them and reduce the likelihood of burnout you need to get your managers to take a chill pill.

The pandemic with it’s uncertainties, insecurities, and requirement to adapt quickly has focused attention on stress in the workplace, the negative impact of burnout and an employers responsibility for the mental well being of their workforce. Some enlightened employers have recognised that the consequences of unaddressed stress and burnout are not only bad for the individual but bad for business and so have introduced additional paid leave, are seeking to introduce a four day week and give employees more control over how they manage their work. Most organisations will however dismiss such initiatives as impractical gimmicks and carry on much as before albeit with a higher attrition rate and increased cynicism in the workforce.

Whilst a one off additional payment as a thank you for the extra effort will be welcomed and a week off to recharge the batteries will be well received these measures imply that the last year created exceptional pressure and stress and things will now start to return to normal. But for most of us they won’t. Burn out and the impact of overwork, insecurity and financial pressures were around before the pandemic and will only increase unless organisations do something radically different.

Rather than view burnout as an individual problem, albeit effecting many more employees, or seeing it as a problem caused by external  factors like the economy or a pandemic an alternative is to view the cause as management. Your line manager or your line manager’s manager is the one who is putting you under undue pressure, stressing you out.

It starts from the top the Chief executive sets the tone. If the Chief Executive constantly refers to the dire consequences of not delivering budget cuts and efficiency savings as a way of motivating people, if they are demanding and impatience, making everything a priority and urgent , if they issue threats, if they interfere and try and micro manage but make it clear that if things go wrong it’s not them who will get the blame, then they are creating a management culture of disabling pressure and corrosive stress which will be transmitted through out the organisation.
Whilst the tone is set from the top  it is the immediate line manager  who has most impact on stress levels. From my work in Local Authorities I have experience of teams working in the same organisation with the same resource issues, comparable workloads,  long hours making emotionally draining decisions and yet the morale, cynicism and feelings of well-being are very different.
This difference is explained by how the manager views their role in protecting team members from  negative pressure rather than passing it on. They may answer to a senior manager who is anxious, fretfully, negative, constantly wanting assurances, making unreasonable demand and unwilling to recognise the conflicting priorities and inadequate resources but they protect the team from this. They take responsibility for establishing the priorities, they help individuals distinguish between urgent and important, they talk about doing the best they can with the resources available,they have reasonable and clear  expectations, they do not threaten, intimidate, undermine or bully team members even where they themselves are subjected to such behaviour from their manager. Despite the circumstances they remain positive ,calm, enthusiastic, reassuring and supportive. Or chilled.

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