The first two articles of this series focused on our personal roles in managing workplace stress. As we move into 2021, we want to capitalize on rest our community hopefully got over the winter break and focus on contributing to a community of care.
The tips shared here are particularly useful to supervisors, but can be used with peers as well.
1. Make sure your work environment is safe.
When staff feel unsafe, other stressors are compounded. Some ideas:
- Reassess any safety measures or emergency protocols. Ask your staff if they are feeling safe, and ask what would help them feel safer.
- Assess if resources are fairly distributed. Do all members of your team have the equipment or resources to do their job?
2. Encourage and engage in supportive work relationships.
Research consistently shows supportive work relationships are the number-one buffer against work strain. Some ideas:
- Engage in regular one-on-ones. Staff feel valued when they have consistent time with their supervisors. During remote work, consider a phone call instead – the change can create a better conversation.
- Show appreciation of individuals’ unique talents. Spend a few minutes giving unique and specific praise rather than a generic “good job, team” praise.
- Encourage peer-to-peer recognition. If needed, ask a specific team member to recognize a colleague.
- If you have a large team, try smaller team meetings during remote work. It is easy for people to feel lost in a screen of squares.
- Discuss career growth. This demonstrates you care about your employees as individuals and not just for what they can produce.
3. Cultivate meaningful engagement.
Workload stress is compounded when your work does not feel meaningful. Some ideas:
- Ensure staff know how their work supports larger department or university goals. Take the time to review this at a team meeting; do not assume employees recognize all of the ways their work impacts the university.
- Provide opportunities for feedback in decision making processes when possible.
- Look for areas where you can increase someone’s internal sense of control over their work. Consider flexible schedules, letting staff schedule uninterrupted time for project work or allowing them to determine reasonable response times for email and chat messages based on their unique circumstances.
- Clarify job expectations and explain performance indicators.
- Allow for variety in tasks when possible.
4. Role-model and encourage healthy work boundaries.
- Supervisors, set the tone for your unit. Reflect on the messages you are sending around work-life balance – from answering emails late at night to using your vacation time. If you consistently model healthy work boundaries, you will set the expectation of healthy work boundaries for your entire staff.
Finally, do not take a one-size-fits-all approach. The same situation can produce unique stress responses among your team. Work to identify solutions that get to the underlying cause, rather than just addressing the stressor itself.
Amanda Allee is the Director of Institutional Equity and Title IX Coordinator for UCCS. She also lectures on student affairs in higher education for the College of Education at UCCS. Her Ph.D. is in Educational Leadership, Research and Policy, and her research passion area is professional resilience in higher education.
This article is the third in a series on practicing healthful habits in the workplace. Learn more: