This article was based on episode 202 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Get Deborah’s guide How To Have A C.A.L.M.E.R. Conversation About Mental Health At Work. This guide includes an overview of the C.A.L.M.E.R. approach that makes these difficult conversations easier for both parties. Get it when you become a member at themodernmanager.com/join.
Do you know when your people are stressed out? Some look visibly worn down, while others hide their pain so well that we have no clue unless they tell us. The source of stress may also be obvious or hidden. Sometimes it's a big work project but other times it’s taking on additional responsibilities at home such as caring for an aging parent or the sudden loss of a partner’s job.
As managers, we want and need our team members to be their best selves and do their best work. If they’re overly stressed, it's unlikely they are showing up with the energy and engagement needed. Part of a manager’s role is to recognize when their colleagues are feeling stressed and to take steps to support their recovery to an optimal, healthy state.
Deborah Grayson Riegel joins us to explain the strategy to appraise our team’s stress levels, provide temporary flexibility, deal with the rest of the team on how to pick up the slack, and make sure this isn’t a permanent shift. Deborah is a keynote speaker, executive coach, and consultant who has taught leadership communication for Wharton Business School, Duke Corporate Education, Columbia Business School’s Women in Leadership Program, and the Beijing International MBA Program at Peking University.
THE APGAR TEST FOR STRESSED OUT COLLEAGUES
When children are born, they are given an APGAR test to check for early warning signs of any issues. Deborah uses a similar APGAR analogy for assessing stressed out colleagues. This helps detect early warning signs that they’re on the road to burnout.
A= Appearance. Have you noticed a shift in appearance? For example, are they dressing or grooming differently? Do you see signs of stress on your teammate’s face? Inquire in a casual and unobtrusive way by asking them how they’ve been sleeping. Include information about yourself such as “I haven’t slept in three weeks,” so they don’t feel signaled out or embarrassed.
P= Performance. Is there a decrease in your team member’s performance? Are they making more mistakes or getting less done than normal? Ask them how they feel about their workload or if they feel there is too much on their plate right now.
G= Growth. Is your team member actively invested in growing and learning? Find out what your team members are doing for fun. What’s new and exciting in their life recently? If they say they don’t have time to learn anything new or have any fun, that’s an indication of deeper issues going on. Make a plan of asking every employee in the workplace, so no one feels signaled out for your concern.
A= Affect Control. Have you noticed a team member acting differently? Does he seem quieter than normal? Or perhaps someone seems more irritable than usual. Consider asking your teammates what in particular is feeling stressful to them in their lives right now.
R= Relationships. Is your relationship with a team member feeling strained? If you notice a teammate who seems more withdrawn or irritable recently, ask them who’s there to help them on the team or at home when they need some extra support.
YOU DON’T NEED TO SOLVE THEIR PROBLEMS
Sometimes a teammate will come forward about their difficulties without you having to pry it out of them. While it’s great to be informed, it can often feel incredibly uncomfortable to listen to a team member unload their personal problems. It’s natural to want to go into rescue-mode and offer solutions. Yet we need to hold back. We are not mental health professionals, financial advisors, or any other type of expert.
It’s essential to remember that we are not their resource. We are a bridge to their resources. We can connect them with people who will help them achieve better mental health, solve financial strains, or deal with a childcare challenge. We must switch from the mindset of “What can I do?” to “Who do I want to be?” in this moment. Consider the characteristics that you want to embody such as kind and compassionate. Be the best person you can be for them right now and then connect them with others who can help.
Deborah offers an amazing analogy of a lifeguard. A lifeguard is expected to scan the waters, identify danger, acknowledge any risks to themselves and others, throw a lifeline, and then help the drowning person get to safety and proper medical care. The job of the lifeguard is not to be a swim instructor or medical professional. Similarly, we are not our staff’s mental health first aid. We need to notice their needs and get them the help they need to learn the appropriate skills to thrive.
GET YOUR TEAM TO PITCH IN
Sometimes when a teammate is overburdened, they need the flexibility to take something off their plate. But where does that extra work go? Who picks up the slack? Start by revisiting the goals and timeline. Is there any room to shift the pace of work to offset the change? Talk to your own manager about what is and isn’t set in stone. You can even ask about finding additional resources to fill in the gap.
If there is still work that needs a new home, address the problem with your team and see what solutions they come up with. They may have creative ideas for how to get things done or who is best suited to take on additional tasks.
Lastly, instead of assigning work that will likely be viewed as “extra”, consider who will benefit from the additional responsibilities or growth opportunities. Position the change as a development opportunity for a teammate who is ready for a challenge or increased visibility.
ESTABLISH A RETURN TO NORMAL PLAN
When you do give a stressed out teammate some flexibility, make sure you establish an endgame for when to expect their performance and workload to go back to normal levels. Check in frequently with that employee to see how things are going. If it becomes clear that a full workload is no longer possible, discuss what possibilities exist such as shifting to a part time role or supporting your team member to transition to their next role.
Stress is a normal part of our hectic work and personal lives. How we help our teammates deal with it changes everything.
KEEP UP WITH DEBORAH:
Book: Go To Help
Book: Overcoming Anything
Get Deborah’s guide How To Have A C.A.L.M.E.R. Conversation About Mental Health At Work. This guide includes an overview of the C.A.L.M.E.R. approach that makes these difficult conversations easier for both parties. Get it when you become a member at themodernmanager.com/join.
This article was based on episode 202 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.