Feb 27, 2019

How Stress Management Impacts Performance

It’s fairly likely that business teams led by managers who can’t control their emotions produce 97% more frustrated eye-rolls than teams led by those who can keep their cool. But a recent study reveals the impacts go far beyond employee exasperation, including consequences like missed deadlines and decreased quality standards.

This research should interest business leaders everywhere because the final result of these various impacts is losing customers. And that’s an unsustainable loss.

As part of the study, which was conducted by leadership training company VitalSmarts, more than 1,300 people answered questions that helped determine whether their leader was more of a “hothead” or “smooth operator.” Ultimately, the researchers found that about 33% of managers can’t perform well in high-pressure situations.

Here are some of the specific ways managers struggle:

While these actions undoubtedly have a negative effect on business performance, they also drag down the performance of the employees who have to deal directly with the manager. Teams led by a hotheaded manager are more likely to shut down and stop participating, become frustrated and angry, and settle for mediocrity.

“No one works in isolation,” explains David Maxfield, vice president of research at VitalSmarts. “When under pressure, our actions have enormous power to tip the scales for good or bad. When we react poorly, we don’t just hurt others’ feelings or egos, we hurt their results—we impact their ability to perform.”

These findings aren’t particularly surprising when you consider how stressful business leadership can be. The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index revealed that small business owners report significantly higher levels of stress and anxiety than those who work for others. Another study found 70% of entrepreneurs face mental health challenges such as depression, bipolar diagnoses, ADHD, and addiction.

Why is it that business leaders often struggle with a much heavier load than regular employees? The high pressures of the job certainly play a role, but so do the common ways entrepreneurs neglect their health. Quality meals are scarce during the day, and in some cases, any kind of meal is a rarity. Likewise, sleep and exercise can be seen as nuisances that get in the way of the job.

According to experts, you can reverse many of these issues by working to add some balance outside of your job. Some options include spending time with loved ones, sleeping at least 7 hours a night, and carving out time for some physical activities.

While these suggestions can help lower your stress and enhance your overall well-being, researchers also offer advice for improving the leader-employee interactions that can cause struggle on the job. The most crucial element is communication. Even if your natural reaction is to clam up when things get stressful, it’s important to provide candid communication to your direct reports and also to be willing to listen to their thoughts.

When leaders do this, their teams:

While these results are undeniably desirable, some leaders may feel their reactions to stress are preprogrammed and there’s little they can do to improve them. Not true, says VitalSmarts’ Maxfield.

“Our ability to stay in dialogue when stakes are high is not dependent on genetic or inherent factors,” he insists. “These are skills anyone can learn and adopt to not only be more personally effective and influential, but to better lead a team to success.”

Underscoring this point is the fact that a manager’s ability to properly handle stressful situations has nothing to do with their gender or age. It mainly comes down to skills and behaviors that can be learned, practiced, and implemented.

As mentioned earlier, one of the quickest ways to improve a situation is by keeping communication channels open. Start with speaking up early. If you’re anticipating stress or chaos, that’s the best time to open your mouth. And as you collaborate with your team during high-stakes times, be sure to keep your negative emotions in check. Because when the you-know-what hits the fan, it can be easy to exaggerate your team’s negative attributes and see the worst in them.

Finally, stick to the facts. Gather information from your team and base your decisions on that truth. Your emotions will certainly try to hijack things from time to time, but if you can assume positive intent and avoid getting defensive, you’ll be better positioned to help your team survive (and even thrive) during tough situations.

About the author

Grant Olsen
Grant Olsen
Grant Olsen is a writer specializing in small business loans, leadership skills, and growth strategies. He is a contributing writer for KSL 5 TV, where his articles have generated more than 6 million page views, and has been featured on FitSmallBusiness.com and ModernHealthcare.com. Grant is also the author of the book "Rhino Trouble." He has a B.A. in English from Brigham Young University.

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