How to support your staff through stress and underperformance

Leaders often face uncertainty on how to best deal with people who are not performing at work. Sometimes an employee’s underperformance is linked to significant stressors in their lives.

According to the recent APS Annual report* on mental health, it listed personal finances, family issues and personal health as the top three causes of str
ess reported in Australia over the last five years. We know from research that our psychological concerns and burdens at home and work do not stay compartmentalised, so stress at home will also spill over to work and vice versa.

You will have to assume that some of your employees are dealing with pressures and can be battling stress, depression and anxiety at any time, particularly considering that the APS report found 26 per cent of Australians reported having moderate to extremely severe levels of depression symptoms, and that in 2015 anxiety symptoms were the highest they have been in the five years of the survey’s existence. 

Further to this, we tend to use unhelpful coping strategies: “of those reporting extremely severe levels of anxiety symptoms, 66 per cent drink alcohol, 54 per cent gamble, 47 per cent take recreational drugs and 45 per cent smoke cigarettes to manage stress”. These are often the indicators we can observe.

What do you do as a leader to support your people? Do you know what best practice in mental health and safety at work is? Advice and legal requirements can be found with workplace health and safety acts and also on websites providing free and helpful advice and support such as the HeadsUp site.

Here are a couple of thoughts on the matter....

Self awareness is crucial as a leader

First, we can all be good leaders, but it starts with leading ourselves. Self-awareness and mindfulness of our emotions, behaviours and impact on others is crucial. Assess from day to day whether you operate out of a place of stress, anxiety, greed or anger? What will you do to get to a place of pro-active actions, openness, vulnerability and authenticity and being comfortable in who you are so that you can create the space and mindfulness to truly be present with your people? People who are in a “good place” and accepting of themselves are more likely to withhold assumptions and judgements and instead have the courage to engage and be ‘real’ with their people.

Fostering a positive work environment

Second, in the APS study it was found that ‘focussing on the positives’ is a helpful coping technique. This is in line with research and practice in Positive Psychology. As a leader you can influence a positive work environment by choosing to focus on positive aspects such as celebrating wins, using appropriate humour in your dealings with employees, pointing out strengths and achievements, encourage people to ask for help and to help each other, giving feedback and making it a habit to show thankfulness. Also, you can discourage talk that focusses on unhelpful and unnecessary negativity.

These simple steps can lead to a more productive, healthier and most importantly, happier workplace.

If you find that you’re struggling with these issues, there are organisations such as AccessEAP who offer a range of services that can assist you in dealing with them head on. These programs offer strategies and provide invaluable support which can truly benefit both employer and employee.

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