4 Ways to Support Your Team During Stressful Times

Deanne Kaar

I have worked in the health care field for 15 years and there has been no shortage of pressure, from increasing work demands to difficult situations with coworkers or customers requesting services that are outside the norm. Although some pressure can be helpful to motivate individuals, when stressors become long-term and/or unmanageable, leaders need to consider how they can mitigate their impact on productivity, work satisfaction, customer care, and morale at work.

There are many reasons people may feel pressure at work: downsizing, restructuring, staff turnover, seasonal demands like year-end or budgeting, unsafe work environments, or continuous change (like COVID-19!). Although many people are able to tolerate a small or moderate amount of stress, long-term stress and the body’s reaction to it can have serious consequences.

Long-term stress and the body’s reaction to it can have serious consequences.

Leaders need to understand that not caring for your teams during times of pressure can lead to burnout, absenteeism, mental health and physical challenges, turnover, unhealthy coping skills, and disconnecting or disengaging. The effects of stress can have an impact not only on the working environment, but also at home.

Here are some tips that can help leaders support their team members during times of high stress:

Plan ahead if you know about an upcoming pressure point

Talk to your team members well in advance so you can listen to their concerns and ideas for how to manage the situation rather than waiting until the event is already upon you. For example, if your year-end is in January, start talking and planning with your staff a few months beforehand.

Be available for your team members

A good leader is connected to their staff – leaders are there to hear staff concerns and, most importantly, help with problem-solving and/or addressing issues. Leaders need to listen to their staff, which means communicating in a way that they find effective. Some people want a phone call, an in-person discussion, or the ability to write down their ideas and then meet for a conversation. We need to hear what staff are saying and then follow through by dealing with the challenges that we are able to address.

Leaders are there to hear staff concerns and, most importantly, help with problem-solving and/or addressing issues.

Look for hidden or unspoken needs

When people are under pressure, they may not be fully aware of the impact it’s having on them. Due to the long-term stress of COVID-19, many people are experiencing mental health challenges and are potentially uncomfortable sharing about their struggle. Some could be withdrawing from work or their relationships, while others might be uncharacteristically pessimistic and grumpy. These can be subtle changes and, as a team leader, it’s important to keep a pulse on your team members so you can observe unusual behaviour and kindly offer help when it’s needed.

Understand the importance of good change management

Some pressures can come from restructuring or other large changes. There are many strategies to practice good leadership during a change, such as vision setting, clear communication, engagement, honesty, active listening, awareness, and explaining the “why” of the change. Having information left unsaid can create stress and uncertainty, which can turn into added pressure at work. Being mindful of what people need to reduce their stress can reduce resistance to the change and improve outcomes.

Overall, many aspects of life are about relationships. This may include your team members’ connection with their work, coworkers, leaders, external partners, and customers. To help your team function effectively, take a personal approach to getting to know your team members, understand when things are amiss, listen to your team, and support them to reduce the pressures they are experiencing. The goal is to have staff who want to come to work in a positive environment and who perform their jobs as efficiently and successfully as possible.


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Author: Deanne Kaar
Trainer, ACHIEVE Centre for Leadership

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