EngagementEmployee EngagementThe art of communicating with an overwhelmed workforce

The art of communicating with an overwhelmed workforce

Stuart Hearn, CEO, Clear Review, looks at how tech-led, modern performance management approaches can help overwhelmed workers to feel happier and perform better in an age where employee stress is on the rise.

In today’s ‘always-on’ culture where employees are constantly connected to work emails and communication apps, it’s no surprise that work-life balance is harder to, well, balance. In fact, as the 9-5 becomes increasingly extinct and technology precipitates an ultra-connected world, recent research from Gallup reveals that more than two-thirds of employees (67%) are struggling with burn out – a fact that may come as little surprise to many.

So, we find ourselves amidst an epidemic of stressed-out workers who take on too much and continually underachieve – a less than ideal situation for both employees’ mental health and organisations’ bottom lines. Needless to say, the pains that this modern-day malady is creating, both in individual productivity and overall performance terms, are significant.

Here’s how HR teams and business leaders can help employees to keep it simple, beat the stress and stay productive:

The Multi-Dimensional Human

Before managers can support their overwhelmed workers to enjoy a better work-life balance, they first need to understand their employees on an individual level. Humans are not one-dimensional beings, and we all have demands on our time and resources that are unrelated to the workplace. It might be that the employee is a parent or carer – just two of many ‘life factors’ that employers need to not only be aware of, but actively cater for if they are going to get the best performance and productivity out of their people.

Consider that ‘Bob from IT’ is also ‘Bob the dad’, ‘Bob the son’, and perhaps even ‘Bob the bereaved’. My point? Encourage your managers to get to know their employees and think of them as holistic, multi-dimensional humans. In employee-specific terms, this will help to ensure that goals are realistic and achievable (fewer overwhelmed workers, right there), and in general terms, it will facilitate a more supportive company culture.

Employee wellbeing strategies should also come into play here. Amongst other initiatives, HR should be looking to instil a culture and framework for regular employee-manager conversation. In doing this, instances of workplace stress and/or mental health concerns can be identified quickly and acted upon in a timely way so that dips in performance and productivity can be minimised, if not avoided altogether.

Focus and Feedback

In the words of Steve Jobs: “Do not try to do everything, do one thing well”.

Savvy business leaders will recognise that overwhelmed employees lack focus, which blurs their ability to prioritise and define what is important. Helping them to simplify their to-do list will take away much of their angst and ensure better performance.

Encouragingly, a study from Bersin by Deloitte shows that nearly a third (31%) of organisations are working to simplify employees’ work as a means of improving both employee experiences and productivity. It’s a welcome trend, and one which is enabling employees to better understand and define the scope of their work – both key to improved performance and output. Complement this with manager guidance around priorities and key areas to focus on, and the employee will have a clearly defined and attainable goal – an outcome that will remove unnecessary distraction as well as, importantly, those creeping feelings of stress and concern that so many employees experience these days.

Once managers have helped their team members to identify priorities and establish that all-important focus, the next step to ensuring that employees stay on their simple and stress-free path lies in providing clear, consistent and frequent feedback. This ought not to be feedback given only as a corrective measure, though. The overarching objective here is to foster an organisational culture centred around ongoing and meaningful feedback, whether that be positive or constructive in nature.

By adopting an optimum feedback framework, organisational leaders can make sure that their employees will no longer be left to their own devices with an uncontrollable to do list, a lack of focus and a mounting sense of dread. This translates to fewer people off sick, and a lower rate of staff churn – both of which represent huge cost savings for business.

Technology that Gets People Talking

So how can organisations best facilitate regular employee-manager conversations?

Culture is key, and often that requires behavioural change initiatives to ensure that employees and managers embrace and adopt the continuous performance management model. Equally as important though – and more so than ever considering today’s disparate and diverse global workforce – is having built-for-purpose, light-touch technology to act as the enabler.

Yes, tracking employee sentiment and engagement via tech-based surveys and tools can be helpful, but most important is using technology to support a culture of honest discussion via regular ‘check-ins’. In the context of beating stress and helping employees to avoid becoming overwhelmed, the talking element should really precede all else so organisations need to ensure a technology platform that leads with this goal in mind.

The ‘Check-in’ Checklist

For these check-ins to be effective in identifying the early stages of stress, there are a couple of important provisos. The check-in meetings must not include any form of rating or evaluation. People are unlikely to open up about their concerns if they know they are going to be rated at the end of the discussion, even less so if that rating determines their ongoing pay scale. This is one of the reasons why traditional annual appraisals, which typically mix both of these elements into a single meeting, are ineffective.

Secondly, managers need clear guidance on what to discuss in these check-in conversations, particularly when it comes to knowing which questions are effective in teasing out potential stressors. A check-in of this type is different from a typical one-to-one which discusses day-to-day work – an observation that takes us back to ‘Bob from IT’. If Bob’s manager has information about Bob’s commitments and concerns from previous check-ins, he or she will feel more able to ask Bob about these and provide ongoing support. Likewise, Bob himself is more likely to feel comfortable in speaking about any issues and accepting support.

With overworked and overwhelmed employees posing a real – and increasing – risk to overall business performance, it’s no surprise that the early majority are now taking this issue seriously, and that is a great step forward for both employee wellbeing and business growth.

By taking on the above advice, organisations will not only be able to reduce costs associated with churn and presenteeism but also future-proof employee performance and productivity for the long-term

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