Is Stress Hampering Your Finance Team’s Performance?

We’ve all read about ways to beat stress. From the fairly well adopted practice of mindfulness to the other, less effective, extreme of phone-cold turkey from 6pm Friday until, well, you can bear it no more, there is quite a litany of advice out there.

We all know that stress is toxic. Sure, pressure – the type of buzz you may feel when up against a deadline – may be productive for some. I’m not really alluding to that here. I’m talking about the continuous feeling of being under pressure and inability to perform at one’s best, that too often evolves into a vicious cycle of performance, or health, decline.

The fact is, as a workforce, many of us are under stress. Some statistics show it’s as high as 1 in 5 workers, and it’s well known that it’s a, if not, the, leading cause of sick leave. So fixing it, is not only a personal priority it’s a business one. So, what are the first steps?

#1 Prevention

And acceptance being the first part of that. Unfortunately, we live in a world where ‘stress’ in work is still quite widely swept under the carpet, or at least not understood. Stress has always been seen as an unpleasant, but almost necessary by-product of work, and often something to be proud of, as if it’s a badge of honour. It’s been shown that many companies still do not have wellness policies or programmes in play, indicating a lack of executive support, which if turned around, could impact stress statistics massively.

#2 Autonomy doesn’t mean less stress

Research, conducted by Sarah Damaske, Matthew J Zawadzki and Joshua M. Smyth, shows that higher paid workers report greater stress and fewer positive work appraisals (which we can translate as less happiness in the workplace). Higher status jobs often come with greater demands – related to more responsibility (higher expectations) and more likelihood of conflict (through increased authority). Make sure that your efforts are not just focused on your junior employees, it’s your senior team members and peers that may be most at risk.

#3 Ensure your leaders are sufficiently resourced, and supported

According to the above research, one of the biggest triggers of stress is when higher-paid employees do not feel that they have the support, or resources, to perform the job. Whether this is accurate, or individual perception, the prevalence of this view means that it is something that needs to be considered in your risk assessment. Look carefully at the job roles in your team from multiple perspectives. Assess whether your leaders have sufficient time (how long is it actually taking them to fulfil their objectives?), skills (do they need training?), guidance (do they receive enough support from you?), and resources (do they have enough budget, skilled staff beneath them, and support from the business?).

#4 Be aware of the signs of stress and normalise an opportunity to discuss them.

Staff not being able to perform their tasks in reasonable working hours, defensive behaviour when questioned on work product, general negativity and a declining social involvement all could point to workplace stress. Create an opportunity for to openly discuss how the employee is feeling – not as a one-off-chat, but as a part of a normal reporting check-in/feedback/appraisal process you might already have in place.

Above all, creating a culture where being ‘stressed’ is not seen as either an indicator of how dedicated you are to your job, or, at the other end of the spectrum, as an inability to perform your job, is critical. Most people in corporate environments will continue to a point where their stress is so advanced that it affects their performance negatively, before they admit there is a problem. Therefore, as a leader, it is up to you to spot and address those pre-cursors of stress before they advance.

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