Five ways to support employees under pressure

In last week’s blog we looked at how people can improve their ability to cope under pressure by developing their personal resilience. But of course it’s not just about what individuals can do personally to set themselves up for success in times of stress or adversity – the support provided by the business is critical too.

When the chips are down, people need to feel that they have the backing of the business and are not beavering away or taking the flak in isolation. The need to be able to discuss problems openly and to feel it’s OK to say if they are not coping.

Often it’s the small actions that count the most. A team dealing with a crisis, for example, will appreciate someone senior taking an active interest, providing clear guidance and maybe even rolling their sleeves up to help. People who are working up against impossibly tight deadlines need someone to notice they haven’t had time to eat and to order the pizzas in.

Recent research conducted by Ashridge Business School together with the NSPCC looked at what strategies companies might need to put in place if they wanted to help people sustain high performance and thrive under pressure.

Here are some of the ideas emerging from the research that will help you improve the way you support staff during difficult times.

1. Build a supportive atmosphere

Think about how you can put support mechanisms in place and encourage people across the business to build positive relationships. The Ashridge research showed that informal ‘in the moment’ support was highly valuable and suggested that companies could help to facilitate this by giving people the opportunity and space to access support from their peers. Designated coffee areas and breaks where people could walk and talk were a few of the ideas suggested.

2. Help employees maintain balance

Employees are more likely to thrive in a culture which supports flexible working and takes account of their priorities, situations and the way they feel they work best. Activities which might encourage people to maintain a balanced perspective and lifestyle include healthy eating initiatives, exercise classes, book clubs and music clubs. These are all activities which can be implemented in an SME just as easily as a larger business – one idea might be to team up with other small businesses in the area to provide a joint offering.

3. Communicate a clear purpose

Some companies have a clear purpose that is easily identifiable and understood by the people who work for them. This is not, however, the case in every business. Communicating the purpose and vision clearly to employees helps them make sense of what they are doing and understand how their personal contribution fits into the bigger picture. This is particularly important during tough times, when people need some kind of ‘reference point’ to help them cope with change and ambiguity.

4. Build self-belief

Providing opportunities for people to learn and grow is an important part of helping them feel equipped to cope under pressure. Managers can help people in their team build confidence by identifying individual training needs and helping people improve their skills through appropriate support and development. This doesn’t have to mean sending people on expensive training courses – coaching, mentoring and job swaps are all low cost ways you can help people build their skills.

5. Help people adapt to change

People cope with change in different ways and it is not always obvious to managers who may be struggling. Make sure you are aware of the signs of people who are under stress so that you can identify those who are not coping well and can support them. Just putting time aside to talk people, give them a chance to air their concerns and explain properly what is happening can make a huge difference.

Businesses that invest time in developing a range of strategies to help their people cope in difficult times will be best placed to build more resilient workforces who can thrive amidst adversity. The key is to learn which kind of initiatives work best in your business and to respond flexibly depending on the situation.

How have you supported your staff during times of stress? We’d be interested to hear what worked well for you.

Moving towards a resilient process: A positive approach to understanding and developing resilience in the NSPCC, Ashridge Business School,

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