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24th April 2024

From the Top Down: How Stressed Leaders Impact Teams and Organisations

In today’s fast-paced professional landscape, the role of leadership is crucial in navigating challenges and steering teams towards success. However, the pressure of leadership can often lead to stress, with 41% of senior leaders feeling stressed and 36% feeling exhausted. This impacts the wellbeing of the leader, but also trickles down into all levels of the organisation.

From the Top Down: How Stressed Leaders Impact Teams and Organisations 1

The Domino Effect of Stress

Managers and leaders have a direct impact on their team’s stress and anxiety levels. When we are stressed, we may become more pessimistic, use more negative language, behave out of character, be emotionally volatile or forget to consider how others may be feeling. These behaviours impact those around us, particularly our team and may begin to impact productivity, morale, and overall performance. Consider a scenario where a senior manager is constantly frazzled due to tight deadlines and demanding clients. Their stress trickles down to associates and support staff, creating a tense work environment. How does this impact the team and the organisation?

Impact of Leader’s Stress on the Team and the Organisation

Stressed leaders can impact the overall functioning and dynamic of their teams, including morale, performance, trust, communication, and wellbeing.

  • Decreased morale: A visibly stress leader can dampen team spirit, decreasing morale and motivation, and eventually leading to disengagement and reduced productivity.
  • Poor communication: Stress can inhibit our communication skills and other cognitive functions such as decision making. Stressed leaders may struggle to communicate effectively with their team members, leading to misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and poor decision-making processes within the team.
  • Increased conflict and tension: A stressed leader may be more prone to lash out or behave in negative ways, which can exacerbate conflicts and increase tension within the team.
  • Lack of creativity: A tense and stressful work environment stifles creativity and innovation, as employees may feel hesitant to take risks or think outside the box.
  • Reduced wellbeing: The environment created by the negative behaviours exhibited by a stressed leader can impact employees even when they go home from work, even impacting the physical and mental health of team members. Feeling stressed or anxious about work for prolonged periods of time can also increase burnout, depression and other stress-related health issues.

The long-term impacts of a leader’s stress on the team will in turn impact the organisation’s outcomes and performance. Prolonged exposure to a stressful work environment may lead to increased absenteeism and sick leave, and eventually result in increased turnover as employees feel compelled to leave the organisation. Additionally, the negative behaviours of stressed managers, such as micro-management or aggression, can lead to negative company culture. Stress itself can also lead to increased errors and reduced compliance to procedures and processes, as it impacts our concentration and focus levels. Recognising the potential of stress in leaders to have far-reaching consequences within the organisation is essential, and addressing these consequences is even more important.

Mitigating the Negative Impact

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While stress is inevitable in leadership roles, there are strategies that mid-level and senior managers can employ to mitigate its negative impact on their teams and organisations:

  • Practice self-care: As the saying goes, you cannot pour from an empty cup. Leaders can look after their own wellbeing by prioritising mental, physical, emotional, social and spiritual self-care in their daily and weekly routines. Taking time for these practices can increase energy levels and reduce stress.
  • Set an example: Leaders should role-model healthy coping behaviours and stress management techniques. This sets a positive example for team members to feel safe to prioritise their own wellbeing.
  • Communicate transparently: Creating a culture of open communication can support mutual support, which can be beneficial when times of stress do happen. Leaders should also be honest about when they are feeling stressed and what their triggers are, and reassure the team that their concerns and input are valued and heard.
  • Accept and apologise: No one is perfect, and all leaders may experience times when their behaviour has negatively impacted a team member. In order to maintain and repair their relationship with team members, it is important to acknowledge when our behaviour may have been negative or inappropriate and extend an apology.
  • Seek support: Whether it’s executive coaching, a wellbeing and stress management training programme, support from health experts or support from other leaders, asking for and accepting support is essential for a leader’s wellbeing, and the wellbeing of the team as a whole.

How Can Impact Help:

Through our comprehensive wellbeing offerings, Impact bespoke strategies specifically tackle the challenges your team face in the workplace, including stress management. Together we can support leaders and organisations to cultivate a positive workplace culture that prioritises employee wellbeing throughout the year.

Our Wellbeing At Work half-day workshop is an excellent place to start to support your team to manage workplace stress and build resilience.

Enquire here.