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Effective communication by line managers - key to reducing workplace stress
In recognition of National Stress Awareness Day (2 Nov), the Institute of Internal Communication highlights the role of leaders and line managers in minimising workplace stress - particularly important in a difficult economic climate.
Over 400,000 people a year believe that they are experiencing work-related stress at a level that is making them ill (Labour Force Survey, Office for National Statistics [2009/2010]) — and these are just the extreme examples of stress-related problems.
The Institute’s chief executive Steve Doswell comments: “Bullying and harassment are terrible, and there should be no need for individuals to work excessively long hours. However, despite what we see in some high-profile cases, a lot of stress in the workplace creeps up in a much more insidious way without anyone intending to cause damage or take advantage. It basically relates to leaders and managers who cannot communicate properly.
“The current uncertain economic climate creates additional pressures and, if a manager has poor communication skills, the cracks can really begin to show.”
Ways of minimising stress in the workplace include:
• Make sure that individual staff members’ responsibilities and objectives are clear – deal with ambiguities.
• Tackle issues and bones of contention that may be causing tension within the team, rather than letting them fester.
• Be clear and consistent in instructions, comments and feedback.
• Promote two-way communication.
• Be sensitive to staff’s feelings on particular issues and read non-verbal signals. Take time to understand what they are enthusiastic about and strengths they have that could really benefit the department.
• During difficult and uncertain times, make as much information available as possible and put it in the context of broader commercial and economic conditions so that staff feel they are in the picture, rather than waiting until it is time for a major announcement.
• Be sensitive to changes in the workplace that may result in different workloads or challenges for individual staff members.
• Demonstrate the ability to let go and allow staff to take ownership of their work — provide levels of guidance and input that are appropriate for the staff member concerned.
Steve Doswell comments: “It’s not really enough to have developed communication strategies for structured events such as appraisals, presentations and meetings. Managers need to be able to build rapport with their staff and understand what makes them tick generally and in their daily working life – subtler skills that are often brushed over when someone is moving into more senior roles.
“Organisations need to value and cultivate these skills in their managers, in addition to their acknowledged area of expertise, not least because it is now very clear that engaging employees effectively is a critical factor in sustained organisational success.
“And professional communications staff should be harnessed effectively to facilitate constructive and fruitful relationships between managers and their teams.’’
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The Institute of Internal Communication is the UK professional body for internal communication professionals. It offers professional development, promotes the importance of internal communications, develops industry knowledge, provides a strong network.