Stress Signals to Look Out For in Senior Staff

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Work-related stress is particularly common in senior members of staff. Executives face unique stressors, presenting themselves to colleagues, employees, and dependents at home. 

This can be influenced by toxic company cultures that expect staff to work harder, for longer. With lengthy to-do lists, back-to-back meetings, and overtime taking priority over lunch breaks, it can be easy for well-being to slip under the mounting pressure of deadlines and reports.

If left to fester and worsen, ​​stress due to work can cause serious mental health problems for employees. It can result in severe anxiety disorders, physical health problems, substance abuse, and even addiction. 

Recognizing symptoms of stress, and implementing change to company culture and expectations of executive staff members can help to combat the negative impact of anxiety and stress in the workplace and in workers’ personal lives.

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Why is it important to recognize symptoms of stress in your staff?

It is important to recognize when staff members, and especially senior staff members, are experiencing symptoms of anxiety. There are strong links between anxiety and addiction, especially in executives. In fact, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that people who worked in management had the 3rd highest rate of illicit drug use of any surveyed profession.

Because of the pressure to perform, and to continue to manage and face members of the team, both those reporting to and above, it can often be hard for executives to seek the recovery help they need. 

Not only can anxiety lead to addiction issues, but the development of anxiety disorders can also trigger many other short- and long-term health problems, if left unalleviated. 

Higher executives suffering from stress can also have a huge impact on their teams and wider company employees. It can create a volatile environment and reduce productivity. If direct reports can see management is under strain, they may not want to approach them with issues or questions. This can lead to missed deadlines and mistakes, thus contributing to a vicious cycle of stress.

What are the signs of stress to look out for?

There are both physical and hidden signs of stress to look out for in senior members for staff. While physical may be easier to stop, hidden factors can present themselves in telling ways.

Physical signs

Some signifiers of stress that are more obvious include: 

  • Shortened temper
  • Low moods 
  • Extreme mood swings result in snappy replies or arguments. 
  • Low productivity 

Even missing deadlines and uncharacteristic mistakes could also imply that staff members are not performing at their best. 

Colds or sickness that returns often or never really clear up. This could be because they aren’t looking after themselves, such as not eating healthy meals, or because they don’t have the time to rest and recuperate. Repeat sickness or absence is something to keep an eye on. 

Sometimes, employee appearances can also indicate stress. Generally not looking after oneself could be a contributing factor to stress affecting staff. Tired-looking eyes could be a result of insomnia or loss of sleep. Weight gain or loss, or dull skin could mean that staff isn’t finding time to eat healthily.

Hidden signs

Contrastingly, it is also important to realize if staff are not taking any paid time off. Feeling like they are unable to take leave because they are busy will mean other parts of their lives, such as health, family or personal lives are suffering and friction here could add more stress to existing work pressures. Encourage staff to use PTO to look after themselves. 

Staff members that are consuming a large amount of caffeine, alcohol or other stimulants may also be showing signs of stress and anxiety. When used in moderation, caffeine can aid focus, and alcohol to wind down. But when it becomes a dependency or an addiction, it may be time to open a conversation. Remember to approach these areas tactfully and supportively. 

There are many other more subtle symptoms of stress that could be harder to stop. These include physical symptoms suffered by the individual, like: 

  • Shortness of breath
  • Tightness of chest
  • Headaches
  • Increased feelings of negativity or nausea. 

If a staff member seems withdrawn or has a drastic change in behavior or attitude it is worth investigating further. 

If any team member, including management and higher execs, displays symptoms of stress or anxiety, it is time for a change. This could be changed to individuals, including training, support, or professional help in the form of therapy, rehab, or medicines. Alternatively, it could be time to address larger areas of your business that impact the stress of employees

How to alleviate stressors for senior staff and executives

We’ve stressed the importance of creating a positive company culture that prioritizes staff wellbeing, implementing boundaries, and having clear lines of communication. 

Some simple ways to decrease stress triggers for senior staff members include assessing workloads and having clear conversations about expectations and realistic deadlines. This will reduce long hours and overtime. 

It might also be worth looking at team dynamics and structure. Consider if each team member has the support they need to perform their job specifications and if work is fairly distributed across departments.

Reframing success for senior staff

Reframing success can also inspire a new wave of motivation. Move away from pressures around on sales target or profit margin, and instead view success in a lower staff turnover and overall employee satisfaction. 

Making sure that employees are made aware of these signals, through training and workshops, will help to support anyone suffering from work-related stress. When employees are made more aware of symptoms, it is more likely that sufferers can open up and ask for help themselves, as there is an open line of communication around stress. 

Similarly, it is important to not only look out for the signs of stress and alleviate these pressures where possible but also to have a process in place to support members of staff experiencing stress or anxiety symptoms. 

Although it may seem counterproductive, creating a stronger work/life balance for employees could in fact increase productivity. Looking after staff members will encourage your team to approach projects in a timely and strategic manner. It will also affirm your care for their wellbeing, which will in turn encourage them to support your business, and make it a Great Place To Work.

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