Contributing Writer: John Horton
COVID-19 has significantly increased the rates of anxiety and depression among workers in the United States, with about four in every ten adults reporting symptoms of anxiety or depression, a significant increase from the previously reported one in ten adults in 2019 (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2021). The stark increase of depression and anxiety levels mandates that managers and leaders understand the impact of stress on their staff and mitigate that stress wherever possible. Although many uncontrollable issues cause stress (e.g., increased customer demands, financial issues, and interpersonal relationships), leaders should strive to control what is controllable – their own behaviors. This article speaks to doing just that.
I am a Practice Manager at Hogan Assessment Systems; a personality assessment company focused on leadership and workplace performance. Our tools assess a person’s interpersonal style and how it impacts the day-to-day workplace, especially when people are not performing at their best. Our assessments predict how people will perform in their roles and identify maladaptive behavioral patterns that occur due to stress, complacency, or boredom. This article sheds light on the many ways a leader can potentially create stress for their staff and provides strategies to mitigate those behaviors to improve their staff’s experience and mental health in the workplace.
Research from the National Institutes of Health (NIH, 2008) found that long exposures of stress can be detrimental to an individual’s physical health. Prolonged exposure to stress has been found to the leave the body more prone to physical injury and illness (APA, 2018). A study conducted in 2011 by the American Psychological Association found that stress levels were steadily increasing, with workplace related stress being one of the top contributors to stress in adults (Stressed in America, 2011). According to Harvard Business Review, bad bosses and leaders are one of the largest contributors to workplace stress (How to Deal with a Boss Who Stresses You Out, 2017). We understand these data to mean that the most common cause of stress and potential sickness is work stress, caused in large part by bad management.
Hogan Assessments has identified 11 ways bad leaders alienate their staff, regardless of industry or seniority level. Simply put, these 11 behavioral patterns are likely the causes of stress for employees. Describing these maladaptive behavioral patterns resonates with most people.
Think about your career. Have you ever had an arrogant boss who blamed you for mistakes and wouldn’t listen to your ideas? Have you had a boss who yelled or showed extreme moodiness? Have you ever had a boss that was so perfectionistic that you could not do anything right? These are some behavioral patterns that managers show when they are stressed, not paying attention, or when working with employees they don’t respect. Our assessments identify the likelihood of these patterns emerging based on scores on various scales.
Specifically, to leaders reading this, it is quite possible that you exhibit some (or many) of these maladaptive behavioral patterns, resulting in the distress of your employees. Given the difficulty in the past two years, most industries are experiencing extreme strain from increased workload coupled with a decrease in available resources, causing leaders increased stress and an inability to recover from the COVID workload. Leaders should try to constrain these maladaptive behavioral patterns so that their employees no longer have to sacrifice their mental health to accommodate these behaviors. All of us have aspects of our management style that need work. Still, we need to know that the consequences of not doing the work to improve our styles for our staff is causing significantly more stress on them and is likely contributing to the erosion of their mental health.
Most of these extreme maladaptive behavioral patterns are best understood as overused strengths (i.e., your arrogant boss may also be courageous, and your emotionally volatile boss may be quite passionate and intense). There is always a “golden mean” in performance between undesirable extremes. Aristotle, Buddha, Jesus, and Jim Collins all argue for individual balance for the sake of a social entity larger than the individual. If you are confident and think you rarely make mistakes, this attitude can turn into arrogance and cause stress for your staff. The consequences of this are self-evident.
Here are five ways to start mitigating your bad behavior.
- Take a personality assessment. Try to understand your strengths and how you might overuse them. Or have a candid conversation with your spouse or your “painfully honest” friend.
- Work with an objective third party. A coach or trusted advisor/mentor can help you put “guardrails” around your maladaptive behaviors. What does too much or too little of a behavior look like? What are the consequences to your business or staff? What has been the history of the emergence of these consequences, specifically with your staff?
- Record your triggers. Reflect on what aspects of the job cause you the most stress and try to understand if there are patterns around the time these behavioral patterns come out. Do specific jobs or people you work around cause extreme behavior? Do disruptions from your routine or personal life cause these behaviors to emerge?
- Develop coping skills for yourself and staff. Coping skills like emotional journaling, mindfulness meditation, yoga, exercise, stable sleep, and a healthy diet have ameliorating effects on stress and should help with work fatigue.
- Develop your behavioral limits. Once you understand the potential triggers for your maladaptive behavioral patterns, you should establish some limitations for your job around said patterns. It’s often understood in coaching, psychology, and consulting psychology that although strengths can be overused, these strengths are necessary to succeed within the workplace.
- Be honest. Your staff already likely knows your tendencies and knows you are human. Try being candid with your staff about your tendencies and triggers, work to mitigate them, and, if your environment needs your extreme behaviors, hire people that mitigate your weaknesses with their strengths.
If you tend to worry more about the bottom line, consider that unchecked maladaptive behaviors can cause increased stress to staff and likely leads to lower staff engagement, ultimately affecting the bottom line (HR Cloud, 2022). If you are more interested in people outcomes, the consequences of unchecked behavior will likely lead to staff turnover and decreased quality of life for your employees.