As a leader, it's your job to keep team morale high.

If you get the sense your team is stressed, chances are you're right. There are many reasons workers are stressed these days, from a lack of work-life balance to general job uncertainty. A stressed-out team is something you'll want to nip in the bud; experts say: stressed employees aren't as productive, creative, collaborative and proactive as they could be.  So, here are 10 reasons your team might be stressed ‒ with expert tips for what you should do.

  1. They can't handle a too-heavy workload.

  2. There aren't clear goals.

  3. You're not transparent.

  4. They feel a lack of work-life balance.

  5. You don't trust your employees.

  6. Unrealistic expectations have been set.

  7. They fear job uncertainty.

  8. They don't feel connected to their teammates or leaders.

  9. They don't feel empathy from their leaders.

  10. They think their leaders don't understand what they do.

1. They can't handle a too-heavy workload

According to a survey by the American Institute of Stress, about one in five workers has quit a previous job because of stress ‒ and almost half of them say a heavy workload was the culprit. 'Long hours and an onslaught of emails and projects can make for exhausted and stressed-out employees', says executive career coach Elizabeth Pearson, who adds that leaders can mitigate potential burnout by 'clearly prioritising the workload they assign to their team members'. An open-door policy ‒ one that encourages employees to come to you when they are overwhelmed by their workload, rather than quietly suffer ‒ can also help reduce stress and set better priorities.

2. There aren't clear goals

'When you have a job to do, the biggest key to being successful is having a clear goal', career coach Michele Mavi says. Without clear goals, your team will be stressed: After all, they won't know what they're working towards, or if they've met your expectations. 'Employees know they are going to be judged on the quality of their work, and when leaders can't clearly communicate the goal in specific terms or change their benchmarks often because they aren't clear on what is needed, it creates a lot of stress and confusion', Mavi explains. 'Leaders need to make sure they have communicated desired outcomes and timelines with teams, and if they're not able to do that, acknowledge that things aren't clear.' Doing so lets your team know exactly where they need to be and where they are headed ‒ and that their leader is on the same page, Mavi says.

3. You're not transparent

When leaders omit or withhold important information from employees, it can stress out teams ‒ especially during challenging times such as budget cuts or company transformations, says career mentor Michelle Enjoli. 'It will cause employees to distrust the organisation or leader and create assumptions based on inaccurate information,” Enjoli says. To increase transparency and reduce stress, Enjoli recommends committing to regularly updating your teams. 'An important part of this communication is to include an opportunity for team members to ask questions and get an honest response', she says. 'If the leader is unable to respond, they should be clear on whether they don't know and can enquire, or simply cannot provide a comment at that time.'

4. They feel a lack of work-life balance

With technology at our fingertips and in our pockets ‒ hello, smartphones ‒ it's tougher to set clear boundaries between work and home. And with work often invading their personal lives, employees are feeling more stressed. Pearson says that 'less personal time to spend on self-care can lead to increased anxiety, unhappiness and mental health deterioration', and recommends that leaders offset teams' stress 'by encouraging them to "clock-out" and not respond to emails, texts or calls before or after certain times of the day'. Leaders can also mandate or encourage employees to take allotted paid time off throughout the year, and lead by example ‒ taking time off themselves and communicating how they unplug when they're home or on vacation, she says.

5. You don't trust your employees

'A threat to autonomy is a big trigger in the workplace for both individuals and teams', explains Mavi. 'When leaders ask for constant updates and need to be informed of every step of the way, it creates a sense that the team isn't trusted to do what is needed.' You may trust your team, but if you micromanage them or demand constant updates, your trust isn't coming across. Try to take a step back and let your team do their job. You may see them less stressed and more productive.

6. Unrealistic expectations have been set

According to Mavi, many leaders don't understand what it takes to get things done ‒ and so, they set unrealistic expectations and timelines for their employees, which can cause serious stress. As she explains, 'When unrealistic expectations are set, and there's no give and take when it comes to an understanding a team's challenges, everyone is stressed.' Instead, consider talking to your team before setting expectations, so that any goals you set are reasonable and achievable for the team.

7. They fear job uncertainty

If employees think their job isn't secure or their career path isn't paved, they can feel stressed, says Pearson. 'Anxiety and stress are inevitable anytime there is uncertainty. Why? Because it tells the brain, there might be danger around the corner, so they better come up with a plan to avoid it', she says. To calm this kind of stress, Pearson suggests that leaders 'consistently call out any potential fears', so that employees can feel safe and secure in their jobs.

8. They don't feel connected to their teammates or leaders

If teammates and leaders don't take the time to connect with one another genuinely, the team can feel stressed, says Enjoli. That's because a lack of connection can 'cause conflict within the team due to differences in work habits, styles of communication or opinions', she says, adding that 'a leader can solve this by making a genuine effort to understand the motivations, challenges and unique needs for each member of their team'.

You can help your team connect by 'communicating to the entire group how each member contributes to the success of the [team]', she says. 'This is extremely effective when a new team member [comes on]. Leaders should also encourage healthy discussions with different opinions and work with their team to resolve them.'

9. They don't feel empathy from their leaders

Businesses can be personal. 'Most professionals at all levels take their jobs personally and want to work for leaders that take a real interest in them as people', says Mavi, who adds, 'If they don't feel personally supported, eventually they will start to look elsewhere.' She says that leaders can show empathy by commiserating with their teams, listening to their issues' and saying something like, 'I understand how you feel, and that sounds frustrating. How can I help you?'

10. They think their leaders don't understand what they do

Sometimes, teams' managers just don't get it. When teams are managed by leaders who are not familiar with the process or mission ‒ such as managers who are new to the company or new to the department ‒ teams can get stressed, says Mavi. If you find yourself in unfamiliar water with your team, take the time to learn how it operates and avoid micromanaging in the interim, Mavi says. 'Becoming overly present in the processes creates a great deal of frustration', she explains.

Trying to show off your leadership skills on your CV? Get a free CV critique for expert feedback. 

Editor's Note: This piece was written by Jillian Kramer and originally ran on Glassdoor UK. It is reprinted with permission.

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