According to a 2018 survey of 2,000 UK adults, 85% of us regularly experience high levels of stress, with work cited as the second highest cause (1). Stress occurs when we don’t believe that we have the ability to cope with certain situations (2) meaning that plenty of us think we can’t deal with the demands of our jobs. That’s a problem, because high stress-levels can lead to a decrease in engagement, hampering team productivity and overall performance (3).
Starting a new job in a new company is, as I have recently experienced, a hugely stressful experience. I feel like I’ve settled in well now but wish I had taken some of my own advice during my first few weeks to overcome the stress I experienced. Stress itself might be unavoidable, but how we view stress is completely in our control.
How we view stress
When a stressful situation arises, we automatically view it as one of two things; a challenge or a threat. If we view it as a challenge, we experience different emotional and physical responses than when we view it as a threat (4).
For example, when we view a stressor as a challenge we are able to contain our negative emotions such as anger and anxiety (5). This is important as teams that experience sustained anxiety suffer from a greater number of ‘sick days’ and lower productivity. Helping your team to view stress as a challenge may limit the anxiety they are exposed to and increase productivity within your team!
Viewing a stressor as a challenge also leads to physical changes, such as increased blood flow to the brain and the release of adrenaline (6). This improves decision making, increasing the speed and accuracy of critical choices. If members of your team are able to view high profile client meetings or pitches as challenges, the decisions that they make may lead to outcomes that exceed expectations.
So, the next time you’re integrating a new member into your team, think about the stress they might be experiencing and how you might be able to help them view their stress as a challenge.
What can you do to help your new teammate view stress as a challenge?
To view a stressful situation as a challenge you need three key ingredients; self-efficacy (or belief in yourself), a perception that you are in control, and a goal that is focused on striving for something. Below are three top tips that you could try with new teammates today (7, 8).
1. Promote Self-Belief
You should ask your new teammate to recount stressful workplace encounters. Let them reflect on how they dealt with these previously, the skills they used and what they learned. Doing this can help them see that they have the skills and resources to help them overcome similar stress in the future. Having recently joined Lane4 I can clearly recall the stress of trying to fit in to a new team. To view this stress as a challenge I needed more belief in myself. Had I been prompted to reflect on the fact that I had successfully integrated into new teams before, I might have instead viewed that stress as a challenge, decreased my anxiety and increased my productivity.
2. Remind your teammate what they have in their control
To further help your teammate view stressful encounters as a challenge, make sure they focus on what’s in their control. These factors include our effort, our feelings and our actions. Worrying about factors that we cannot control is simply a waste of resources. Reflecting to my first few days at Lane4, all I needed to do to view my stress as a challenge was focus on my effort and my actions, for example making sure I went out of my way to meet new people and understand my role. There was no point in me worrying about factors outside of my control. When welcoming a new starter, remind them of the factors that they can control and reassure them that worrying about anything else provides little benefit.
3. Strive for something
To view stress as a challenge the final element we require is an approach goal. This type of goal focuses on striving for something e.g. success, instead of trying to avoid something e.g. embarrassment. Think of a bean bag throwing task. Sounds a little strange I know. Imagine completing the task twice, once with an avoidance goal such as “try not to do badly” and once with an approach goal, for example “try your best to hit the target”. It is likely your performance would be better with the latter goal. Again, had I set myself the goal of striving to settle in as opposed to trying to avoid embarrassment, my stress during week one at Lane4 may have been completely transformed. When helping to set goals for your new teammate in their first weeks and months, consider what you want them to strive for.
2. Cox, T. (1978). Stress. London, UK: Macmillan Press.
4. Jones, M., Meijen, C., McCarthy, P. J., & Sheffield, D. (2009). A theory of challenge and threat states in athletes. International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 2(2), 161-180.
5. Jones, M. K., Latreille, P. L., & Sloane, P. J. (2016). Job Anxiety, Work‐Related Psychological Illness and Workplace Performance. British Journal of Industrial Relations, 54(4), 742-767.
6. Skinner, N., & Brewer, N. (2004). Adaptive approaches to competition: Challenge appraisals and positive emotion. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 26(2), 283-305.
7. Turner, M. J., Jones, M. V., Sheffield, D., Slater, M. J., Barker, J. B., & Bell, J. J. (2013). Who thrives under pressure? Predicting the performance of elite academy cricketers using the cardiovascular indicators of challenge and threat states. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 35(4), 387-397.
8. Turner, M. J., Jones, M. V., Sheffield, D., Barker, J. B., & Coffee, P. (2014). Manipulating cardiovascular indices of challenge and threat using resource appraisals. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 94(1), 9-18.