The Biggest Source of Workplace Stress?


An article in this week’s New York Times poses the question: What’s the biggest source of stress on the job? Hint: It’s not your paycheck, or the repetitive nature of what you do. Answer: It’s your immediate supervisor. The article, titled “Time to Review Workplace Reviews?,” focuses on a growing body of evidence that shows how supervisors can become sources of fear and dread, undermine trust, and result in a dysfunctional work place.

In my new book, “The Leadership Equation,” I discuss the 10 practices that great leaders use to build high performing organizations. Practice #3 talks about “Leading Through Others.”  The key to success? Ongoing communication between boss and employee, clear written expectations, and emphasis on positive rather than negative feedback.

Supervisors play a huge role in determining the psychological health of their employees. In my book, I talk about building trust and “spark.” Trust grows when your supervisor keeps you informed, manages expectations, and is a reliable source of support. Spark grows when your supervisor taps your creativity, values your ideas and gives you the freedom to try new things.  Trust and spark are hard-wired into our brains, and they are the two underlying pillars of psychological health in the workplace.

One of my colleagues at LRI teaches a marvelous course for managers called “The Leader as Coach.” He provides 40 questions that managers can use to clarify where performance is good, and where it needs to improve. These 40 questions are divided into four categories: Goal questions ask what you’re trying to achieve, whether your goals are clear. Reality questions ask you to confront any obstacles to success, including those of your own making. Option questions ask you to explore possible ways forward. And Will questions ask you to think about next steps.

This system of questions is called the GROW model, a term borrowed from author John Whitmore, who wrote an excellent book on the subject: “Coaching for Performance.”

The biggest influence on your success in you job is your boss. Your boss can be a source of trust and spark. Or he can be a source of confusion and fear. My advice to managers and leaders is this: Use the GROW model to help your employees grow and keep your workplace healthy and strong.

LRI’s consulting is designed to achieve real, meaningful change for our clients.

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