Stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 50% of all workplace illness cases, according to a report last year by the Health & Safety Executive.
Long hours, heavy workloads and conflicts between colleagues are regularly reported as example causes of stress in the workplace, with a recent Deloitte study showing ‘alarming levels’ of stress among women. Those working in sectors from cybersecurity to dentistry have claimed that stress levels have rocketed in the last year.
All this paints a worrying picture of the health of our UK workforce during a month where mental health is being spotlighted worldwide, emphasizing the importance of wellbeing in the workplace.
The temptation for many employers is to implement a wellbeing at work policy that encompasses their entire workforce. But wellbeing at work mustn’t be approached as a ‘one size fits all’. Employers must go deeper to understand the root causes of stress and anxiety as every individual will have specific triggers affecting their wellbeing.
Solving problems your own way
Today’s highly diverse workplace contains a multitude of characteristics and personality traits each with their own style of working and ways of approaching problems.
In fact, in the 1970s, Dr Michael Kirton discovered that we all have a natural innate preference in the way we go about doing things – from how we prefer to organize our space, through to how we think and solve complex problems.
It comes down to how much structure we prefer in our lives – whether at work or play and this can affect everything we do, from how we cook a meal to how we budget our finances.
Like being left or right-handed, it isn’t something we can change – we can use our non-dominant hand for tasks, and it is challenging. The same is true when we’re working outside of our preference to solve problems.
Some people are more enabled by rules and routines to follow and desire more consensual agreement to these structures – those who are more ‘adaptive.’
While others like to be more free-spirited, vary routines, view rules and routines as constraining, and have less regard for consensual agreement of these structures – these are the more ‘innovative’ employees.
There is no ideal style, as being more adaptive or more innovative is unrelated to one’s intelligence, status, learned skills, values, situation, and culture.
High functioning teams often have adaptive and innovative individuals working side-by-side, with mutual respect of each other’s perspectives, and preference for working with structure.
Examples of working outside your preferred style may include a more innovative individual being forced to work within a detail-oriented process-driven environment with lots of rules and regulations; or a more adaptive individual thrown into a chaotic workplace with little order or guidance.
A lack of alignment between one’s preference and the task being asked to complete, may cause that individual a huge amount of stress and anxiety, and likely lead to a greater risk of burnout.
Further, individuals in a team can often clash when there’s a lack of awareness and understanding of each other’s preferred way of doing things, causing further stress and anxiety and affecting the overall performance of the team. For example, one member of a team may want to solve a problem adaptively and the other may want to solve it innovatively.
Often, this difference is misattributed to intelligence, skills, or motive; which can lead to judgement of the other individual. This judgement of one being better than another can be corrosive to the mental wellbeing of an individual.
Instead, by understanding and appreciating each other’s preferred way of problem solving, none being better than the other, team members can build mutual respect of each other’s diversity of thought.
Reducing stress and anxiety
There is great benefit to organizations that have a culture that promotes wellbeing. Recognizing and appreciating how members of your teams prefer to work, given their preference for structure can be an integral part of this culture.
With a diversity of styles affecting team dynamics, it’s important for employers and leaders to spot the differences in their team so they can, for example, assign them to environments and tasks that suit their working preferences.
Individual team members should also be aware of their colleagues’ preferences so they can respect and be conscious of those differences; and leaders should responsibly know their own style so they’re not imposing personal ways of doing things in a way that could bring anxiety to individuals.
Often, mutual respect of our differences can greatly reduce stress and anxiety in the workplace. It helps us value each other as human beings instead of developing labels for the aspects of diversity we don’t have in common.
That way we can maintain our individuality and belong to a high functioning team which values each other’s contributions.
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