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How to help your team manage stress to stay creative (and productive)

Stress during these difficult times is news to…no one.

Stress happens. And due to recent events, many of us are experiencing more than ever. But during complicated circumstances like the ones at hand, it’s especially important not to let the pressure go unmanaged.

Because while stress is completely normal (even when there’s not a global pandemic going on), it has a direct impact on creativity and productivity, affecting the quality of the work that you and your team produce. Which then in turn creates even more.

And given the present situation, it’s safe to say none of us, no matter how resilient, are up for dealing with extra stress just now.

What stress does to creativity and productivity

Stress is contagious—even observing someone else going through a stressful situation can cause our bodies to release the stress hormone cortisol. And stress harms more than our peace of mind—it crushes creativity and productivity, too.

Neuropsychologist and author of Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Practice at a Time, Rick Hanson describes stress as "a fine sand being drizzled into the brain"—your gray matter might work okay for a while, but eventually it’ll freeze up.

Hanson also emphasizes the effect stress has on creativity and adaptability, maintaining that chronic stress makes it harder to think outside the box, and quickly adjust to change, both highly desirable skills in today’s swiftly evolving workplace.

And even though, according to the Harvard Business Review and the Yerkes-Dodson Law, certain levels of stress can actually increase productivity, the effectiveness of said "stress-induced" productivity depends heavily on the type of task.

If the job at hand requires learning new techniques or depth and breadth of thinking, the so-called "stress effect" causes more harm than help.

So long story short, stress is a given, and it isn’t great for creativity or productivity. The real dilemma? Figuring out what to do to help your staff (and yourself). Read on for our best tips on easy ways to help teams manage stress, build resilience, and boost creativity and productivity, even during a pandemic.

A team gathers around an wooden table, their hands  and some papers on the table as the meet to discuss their next project (and how not to procrastinate on it).

@dylandgillis via Unsplash

4 stress management techniques you can use to encourage creativity and productivity at work

1. Discourage the 24/7 mindset.

Your employees (and their brains) need time off, away from those brightly shining computer screens to recover. Studies show performance increases after breaks—even following micro breaks as short as 30 seconds.

Recent research also indicates that even feeling like you’re expected to answer work communications during off-hours can damage your mental wellbeing. So make it clear to your staff that you don’t expect them to respond to (or even check) messages and emails during their free time and that you won’t be doing so, either.

If there are special exceptions, such as being on call to consider, try to make sure everyone knows what expectations are depending on the circumstances

And if you (or one of your employees) regularly have trouble disconnecting from work, get down any unhelpful, recurring thoughts on paper or in Foundations' Working with thoughts program—journaling can help us clear our minds, build resilience and identify triggers over time.

2. Build in buffer time.

When we’re feeling stressed and pulled in too many directions at once, it’s easy to make the mistake of confusing "busy-ness" with the real work of what needs to get done. But some of the most important tasks you and your employees do require time to think and come up with creative and effective solutions.

Encourage your team to use short stretches of free time between tasks for mindfulness meditation—spending a few minutes to take in thoughts, sounds, and smells doesn’t just help us relax, it also helps us hone observational skills, a key ingredient in creativity.

And you don’t have to meditate for long to reap the benefits, either. Research at Erasmus University in the Netherlands indicates that as little as 10 to 12 minutes of meditation was enough to increase the range and number of ideas participants came up with and more importantly, put them in a more positive frame of mind.

3. Stay positive.

It doesn’t cost anything but some effort to be a positive presence in meetings and on calls, and studies show it makes a big difference when it comes to how your team feels (and works!).

And beyond being positive, being understanding helps too. Per research from the University of Michigan, there’s a strong correlation between managers who work hard to understand their team members and team members who work hard for the good of the team.

Encourage your team to focus on the positive, too. They can share what they’re grateful for and highlight coworkers’ helpful actions in a group chat, or keep track of what’s good for their own reference with positive thinking activities in Foundations.

4. Nix the multitasking

Single-tasking may sound like a long shot with everything that’s happening right now, but multitasking is the equivalent of throwing your energy into the air like confetti—you never know where the majority of it is going to land.

Multitasking makes projects take longer, increases errors, and with them, stress. It has also been shown to escalate the quantity and severity of mistakes on the job and push stress levels up even higher. Why?

Probably because for the majority of human beings (including the ones on your team), true multitasking is impossible. We’re not really doing multiple things at once, we’re just switching our attention between different tasks in an ineffective way

If concentrating on one task at a time sounds like a difficult feat for your hard-working staff, encourage them to give deep breathing a try. If they’re just starting out, they may want to learn the ropes with some guidance from a mental wellbeing app.

Beyond physically helping your body to relax (a welcome benefit during these stressful times), taking a few minutes daily to deep breathe has been shown to improve cognitive function (kind of important when it comes to focusing, in the end).

Has stress been interfering with your team’s ability to be creative lately? What are your favourite ways to help staff handle stress? Let us know at foundations@koahealth.com.