Stress, performance and productivity: the role of leadership

Dr Fran Longstaff
February 1, 2022
min read
runners running on the track

‘What tools and techniques can I give to my staff to help them better manage stress?’ This is one of the most common requests that I get as a Psychologist. And it’s a perfectly reasonable request in view of the fact that last year UK employees were found to be working an extra 2 hours each day. 

Given the recent upturn in the UK economy to pre-pandemic levels, it could be argued that some extra employee stress is a small price to pay. And although it’s certainly true that we often produce our best and most focused work when we are under a bit of pressure, working under conditions of chronic and prolonged stress is not sustainable for any organisation or individual. The bridge will eventually buckle. 

Last year there were 822,000 cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety. And 2019/20 data found that on average a person suffering with stress, anxiety and depression took 21.6 days off work. Moreover, there is evidence to suggest that 20% of people who return to work following a period of mental ill health will either relapse or leave. The reality of what we might consider a small price for economic upturn is actually a large, damaging cost. 

So, what do I reply when I’m asked for ‘tools and techniques’ to help staff better manage stress. I often reply ‘1) let’s first start with you (the leader) before we turn our attention to your staff, and 2) let’s try and get in-front of stress rather than trying to fix it once it’s reached a critical tipping point.’

More often than not leaders play a central role in the stress-levels of their staff. If leaders cultivate a demand-focused ‘more’ culture that celebrates overworking, and give little attention to identifying and using their team’s strengths, their staff will always feel stressed and on the ‘back foot.’ So Fika works with leaders to change their culture and ways of working. Supporting them to understand what ‘healthy’ pressure looks like and how they can reduce any unnecessary demands placed on their staff. How they can model a balanced lifestyle to grant permission for their staff to do the same. And finally, how to recognise and utilise their team’s strengths so that they approach high-pressure challenges from a ‘we have’ ‘challenge’ mindset rather than a ‘we don’t have’ ‘threat’ mindset. 

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Dr Fran Longstaff
Head of Psychology

Dr Fran Longstaff is Head of Psychology at Fika Mental Fitness. With more than 15 years' academic and applied experience in sport and exercise psychology, Fran oversees Fika's Behavioural Science output, designing and implementing organisation-wide Mental Fitness training programmes for Fika's client-base of more than 80 businesses, education institutions and healthcare organisations. She is passionate about training leaders and managers in how to build their own and their team’s Mental Fitness in order to transform the culture, output, productivity and happiness of their workplaces. Fran worked as a lecturer in Higher Education for 13 years before joining Fika, and still works closely with Fika's board of academic experts.

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