All around me I see, more and more, that stress levels are rising.
It does something to people when they are not being touched (enough) or have much less contact with their loved ones. The other extreme can also affect a person: maybe you don’t have time and space for yourself anymore, because you and your partner both work from home and the children are at home more often.  Many people suffer from the fear of becoming ill or losing loved ones. People experience unpredictability and financial worries. This is enormously damaging to mental and physical health. After all, stress is not only mentally stressful; our body also reacts to stress. I also notice it in myself. My whole body sometimes hurts. Do you recognise this?

It has to be transferred into the groups we are part of. In our relationships, in teams, in families and organisations.

A while ago I supervised a team in a company, where open and honest communication was the goal. This happened in a room where the guidelines for Covid-19 were not entirely followed. The chairs were a little too close together and not everyone followed the masks rule.

On the second day of the lesson, the owner of the room entered the room just before the lesson started. He declared, in front of me but clearly audible to all the participants who were already in the room, that he had received an anonymous complaint about the observance of the corona rules. There was a massive reaction in the room. I was able to see the reaction of all the participants. The whole team was under stress because each individual was under stress.

There were people who got angry. Of course, they took the most space to express themselves. There was also someone – it turned out afterwards that this was the person who had made the complaint, but had intended it to have a completely different effect – who had her bag in her hand and wanted to walk away. There were also people who were trying very kindly to calm the situation and some who quietly waited until it was over.

3 levels in case of stress

Why is it a remark can make a team explode so completely and that the stress level rises exponentially when several people are in a room together? This actually happens in 3 steps, at different levels in the team.

  1. On an individual level: I have already dedicated a number of blogs* to the effects of stress situations on an individual level. So now, very briefly:
    Fight: Someone gets angry and enters into a conflict.
    Flight: Someone escapes the situation.
    Freeze: Someone freezes and doesn’t know how to proceed.
    Friend: Someone just wants to keep everyone friendly from stress and loses the ability to deal with conflicts. Someone becomes conflict-avoiding and adopts friendliness. If that doesn’t match what they really feel, it is very stressful. The inside and the outside do not match. As a result, the hormonal system starts to work overtime and the immunity system is heavily burdened.
    Flop: Someone feels powerless, hangs back or lies down on the couch and doesn’t deliver anything. This is often diagnosed as depression, but is actually a stress reaction.
  2. On a team level: These 5 reactions can also occur in a team context. We also saw this in the situation I described above. People quarrel, run away, don’t get to work or are overly sweet with each other.
  3. On an organisational level: If several teams in an organisation show these stress reactions, the problem spreads to an organisational level.

*More blogs about the individual response to stress situations:
Rays of light | How we can look at ourselves with gentleness.
Help, there’s a tiger in the workplace!
My whole body starts shaking
Effortless coaching

How to get your team back on track as a manager

You may wonder: How did it go on in that room? Well…

Because I was able to remain present in a reassuring manner and look at all individual reactions with gentleness, the situation was resolved and peace returned. My most important intervention was to invite each participant to say what they really felt. So that the inside and outside really fit together. Stress went down for everyone individually and therefore also for the team. All’s well that ends well, we can say.

Of course, this was a summary of what happened. Let’s look at how you as a manager can make a successful intervention when your team suffers from stress.

Step by step intervention in case of stress in teams:

  1. First of all, as a manager, you have to name what you see happening. This is a different story for each of the 5 stress reactions:
    Fight: Your team members have short fuses, there are conflicts and there is disagreement. As a manager, you should do the following: Identify these conflicts and then ask your team members: What is our common goal?
    Flight: Your team members make excuses or have strange arguments to withdraw from the team. You as a supervisor: Ask the team member in question what he or she needs to join again.
    Freeze: Your team members become paralysed in the situation and do not know how to proceed. You as manager: Try to get back on track by naming what you see and show understanding for your team member’s reaction. This will allow the situation to thaw out.
    Friend: Your team members are excessively friendly to each other and you, as the manager, suspect that not everything is being said. You as the manager: Create enough security to give everyone’s opinion room. It is important that you are aware of and not afraid of any conflicts arising from this.
    Flop: Your team members sit back and wait. You as the manager: It is important that you do not sit back and relax, but that you keep moving. Provide clear leadership and tackle the problem.
  2. As a manager, you have to realise that stress is debilitating for the people in the team and that it is not weird that the team does not perform and get tasks done. Show understanding for this and look for solutions together with your team instead of being authoritarian.
  3. In order to remain the rock in the waves that your team needs as a manager, you must first work with your own stress-related complaints. This is very important because 80% of communication goes through the nervous system and stress is contagious.

How do you stay the rock if you are stressed?

I realise better than anyone how difficult it is to stay afloat when your whole team is under stress. To remain the rock that your team needs, it is essential that you can continue to look at your team members with gentleness and be reassuringly present. You can only do this by looking at yourself with gentleness and asking for support if this is hard for you. Only by learning to deal with your own stress and learning to regulate it properly can you successfully deal with situations like this. I offer you the support you need and am happy to share my expertise – and the various training opportunities I offer for managers – with you in a free Strategy Talk.

You are – and will remain – welcome.


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Linda Hoeben
+32 474 920 877
Rommersom 1A, 3320 Hoegaarden