Stress is becoming an inevitable part of the modern workplace. Unfortunately, there is no upside to it; the negative health impacts are well-researched. There’s another major downside now coming to light: stress has been linked to people feeling less present at work and that they have a limited ability to learn and acquire new skills. Stress can majorly hamper cultivating a growth mindset––a mindset that is receptive to learning and growing, as coined by psychologist Carol Dweck. Research has shown a link between people with growth mindsets and success in work and life.
At Microsoft, we also believe that creating a work environment that actively encourages a growth mindset in their people is deeply related to creating an inclusive culture. So, when people frequently experience stress at work, they feel less able to try new things and learn. It often also means that they don’t feel like they belong.
Working to redesign stressful situations is a key leadership trait and inclusive behavior for us.
Putting it another way: when we actively reduce stressful situations, we create opportunities for growth mindsets to flourish, which allow people from all backgrounds to contribute, learn, and grow. What does this look like in action? It means planning ahead to cultivate an environment where people feel safe contributing without fear of judgment, punishment, or embarrassment.
This is why one of our ten inclusive behaviors is to “take action to reduce stressful situations.” The emphasis here is on “take action.” Here’s how this works: strategize before you’re in a high-stakes environment––a large customer meeting or a vendor negotiation, for example––and actively plan to minimize all the things that could cause stress.
One critical way to take action is to create realistic and achievable goals and deadlines. The World Health Organization finds high-stress workplace environments are highly prevalent when employees are expected to perform beyond their knowledge and abilities, without peer support. Conversely, when employees feel like they can exercise control and choice at work, when expectations are manageable, and they have a supportive network of colleagues and superiors, they are less stressed. These environments also tend to be more inclusive to a wider variety of employees.
Where possible, equip your team with all the information necessary to have productive outcomes – this means reducing last-minute information overloads before a big meeting, or giving all team members the same amount of information before an important negotiation.
Most importantly, model calm behavior. If you are always in “fight or flight” mode, that behavior can easily be passed on to those around you. Maintaining your own composure can help actively reduce stressful situations for those around you.
As a leader, actively reducing stressful situation means proactively ensuring that everyone has a chance to make mistakes and learn from them, without fear of retribution.
As more of us strive for inclusiveness in our teams, it’s necessary to lead with a learning mindset –– even for managers to learn from and adapt to when there are setbacks in inclusion and diversity. Planning ahead to reduce stressful environments is necessary for every innovative, inclusive, and growth-minded leader today.
What is a stressful situation at work that you frequently find yourself in? How could you plan ahead to reduce stress, so that everyone feels welcome and like they can learn?