Coaching Employees with a Fight or Flight Response to Stress

Company culture is often defined (at least partially) by the employees within the organization. By using personality assessments, you can pair employees with the best departments or project teams to enhance or diminish particular behaviors. Stability in the workplace estimates when an employee might hit their fight-or-flight response.

Resilient employees are more likely to respond to stressful situations with a calm and collected feedback. Reactive employees, however, while level-headed during normal work situations become agitated and uneasy during stressful times in the office. First, we need to understand the different ends of the spectrum of stability.

Stability and Characteristics

Dictated by their ability to manage stress, employees who are able to combat impulsive responses to pressure are less likely to have the “fight” reaction. They will likely appear unaffected by the situation, and could very easily be unaware of the deep-seated problems. On the other hand, reactive employees perhaps dwell on issues to the point of high-stress levels that invoke the “flight” response. These employees need to take a step back from the situation to really understand how to effectively react to unforeseen problems. The American Institute of Stress noted:

Stress is a highly personalized phenomenon and can vary widely even in identical situations for different reasons… The severity of job stress depends on the magnitude of the demands that are being made and the individual’s sense of control or decision-making latitude he or she has in dealing with them.”

Meet Stacey and Peter

Stacey takes her career day by day. Her resilient behavior is well-suited for spur of the moment, slightly less planned office happenings. Stability isn’t as important to her, but that’s okay. Her unique ability to solve problems without exacerbating the problem through stress-oriented reactions allows her team to stay on course despite the unpredicted bumps in the road. Stacey might be slow to get projects done, but they are completed on time, no matter the hurdles she had to jump to get there.

Peter, on the other hand, may seem like a workaholic, but the truth is, he just loves his job. He plans for everything so that projects get turned in on time and done right the first time. But when problems arise, that’s when he no longer has a game plan. It’s that game plan that keeps his level at work, so when he loses the ability to work off of that strategy, he becomes anxious and impatient. Peter is most likely one of the 40% of employees who feel their job is very or extremely stressful. Peter often has to take a step back from his work when projects veer off course in order to regain his bearings and manage his work-related stress appropriately. 

Coaching Stacey and Peter

You have the experience and training to be a good manager. But as with every skill, there’s always room for adjustment and improvement. Because the Staceys and Peters of your workplace thrive on very different levels of stability, here are some suggestions to help them stay involved at work so they can truly meet their potential:

  • Communication – It can’t be said enough: fresh and vibrant communication not only brings life to the company, but revitalizes your team and their projects. Although the organization may be aged, that doesn’t mean the way leaders and managers communicate needs to be stale. Ensuring Peter has the tools he needs to respond to stressful situations helps him to keep a cool head. Stacey might not need the same reassurance, but she might need a little push to see problems that occur.
  • Revamp Recognition – Honestly, not many people like the standard mandatory recognition banquets. So, why even have them? You can still acknowledge your Staceys and Peters for their hard work and dedication, but instead begin a peer-to-peer recognition program. Coworkers are primed to see the most of their team members’ work, more so than the overarching supervisor.
  • One-on-One Coaching – Because the Peters of the team are prone to stress-related responses, one-on-one coaching will help them at least develop plan Bs when their original plan is disrupted by an unexpected hurdle. The Staceys, on the other hand, might not need the individualized coaching as much in terms of stability because they have the innate ability to respond to and handle stress in the office.

Ed Petry, Ph.D., Vice President of NAVEX Global’s Advisory Services team, suggests managers get out of their offices and talk with employees. Staff members who are prone to stress-related reactions at work want to communicate what increases that stress level. Be proactive; understand that stress will happen, especially during busy times. Give employees the tools they need ahead of time in order to manage their stress appropriately.

While Peter and Stacey both have different levels of needed stability in the office, you still have the ability to manage them accordingly. They are opposites in many ways, but that opposite behavior can be responded to with similar management styles. Even though Peter can handle stress, he may need reminders that problems need to be addressed; Stacey will need reassurance that she can handle that stress. Differences in the “fight-or-flight” response are bound to happen in the office, as a manager, you just have to understand the personality differences to make sure your team has the tools they need to work well together.

Tweet me at @GoVitru

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