Managing Stress for You and Your Team

Polly Robinson

Polly Robinson Coach

Premium Supplier 27th November 2023
Polly Robinson

Polly Robinson Coach

Premium Supplier

Managing Stress for You and Your Team

Christmas is inevitably one of the busiest and most stressful periods for people who work in hospitality.
Whether you work front-of-house or in the kitchen, you are likely to be working longer hours to serve more customers, at the same time as perhaps resenting the anti-social hours and feeling you are missing out on the Christmas fun and celebrations that friends and family are enjoying. 

Life in hospitality usually goes hand in hand with long, irregular hours, physically demanding work on your feet all day, fast-paced service where we’re expected to be happy and charming, even if we don’t feel like it. 
How do you manage stress and build resilience for you and your team?
It’s important to remember that there is a difference between pressure and stress. Just like Goldilocks, we want ‘just right’ pressure - not too little and not too much. When there’s no pressure and we aren’t busy enough feeling, we may feel bored, disengaged and undervalued. While we’re in our comfort zone we are just coasting and have the potential to feel apathetic. But when we experience the ‘just right’ level of pressure we feel focused, alert, stimulated, energetic, motivated and engaged. 

There’s a fine line between too the ‘just right’ pressure and too much and that tipping point is going to be different for different people. Be aware of that when you’re thinking about your colleagues and staff.

When we feel stressed we start to make mistakes, feel out of control, become irritable, anxious and experience low morale. In time this can cumulate to cause exhaustion, needing time off and ultimately burnout and mental health issues.

As well as the impact on an individual, the business will suffer from increased staff absence and high turnover. The data is well reported elsewhere. 

It’s vital to start with yourself, just as on an airplane we are instructed to put our own oxygen mask on first.

We all need to keep an eye on our personal fuel gauge - just as running out of petrol is bad for your car, letting our own wellness tank run on empty is bad for us.

It is normal to feel pressure and even stress for short periods, but it’s important to recognise when it’s too much and try to build resilience. 

Resilience is our ability to adapt and bounce back when things are difficult or don’t go as planned. Resilient people don’t dwell on failures; they acknowledge the situation, learn, and then move forward stronger. 

Be aware of how you feel, your emotions and energy levels and be aware of when you are tipping into the strain or stress zone. Recognise any physical symptoms that are your body’s own warning signs - fast heartbeat, short breathing, knotted stomach or poor sleep.

You can’t always choose the situation that is going on around you at home or work and you can’t choose your emotional response, but you can make choices about how you deal with it.

When we feel stressed our brains are hard-wired to overreact, our perceptions can be warped, we might feel that the world is against us and we might respond by going into fight, flight or freeze mode.

Take a bird's eye view:
- What do you see from up there? Does it look any different?
- What would your wisest and kindest friend advise you? 
- How much will this matter a month from now? What about next year? 

 Become aware of how much time and energy you spend worrying about things you can’t control or can’t change. This will help to reduce stress, frustration and overwhelm.

Start by writing a list of your worries and stress and then separate them between:

- Things you can directly control - your own actions or behaviours
- Things you can influence (in other words you can’t control other people or company-wide decisions but you might be able to influence them) 
- Things that are completely out of your control 

If you focus on what is within your control you can shift your attention, be more proactive and productive.
This concept of Circles of Control was popularised by Steven Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
Once you’ve identified the causes of your stress, you have four options: 

- AVOID - Know your limits and try to stick to them. If you are asked to take on more than you can manage, or asked to do one too many things, can you learn to say no? It’s not easy to say no, especially if are short-staffed, but can you at least start the conversation and explore reprioritising tasks or reallocating them? 

- ALTER - if you can’t avoid the pressure or stressful situation, work out what you can do to change it. Sometimes this involves expressing your feelings instead of bottling them up. Be open about your limits. Remember to use "I" statements, as in, "I feel frustrated by being asked to take this on. Is there something we can do to balance things out?"
Is there anything you can do to manage your time better? Block out time to focus on specific tasks and try and avoid interruptions, group certain tasks together into chunks of time. 

- ADAPT - Can adapt to the pressures by reframing problems and trying to see the positives. What are you grateful for? Let go of perfectionism and recognise when good is good enough. 

- ACCEPT - Many sources of stress are unavoidable and you just have to accept them and deal with them. If you find that hard, is there someone you can talk to? Sometimes changing your surroundings just for a minute can help break out of sense of powerlessness. Opening up to someone else can also reduce stress because it helps to distance ourselves from it and gain perspective. 

Make sure you give yourself the time and the space to decompress. When we’re exhausted from work, it’s easy to stop looking after ourselves outside work, especially if you are getting home late at night. 
Use your journey home from work to reflect, think about the good things that happened today, let go of the difficult things while exploring what could be different next time. 

Writing stuff down can help to get it out of your head, even if you wake up in the middle of the night worrying about work, use the Notes or reminder function on your phone or carry a good old fashioned notebook, to write down the things you need to do tomorrow, then let it go until tomorrow. 

Make sure you try and make time to rest and relax, do something you enjoy everyday whatever that may be for your - from walking your dog or meeting a friend for coffee. Make time to connect with friends and family outside work. Time spent outside and exercising is essential for our wellbeing as is eating well, staying hydrated and good sleep. 

It’s not easy to switch off when we are constantly available via email or messages pop up on WhatsApp. Use your phones “do not disturb functions’ to turn off notifications from work contacts when you’re not in work.

Any small steps you can take will help you to build resilience and cope with stress.

When it comes to your staff, invest time in their wellbeing and create a supportive environment that considers the whole person and treats them as individuals.

On a day-to-day basis encourage positive relationships between colleagues and foster a supportive atmosphere where people are kind to each other and listen and support each other. Doing nice things for other people releases oxytocin which makes you feel good about yourself. 

Foster a culture that promotes a good work-life balance. Encourage people to take breaks between services, leave on time and take their holiday allowance. Promote the importance of self-care, rest, relaxation, exercise, diet and sleep.

Proactively monitor everyone’s workload. Make sure that work is clearly defined, is well-matched to their abilities and that deadlines are acceptable. 

Strive to get staffing levels and rotas right, and try to ensure rotas are fair and considerate to everyone, especially during the busy and sometimes unpredictable Christmas season - it’s the key to maintaining a happy and motivated workforce.

Provide rotas as far ahead as possible so that people can plan and enjoy their days off. Be as flexible as you can be allowing people to swap shifts within reason, and make it acceptable to take sick leave for mental health challenges.

Keep communicating – make time to talk to your staff and regularly check in with them individually and privately. Be transparent with staff about what is going on in the business and be honest with them - for example about reasons why you may need them to take on more work. 

Mutual trust is the number one factor in creating a positive culture and relationship between manager and staff.

Foster a culture where people can come and talk to you and share their problems inside or outside work. Ask open questions, listen and be respectful and ask them what they need from you, whether that’s more support or training, time-off (for mental or physical health) or sign-posting to professional advice. 

Finally, look out for staff who are struggling and ask them what they need. You can’t force them to change or seek help, but be aware that there are lots of resources and sources of support out there for people who are struggling, including hospitality specific support from organisations like The Burnt Chef Project and Hospitality Action.

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