Being able to maintain a calm state of mind amid chaos and stress is something everyone can benefit from, and some folks have learned how to do that. Stressors can hit at any time and from any direction—especially at work.
Although there are external forces outside your control, this doesn't mean there's nothing you can do. I’m glad to share a few steps you can take to improve your wellbeing, and to help yourself and your teams.
If you want to become unflappable, then continue reading to learn some of the common causes of workplace stress and how to navigate difficult times.
Most common stressor I see at work (hint: it's not the workload)
Q: What do you think is the most common stressor at work?
A: If you're like many, you'll think of large volumes of work and endless to-do lists. But I’ve found not only from my own experience, but also talking to colleagues that workplace stress often has little to do with workload.
Other people’s behaviors might have a larger role in affecting how you feel at work. For example:
Being disrespectful or undervaluing people’s contributions
Being unclear about needs and expectations
No one should have to deal with unhealthy behaviors in the workplace. This is especially important for leaders, as ultimately, we’re responsible for creating a positive and supportive culture and ensuring team members have a safe working space.
I found that when the workload is too large, it’s easier to manage if you have a supporting team and leader: asking to negotiate timelines, prioritize the work, and delegating are easier said than done when facing unhealthy behavior.
How leaders can create a relaxed, productive work environment
There are three key steps leaders can take to build and maintain a peaceful workplace:
1. Hire intentionally
It all begins with your hiring. When you add folks to your team who are genuine, kind, and empathetic, you prevent people-based stressors. So, during the hiring stage, managers should set expectations:
Be clear about what behaviors are acceptable and unacceptable
Focus on alignment with company values
Demonstrate what your company culture is about
Assess candidates for compatibility with your teams
A good way to embed this into the interviews is by asking for examples of how they’ve dealt with situations in the past. For example, inquire about how they’ve received feedback in the past, how they’ve collaborated with peers in past projects, how they’ve expressed a concern related to a project decision, etc.
2. Manage internally
When a manager or team member goes a little out of line, don't wait for the problem to fester and spread. Nip it in the bud by providing immediate feedback. It's good to give people chances to reflect on their behaviors and do better next time.
By giving constructive feedback, you can ward off the behavior without creating malice or contempt in the workplace. Be clear about what was wrong and why, and how this is not in line with the company values.
3. Create role models
Having good role models in your company is key. Start with the founders and C-level executives, then work your way down through the senior leaders and team managers. The idea is for the higher-ups to demonstrate what you represent as a company.
It's good to have a reason to look up to your leaders and think of them as a North Star for conduct in the workplace. It’s key for people to understand that leaders are as much part of the company and will be held to the same standard of conduct. On top of that, everyone in the company should be held accountable and act as role models for one another.
How teams can stay calm when things go wrong
It happens to even the best companies—things go awry. When they do, teams and management must work together to get through it in one piece. Unfortunately, many people struggle to stay calm when faced with adversity, especially in the workplace.
However, there are many studies showing that navigating through difficult times can bring people together. I’ve learned a lot about this concept from Dan Heath, co-author of The Power of Moments. In some instances, working through an ordeal creates long-term bonds among teams.
Here are a couple of ways you can keep your teams calm when things go wrong:
Maintain open communication
When things go sideways at work, it’s stressful for everyone. So it's critical for leadership to step up and be crystal clear about their intentions.
For instance, if a merger was announced, let your teams know about it and why it's happening.
Build a clear action plan and share it with your team members, so they know what to expect and when. Provide regular updates in company communications, such as daily emails or weekly meetings, to keep your team in the loop.
At work, we still expect to find partnership, to know there’s someone there for you to support you. Team leaders should take that role by providing reassurance and by keeping communication open and consistent.
Put a deadline on stress
When we’re stressed, we often think we’ll feel this way forever. It’s crucial to time-box the stressful time. Sometimes, there’s a volume of work or a difficult situation, but it won’t last forever. If it’s an inevitable situation, as a leader, it’s our job to set a clear deadline to when this will pass.
As I say: box and contain the stress to a specific (ideally short) timeframe, or maybe a specific situation. This will be key to not letting the stress spread and stain all the other good things and times the team has had together.
Chilljar sessions: Hotjar's answer to keeping calm while working remotely
Giving your teams the okay to chill every once in a while is good for easing stress. This is something leadership can do in a physical office or remotely. At Hotjar, we host optional end-of-the-week Chilljar sessions.
Chilljar is a social event we organize with fun activities. For example, during Pride month, we had Drag Bingo and learning sessions about the LGBTQIA+ movement. More recently, we had team members talk about meditation—we even had a meditation session.
Whatever the event is, we always have fun, and it's never work-related. The idea is to end the week on a high note. It's the final meeting of the week, so everyone can start their weekend at ease.
How Hotjar creates a calm work environment every day
It's not enough to select one day out of the week or month to offer your teams peace of mind. Leaders should strive to create a workplace that's calm every day.
Here are a few ways we achieve this at Hotjar:
Transparent work culture
Hotjar teams never have to wonder what's going on in the company. We reassure our people that there's nothing hidden under the carpet and that what they see is what they get. With this level of transparency, you build trust between leadership and teams, which promotes a healthy, calm work environment.
High value of work-life balance
At Hotjar, we pay attention to the workloads of our teams. If we see you're working extra hours, you'll receive constructive feedback about it, not praise for ‘going the extra mile.’
Our leadership also recommends how teams should structure their week. For example, Tuesdays are focus days, and Wednesdays are meeting-free days. In general, we like to keep meetings to a minimum so everyone can max out their workdays, rather than spending all day in meetings and then struggling to catch up on work later.
Hotjar even has a better meeting checklist to ensure every meeting is worthwhile for everyone involved. If not, attendance shouldn't be mandatory—and a lot of things can be handled in an email.
To establish a good work-life balance, teams should be able to dedicate their working time to being productive. So at Hotjar, we value focus and flexibility.
We have three core hours in the workday, where we prioritize meetings with other team members. Since our teams are distributed across the globe, we schedule meetings within the most friendly time window for everyone involved. This way, no one has to be up at odd hours or miss out on family time.
It's about giving teams control over how and when they work, and it's working well at Hotjar.
Perks to promote wellbeing
Don't just tell your people to be healthy. Help them make it happen by offering perks that promote wellbeing. Here are just a few of the ways Hotjar promotes our team members’ wellbeing:
€2,400 annual budget for wellbeing (to be used for therapy, massages, gym memberships, and more)
€2,000 annual vacation budget
40-day paid vacation leave every year
The perks you offer at your company demonstrate your values as an organization. So if you're committed to reducing stress, then design perks that accomplish this goal.
My go-to methods for dealing with stress
I have a diploma in Psychology, and I am a firm believer in the value of therapy—which I have been in for as long as I can remember. I also exercise and try to take good care of myself.
Personally, I’ve worked hard to learn how to be a calmer person, and I’m glad that I can navigate a great deal of pressure with much more ease than before. Here are some things I learned in life and in therapy that helped me.
One of the techniques I like is boxing (not the technical term, but a name I’ve put myself). ‘Boxing’ helps you figure out what the stressor is and realize that it's not your entire situation. Maybe someone or something is causing you stress—but that doesn’t mean everything else is stressful. You can contain the stressor and identify other good things around you. The problem doesn't have to stain your entire existence. The goal is to not generalize the stress.
Seeking the solution
Something my mother taught me is that every problem has a solution. So try to find that solution, get it done ASAP, and move on. I've seldom come across a problem that couldn't be solved—there's always a way. If there’s no solution, then it’s solved already. Trusting that I'll find a solution, or someone else will help me find it, calms me down.
Accepting the stress
As a leader and a human being, it’s important to remember that stress is a natural part of life. It'll happen, and when it does, be realistic. Don't expect people to never freak out—that type of pressure will only create more anxiety for everyone.
We need to accept that some periods will be stressful. All we can do is box the stress, put a wrap on it, and move on when we can. The majority of the situations will get better with time. So respect the negative feelings that might arise from the situation, just be careful not to let them spread to all dimensions of your life.
Enjoy fresh monthly insights 🔥
Over 50,000 people interested in UX, product, digital empathy, and beyond receive our newsletter every month. No spam, just thoughtful perspectives from a range of experts, new approaches to remote work, and loads more valuable insights—all for free.
Work time is more than just laptop time
Recently a group of us in engineering discussed how different people think about and define 'work', and how connected (or disconnected) this is to sitting at a desk.
We found that while some colleagues felt comfortable 'working' away from their desks, others did not—and some folks even felt guilty if they didn’t get eight hours in at their desks.
Here we share some learnings, advice, and quotes to help others feel more comfortable working away from their desks.
Mental health at work: a practical guide to well-being
We’ve opened up about workplace mental health. From psychological safety and burnout to mental rest days and perks aimed at your well-being. No new-age woo-woo here. Just practical tips and useful insights from our team that you and your team can try right away.
6 tips to help with difficult conversations
Difficult conversations are, well, difficult. But with the right preparation and perspective, they can be a little bit easier. Here are some tips from Dr. Hayley Lewis.