Set the Stage for High-Performance Workplaces with De-Stressing Strategies

Denise R. Green Founder, Brilliance Inc.

Set the Stage for High-Performance Workplaces with De-Stressing Strategies

Your people are suffering -- but they won’t tell you until it’s too late.

Recently, a CEO received public praise when he tweeted his appreciation and approval to an employee who announced to her team that she’d be taking two days of sick leave for her mental health. While the news article focused mainly on the CEO’s admirable response, the more amazing story was the manager’s honesty. 

Whether your employees suffer from an official mental health condition like depression, ADD or PTSD, all of your employees may be under tremendous pressure: back-to-back meetings, huge workloads, lack of role clarity and decision rights, cumbersome processes, interpersonal conflicts and an always-on environment where they’re bombarded with emails, texts, voice mails and instant messages. Add to that the pressures they experience at home, and we have all the ingredients for burnout.

I had one CFO tell me, when I suggested that one of his direct reports could benefit from a coach to help her through a difficult time, “She’s paid extremely well and is an intelligent grown woman. She should figure it out on her own.”

We like to think that humans are rational beings. But the science proves otherwise. Our primitive brains aren’t wired for logic; they’re wired for survival at all costs. Built with five times as many neural processes for negative thinking over positive, our brains lead us to make decisions about how to spend our time based on fear and comparison, not based on importance. We interpret the boss’s silence as a sign that we aren’t doing enough.

When we’re under extreme stress, our brain’s capacity to “figure things out” is severely diminished. Even on a good day, our ancient brains have only 90 minutes of good thinking time, thanks to our comparatively new (and wimpy) pre-frontal cortex. Our thinking capacity is further limited by hunger, stress and fatigue. A troubling study of judges showed that their rulings were anything but fair and logical. Controlling for all other factors, judges handed out more lenient sentences after eating a sandwich.

The CEO who praised the employee for her courageous leave-taking deserves accolades. But he, and you, must go a step further. Instead of waiting for someone to announce that they’re going to take care of their brains and bodies, proactively encourage it. And then back it up with actions and policies.

Here are 12 suggestions to help de-stress your workplace:

1.  Have IT set default meeting times to 25 minutes, not one hour.

2.  Conduct group meetings standing up or outside.

3.  Conduct one-on-one meetings while walking outside.

4.  Stock kitchens with healthy snacks (low sugar, low carb).

5.  Offer chair massages in every building.

6.  Start meetings with a check-in so that, in one sentence, people can download what’s potentially distracting them (personal or professional).

7.  Start meetings with one minute of breathing. You’ll feel weird at first, but once you see, feel and hear the positive responses, you’ll want to continue the practice.

8.  Take vacations and praise others who do so as well.

9.  Ban Powerpoint. I can only imagine how many hours are wasted formatting and editing slide decks, when a simple Word Document could have worked much better at facilitating a real conversation instead of a one-way presentation.

10. Fire toxic bosses, no matter how smart they are. Tell people why you fired them.

11. Be transparent with your thoughts. When you walk into the room, I don’t care how trusting and well intentioned you are, your hierarchical power causes a threat response in the brain. In the absence of certainty, we make things up. Our primitive brain sees your silent expression as disapproval. Let people know if you had a rough night’s sleep or a fight with your teenager this morning that’s still with you. Let them know it’s you, not them, and praise them when they deserve praise instead of keeping positive thoughts in your head. You’ll be helping them lower their stress hormones and maximize their logical thinking.

12. Provide support in the form of counseling services, one-on-one coaching and group coaching. Group coaching can be effective and efficient not only with helping people achieve development goals, but also with building important connections with peers in the organization. It can give staff a network of people they know and trust in ways people rarely get to know one another at work.

Google’s research on high-performing teams showed that most effective teams worked in an environment of “psychological safety,” where stress was low, connection and trust were high and people felt they could say anything without retribution. A leader’s most important job is to create these environments so that people can live up to their brilliant potential. 

About the Author

Denise R. Green is a speaker, writer and executive coach committed to helping people go from burned-out (or blah) to brilliant. After a successful career with Oracle Corporation and Charles Schwab, Denise founded Brilliance Inc., a coaching corporation whose purpose is to unleash human potential. For more than a decade, she and her team have helped thousands of people feel less stressed, and have more ease and fulfillment in all areas of their lives. Her new book, Work-Life Brilliance: Tools to Break Stress and Create the Life & Health You Crave (Brilliance Publishing, April 2017) is about reigniting one's internal spark. She has also authored the ebooks: Conversations for Brilliance, Influence the Boss, and How to Say No With Grace, Not Guilt. Learn more and access the free e-guide, “Break Stress Now,” at