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ATD Blog

What Can I Do When My Employees Are Stressed?

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

As back-to-office and hybrid work plans hang in the balance and variants and vaccines dominate employee anxieties, workforces are encountering new levels of disengagement and exhaustion.

In a recent survey of 1,697 employees, respondents expressed their various concerns about how the pandemic continues to affect their employment, such as:

  • What does hybrid mean?
  • When do I have to wear a mask?
  • Will the company mandate vaccines?
  • Will I be penalized for working from home when others are going into the office?

In all, 58 percent of those surveyed were worried about discussing their anxieties with a manager or supervisor.

If these conversations are not held well (or at all), they’ll affect relationships and results, destroying company morale and, eventually, your bottom line. So how can we have these crucial conversations when stakes are high, opinions differ, and emotions are strong? Here are three tips to get you started:

1. Challenge your own story. When we feel threatened or stressed, we amplify our negative emotions by telling villain, victim, and helpless stories. Villain stories exaggerate others’ negative attributes. One example is, He won’t come into the office because he’s lazy. Victim stories make us out to be innocent sufferers who have no role in the problem, such as I didn’t create this vaccine policy. If she doesn’t like it that’s her issue. And helpless stories rationalize our over- or under-reactions because there was nothing else I could have done! Instead, take a step back and see if you’re stuck in your own myopic story.


2. Create safety. When communicating while under pressure, your emotions likely hijack the conversation. Accusations, insults, and insinuations begin to fly. As a result, others get defensive due to, or retreat from, your tirade. Yet, it’s been shown people don’t get defensive because of your message’s content, but because of the intent they perceive behind it. For example, when you find a fellow employee is walking around without a mask yet again in defiance of office policy, it can be easy to angrily challenge their behavior and threaten consequences. Conversely, you could begin by keeping your voice calm and discuss how the pandemic has been hard for everyone before sharing your own concerns and listening to theirs. If others feel safe with you, they are far more open to working with you.

3. Provide yourself and your team the resources they need to have these crucial conversations. The cost of doing nothing—of pausing your investment in your people—is to kill social capital and your people’s willingness to work together and get things done.


The good news is that virtual learning and ongoing skill development is effective at preserving culture, engagement, and employee efficacy.

Crucial Learning (formerly VitalSmarts) has rebranded and relaunched new, more flexible, and inclusive learning options to help you and your employees improve crucial skills, including three on-demand Crucial Conversations courses. In-person and virtual sessions are available as well at

Consistently ranked one of the top leadership companies in the world, Crucial Learning’s suite of courses and accompanying books include Crucial Conversations, Crucial Accountability, Influencer, The Power of Habit, and Getting Things Done. Nearly half of the Forbes Global 2000 have drawn on these crucial skills to improve organizational health and performance.

Don’t let the stress and anxiety of today drag down your employees and your organization. Instead of ignoring issues or strong-arming your team into compliance on policy, learn and help others learn how to have crucial conversations.

About the Author

Jordan Christiansen is the marketing communications manager at Crucial Learning.

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