Stress seems to be a significant issue in Higher Education; there are various studies that demonstrate this, and it is evidenced in a high rate on long-term sickness. Usually this is attributed to the current environment in HE, but I think this is a cover-story.

Certainly HE has been subject to a succession of significant changes, some probably for the better, some poorly thought through and seeming to add to bureaucracy and process, but none of that has made the workplace unbearable. There are unbearable poisonous workplaces out there; places devoid of purpose, with high staff-turnover and ruthless management, but this is no the HE environment that I have observed in the 5 years that I have been coaching and doing team development work in this sector.

Building friendships at work makes work a lot more enjoyable.
Strong connections at work can reduce levels of stress

But what I have noticed, and this is not a scientific observation, but it is certainly a consistent one, is that the staff are highly stressed tend to be socially isolated. Others around them would almost certainly dispute this, believing that they have an adequate or even good relationship. But that is rarely the case; the stressed employee usually has few close friendships at work, and does not feel supported by the team they are in. Often there is outright friction between that person and other team members, which sometimes comes from the stressed employee under-performing in some way. This leads to a sort of spiral, where the under-performer feels increasingly isolated, stress mounts, and unless there is a timely intervention the spiral often leads to long term sickness, with all the frustrations and difficulties that causes.

So for the leader, the challenge is to make sure everyone in the team feels included. I’ll expand on this in future posts, but in short, this doesn’t happen by accident; for teams to feel like teams they have to work at relationships and communicate openly and honestly.