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You’re no doubt familiar with the phrase “Your people are your greatest asset.” And it’s true–without your employees, your organization couldn’t meet any of its goals. Maximizing their performance is a given, but how do you go about achieving this effectively?

Various factors influence performance, but two important ones to consider are work environment and team dynamics. If your employees have too much on their plate, face tight deadlines, and battle to get through their workload on a daily basis, this will negatively impact their productivity and employee morale. Recent research shows that four out of five (82%) employees feel less engaged at work when they’re stressed.

Likewise, a lack of mutual respect, trust, or psychological safety affects how teams work together and reach common goals. According to Paul J. Zak, researcher and author of Trust Factor: The Science of Creating High-Performance Companies, people at high-trust companies report 74% less stress, 50% higher productivity, and 76% more employee engagement compared to people at low-trust companies.

To optimize your team’s performance, here are some ways you can help create happy employees, keep them engaged, and connected in the workplace. 


1. Busting Stress

The first step to busting stress in your employees is to recognize the warning signs. These include both behavioral and psychological signs, and they show up in different ways depending on each employee’s usual behavior.

Behavioral signs:

  • Social withdrawal: A warning sign for someone who usually thrives in social situations and enjoys being around people, manifesting in self-protection and distrust of others, reduced levels of engagement, or a disconnect from the entire team.
  • Procrastination: A warning sign for someone who is action-oriented, manifesting in frustration, lack of employee motivation, and being busy “just for the sake of it”.
  • Hypersensitivity: A warning sign for someone who is typically tactful and reflective, manifesting in suddenly being overly sensitive towards any criticism, no matter how constructive it may be.
  • Inability to concentrate: A warning sign for someone who is goal oriented and prefers to focus on priorities and plans, manifesting in disorganization, distractibility, and a general deterioration of work quality. 

Psychological signs, on the other hand. include anxiety, irritability, irrational thinking, mental exhaustion, and fatigue. While irritability might be obvious to those around the stressed and unhappy employee, the other signs can be hidden or easy to miss unless a leader is consistently looking for cues.

While we all experience stress in some form or other, prolonged stress results in decreased productivity, poor communication and engagement, and increased turnover. And when it all becomes too much, it can lead to burnout. Every day one million Americans take time off work because of stress, US businesses lose up to $300 billion annually because of workplace stress and the impact it has on productivity, and 63% of workers are willing to quit their jobs to reduce work-related stress.

So, ensure your high potential employees decrease their risk of burnout by helping them to:

  • Increase EQ: Developing self-awareness means understanding one’s strengths, blind spots and needs. As a result, this helps you to better understand your unique perceptions of the world and how these can work for or against you. It’s how your employees can best understand how to articulate what they need for a positive work environment to minimize stress.
  • Focus on intentional self-care: Becoming stressed is just like the red warning light on a car, indicating that something needs changing or fixing to work well again. Just like this, your people need to focus on themselves and ensure their needs are met in order to avoid any potential breakdowns. While life “trains” us to always put others’ needs ahead of our own, employees should be encouraged to ensure their workplace needs are met.
  • Rediscover passions: Get your employees fired up about the work they’re doing by aligning their interests and motivational needs with their roles and responsibilities. While this level of employee alignment isn’t always entirely possible, it’s generally quite do-able–and in the process you’ll be re-igniting their passion and motivation for work to meet company goals.
  • Invest in relationships: Encourage your team to take the time to learn more about their co-workers–specifically their strengths, the way they think about the world and situations they find themselves in, and how they process this information. We all have different perceptions, mindsets, and viewpoints, and this’ll help them to be more understanding and accepting of other peoples’ differences, especially in times of conflict. Taking the time to invest in relationships is the ultimate show of respect.


2. The Trust Factor

Trust is a critical component to a healthy and psychologically safe team and company culture, allowing employees to confidently express their ideas, give constructive feedback, and generate creative solutions without fear or retribution. However, roughly one in four workers don’t trust their employer, and most employers overestimate their workforces’ trust level by almost 40%. A lack of trust results in reduced collaboration, increased unhealthy conflict, and poor decision-making. To ensure you’re all on the same page, look out for some of the telltale signs of distrust in your employees. 

These include: 

  • A lack of productive debate or discussion
  • Lack of collaboration
  • A lack of vulnerability or openness
  • Lack of information sharing
  • An underlying resentment or a “I can’t be bothered” attitude


Here’s some tips to help you earn the trust of your employees: 

  • As a leader, the responsibility of creating an environment of trust lies on your shoulders. So, if you demonstrate behaviors such as openness, honesty, and respectfulness in your everyday interactions with colleagues, you’ll very quickly start earning the trust of others. Sharing a story about your own mistake or concern will give your employees unspoken permission that it’s okay for them to do the same. Or be a “don’t knower”–by admitting your uncertainty and seeking guidance from those around you, you create the safe space your team needs to trust each other and open up about their potential insecurities or concerns.
  • It’s no good being trustworthy one day and insincere the next. Be consistent in your actions. In this way, you’ll build an authentic team dynamic and a solid foundation of trust between your team members that’ll be almost impossible to break. 
  • Being transparent and sharing your intentions with others is an effective way to ensure your people feel they’re part of the team. It shows that you’re including them in your thought process and value their opinion, breeding a corporate culture of collaboration and trust as a result.
  • Whether you like it or not, you’re going to make some decisions that might be right but may not go down so well with your employees. Or you might make a mistake and choose the wrong path. Ultimately, it’s what being a leader is all about. So, take responsibility for your actions–whether they’re right or wrong. You can only do what you think is best, and then explain the reason behind your decision to the rest of the team. Being accountable for your actions shows your colleagues that they need to be accountable for theirs as well.


To get the most out of your people and organization, decreasing stress and building a culture of trust isn’t an option–it’s a requirement. Paul J.Zak hits the nail on the head when he says: “Employees in high-trust organizations are more productive, have more energy at work, collaborate better with their colleagues, and stay with their employers longer than people working at low-trust companies. They also suffer less chronic stress and are happier with their lives, and these factors fuel stronger performance.”

If you’re ready to maximize your team’s potential and achieve outstanding results, look no further–get started with Birkman.

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