Workplace stress and disengagement is costing economies trillions in lost productivity - yes, that trillions with a T, and it's not just disengagement. Part of the problem is also the complete overload of data from technology and devices that were designed to create more connection, but which are having the opposite effect. In Bid Teams in particular, there is an increasing volume of documentation and, in public procurement, more complex regulations and instructions that need to be considered.
The research indicates that education, health and social services have higher incidences of workplace stress, followed by public administration and financial services, but I would argue that too little research exists in specific sub-sectors like Bid and Proposal Management.
I have witnessed, and directly experienced first hand the impact of stress-related illness in the business winning sector where professionals face a range of stressors throughout the business development lifecycle. The constant race to receive the right inputs to complete complex documentation and manage massive amounts of data ahead of tight deadlines creates a sometimes toxic mix of stress and anxiety. In these circumstances, the pressure on bid teams can be incredibly high and goes largely unnoticed because, well... that's the way it is.
Some of the headline figures I uncovered in my research for a Workshop on connection, trust and stress resilience that I will deliver in October revealed a grim picture of the state of employee wellbeing and our Bid Teams are not immune:
15% of employees are engaged, the rest lose $7 trillion in producivity (Gallup)
More than 20% of workers spend more than five hours on the clock each week thinking about their stressors and worries (Otto, N., 2019)
Americans devote more than 10 hours a day to screen-time and growing (Howard, 2016)
Professional isolation is more than just loneliness (Farrer, L., 2019)
A study of 1,100 employees found that remote workers feel shunned and left out (Grenny, J., and Maxfield, D., 2017)
For the first time, work-related stress anxiety or depression accounts for over half of ... Workplace injuries and illness cost the economy £15bn (Wilson, J., 2018)
As leaders and employers, we cannot directly control many of the stressors referenced in the research such as financial stress, anxiety about debt, or affordable housing; but we can create a supportive place to work where team members feel trusted, connected to their work and to their colleagues, and where an appropriate amount of stress helps people to grow their responses to it and build resilience.
Bruce McEwen at Rockerfeller University reminds us that some stress is good for us and helps us to respond to our circumstances, but just not too much.
Small amounts of stress help to build up tolerance, but sustained and overwhelming amounts of stress leads to illness.
I mean we all know the difference between turning up to job that bores the bejeezus out of us vs one at the opposite end of the scale where we can barely crawl out of the office each day from sheer exhaustion.
In our bid and proposal teams, there's a number of tools we can deploy to help improve trust, connection and stress resilience in our teams.
Bid teams live or die by their ability to trust that the inputs will be received on time to deliver a coherent final document to their clients. Where trust is lacking, Bid Managers and Contributors find themselves spending more time managing the relationship than focusing on the quality of the outputs, and who really has time for this in 2019?
Research on behalf of Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For showed that Trust, not engagement is what fuels performance, leads innovation and drives revenues. Trust, like reputation, can take a long time to gain but a moment to lose.
Brené Brown created a roadmap through her 'Anatomy of Trust' which she calls BRAVING - a set of 7 elements for creating more trust. At its simplest, creating more trust includes:
asking employees what they need from you as a leader
paying attention to what's happening and responding with genuine concern and gestures that show you care
fostering honesty in the employee relationship since clarity in the face of tough situations and conversations demonstrates respect for the other person.
Employees at high-trust workplaces do happily give extra effort that drives growth, but in a sustainable way that goes far beyond engagement. (Musilek J,. 2019)
You've heard it before, we humans are social creatures and in our hearts we crave connection - trust me, I tried to convince myself for a long time that I didn't need connection at work - I'm happy to admit that I was wrong.
Connection can sound like one of those ethereal concepts that people struggle to put other words around.
For today, let's frame it as the ability to have genuine and authentic relationships with other people - you know, the kind that dips just below 'what did you do on the weekend?'.
Bid and Capture Teams are becoming more remote and these workers in particular are at risk of feeling more disconnected and isolated from the rest of the team. Astute leaders will put in place specific contact procedures to keep a strong communication link between team members, but also some clear boundaries to help remote workers 'switch off'.
One simple technique I've adopted with remote workers and team members in other countries is to ensure that phone conferences are held with cameras on. Firstly, it demonstrates that I am really listening and not focusing on 3 or 4 other tasks behind the scenes. Secondly, it helps both of us to read the non-verbal cues you get when you're well, when you're looking at someone one. It makes so much sense and yet people have become more reticent to do it - 'I'm in my PJs is a common excuse I get', or 'my room is a mess'. So put on some clothes and clean your room!
Participants at my Workshop in October will work with a number of tools for greater connection.
Building Stress Resilience
Stress is a part of life, and for some Bid Teams it is a daily fact. There is an increasing body of evidence that shows stress resilience can be built by improving one's emotional intelligence. This is great news since it means that anyone can develop their capacity for greater emotional intelligence and therefore build resilience muscles for coping with stress.
Leaders can help team members build stress resilience and emotional intelligence firstly by understanding how different people in your team behave or respond under pressure (i.e. you need to really know your people). To do that, your team members also need to become familiar with their own stress responses and research shows that people have different levels of awareness of stress despite the markers being very present in their body.
With this awareness, both parties can work together to develop appropriate responses to situations that arise on a day-to-day basis. Possible strategies include:
focused breathing to activate the para-sypathetic nervous system during stress
strategic breaking techniques to help shift focus and increase productive capacity
practicing empathy and compassion
committing to daily gratitude or meditation practice
This brief article barely scratches the surface of this massive topic. What is clear is that creating the circumstances for more trust and connection, as well as helping our team members self-develop greater resilience will dramatically improve employee satisfaction and bottom line performance for organisations.
Tim Snell is a Coach, Facilitator and Senior Director of Bid & Capture at ICF.
Tim will be facilitaing an interactive breakout session at the UK Association of Proposal Management Professionals Conference on Trust, Connection & Stress Resilience in Bid Teams at London Heathrow, October 8 & 9. Full details are available here.
"This was the best session I attended. The presentation was engaging and the interaction with my new friends at the table made me better understand and value differences to strengthen a team" (APMP BPC 2019 Orlando)