How to Help Your Employees Perform Under Pressure

5 Tips on Creating a Workplace Where Employees Thrive Under Pressure

Young business people working together under a lot of pressure in a conference room.
••• Rob Lewine / Getty Images

Many people can do a great job when they have sufficient time and no stress. Others actually need some pressure and stress to get a project done. Your goal is to help all of your employees perform when under pressure. This is optimum for the success of your business.

Here's what you need to think about to help your employees deal with pressure.

Hire Employees Who Are Resilient

People are different. Instinctively you know that, but you want to hire the person with those great skills regardless of how they do under pressure. In fact, you didn't even ask about pressure, did you? This is actually a hard question to ask because no one is going to say, in a job interview, “I sure fall apart when I experience pressure on the job.”

Instead, you need to come up with ways to find out how people deal with pressure, without giving them the opportunity to speak positively about something that isn't positive. Try the following questions:

  • Describe the work environment in which you thrive.
  • Tell me about your favorite boss. What did he or she do that made your experience a good one.
  • We get a lot of last-minute demands from the powers that be in our department. How have you dealt with such demands in previous jobs?

In addition to asking pertinent questions, share an honest description of your workplace. Don't sell the job as all sunshine and roses when it's a tremendously stressful workplace. Candidates can self-select out of the running if their style of work doesn't match with your style of operation.

Acknowledge Above and Beyond Performance by Employees

Many employees are willing to work their tails off for the good of the business, but only as long as their work is recognized. If you simply expect everyone to put in 60 hours a week, or to do last-minute jobs because senior management can't make up their minds in a timely fashion, you'll find morale dropping.

You need to give praise and appropriate promotions and bonuses when people perform under pressure. It makes them more willing to do the same level of work again later.

If your pay scale is at your industry midpoint, but you demand more of your employees than your competitors do, keeping people on staff will challenge you. You have to acknowledge that more work and more stress deserves a higher paycheck—or you'll lose your best employees to an employer who does.

You'll find your best performers taking off to find a more relaxed work environment. After all, if they can make the same amount of money for doing less stressful work, why not take it?

Provide Time Off Similar to Comp Time—But Not Comp Time

If you work at an accounting firm, every single person in the firm is going to work long hours under tremendous pressure during tax season. But once those returns are all filed? Let people take a couple of days off that doesn't count against their PTO. Throw a party. Let people work a couple of 30-hour weeks at full pay since for the past 6 weeks they've been working 80-hour weeks.

Make it clear, when your employees are pulling all-nighters or working on the weekend to keep a particularly fussy client happy, that you know what they are doing and that you will let them take next Friday off.

While you don't legally have to give time off to exempt employees, who work extra hours, it's a nice thing to do. (Keep in mind that you never want to provide time off by tracking the exact number of hours worked against time off.) 

For non-exempt employees and exempt employees who qualify, you have to pay appropriate overtime no matter if you do give comp time in the next week. You can't get out of overtime pay unless the comp time is in the same week. So, for example, if you live in a state where overtime begins after 40 hours, and your employee works 40 hours by the end of Thursday, he or she can take Friday off, and you won't have to pay overtime.

But, if they put in 60 hours, you can't let them work only 20 hours the next week and not pay overtime for the 20 hours of overtime they worked. Overtime is mandatory in private business.

Provide an Outlet for Employees That Will Help Them Deal With Stress

Wellness programs are extremely popular—and for good reason. Wellness programs lower insurance rates and many employees enjoy them. If you do the right type of wellness program, it can also reduce stress in your office.

For instance, an onsite yoga class during lunch can allow employees to refresh during their day. A lunchtime walking group can do the same. A company subsidized gym program can also encourage people to get moving and lower their stress levels.

Likewise, healthy food in the break room can provide not only food for the stomach but food for the brain. Cheese and nuts are going to give better, sustainable energy than a candy bar from the vending machine.

Granted, it's much easier to keep a vending machine stocked with candy than it is to keep the kitchen stocked with mixed nuts (and if someone has a nut allergy, you might not want to do that), but it can actually help reduce stress.

Remember the Boss Has Some Control Over the Stress

If you're the boss and your department is always stressed out, you can probably change that. Sure, if you're running a medical residency program, you're not going to be able to remove all of the stress because stress is one of the goals. (You want your doctors to perform well no matter the conditions are like.)

Examine your own methods. Are you setting ​the proper goals? Are you pushing back against the demands of senior management when you should? Do you have the ability to say no?

The Bottom Line

It's your job, as the manager, to create an environment where your employees thrive. If that's not happening, you need to change your approach. That's part of your job.


Suzanne Lucas is a freelance writer who spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers.