Proactive stress management CUSP

The CUSP™ model is a simple framework which works equally well when looking to prevent stress as it does in helping those who are at risk of becoming overwhelmed. In other words, CUSP™ can be used both proactively and reactively.

Summary of CUSP™

The framework can help to:

  • Increase perception of control amongst individuals and teams
  • Reduce uncertainty, and the associated anxiety and insecurity many people face when faced with change
  • Provide support, especially in highly demanding or stressful situations
  • Tackle sources of pressure in the workplace.

How you can use CUSP™

While you’re likely practising some, if not all, of the following approaches, it’s worth considering the kind of support framework that will be most helpful during times of stress. CUSP™ allows managers to ‘pick and mix’ their approach depending on the stressors while ensuring that the approach is well suited to the departmental culture and expectations of individuals and teams.

 Associated approaches you might consider to prevent and monitor stress

(C) Control enablers

  • Delegate, encourage and trust people to take personal responsibility over their work. 
  • Enable control over the physical environment.
  • Offer as much flexibility as you can over working arrangements.
  • Encourage people to be assertive but ensure that you’re assertive too. Employees who leave stress to build up should be encouraged to speak out as early as possible when they have a concern or problem.
  • Involve people in decision making, especially those decisions that affect them directly.
  • Consult and involve people on decisions about workload and work design. 
  • Ask staff for their ideas on how the department can run more efficiently. 
  • Encourage staff to develop their own workload management routines. 
  • Where possible , consult and involve the team on any change management issues.
  • Don’t take people for granted – always thank them for their input. 
  • Address negative behaviours such as bullying head on and seek internal advice immediately.

(U) Uncertainty reducers

  • Communicate clearly, frequently and effectively using the SOLER framework about any ambiguous situations. 
  • Encourage people to come to you with questions or concerns as they arise – not just when accumulated issues become overwhelming. 
  • Take the ‘walk about’ approach and seek out team members’ hidden issues by checking in with them regularly (you go to them – not wait until they come to you).
  • Ensure that staff are encouraged to welcome new joiners supportively. Be clear about team members’ roles, tasks and priorities but allow them to come up with different ways of approaching things if appropriate and workable. 
  • Don’t assume people will know why you need something done; explain things clearly. 
  • Give as much clear information as possible within confidentiality boundaries.
  • Use emails sparingly and with care – and encourage team members to do same. Lead by example by speaking with people face-to-face when possible.
  • Give people regular and constructive feedback. Don’t save this for PDRs but do it outside of these as well.
  • Try not to give people mixed messages even if you yourself are unclear of the details at that point. 
  • Be aware of individuals’ uncertainties and insecurities and take action to minimise these head on. Everyone is motivated by different things. Some people are more confident while others may need more regular check-ins and praise.

(S) Support providers

  • Encourage staff to come to you if they need to talk anything through concerning work-related issues. If they have complex personal issues, signpost them to the relevant support resource.
  • Listen and seek clarification – they may assume you know that they want or need.
  • Hold regular team meetings.
  • Encourage your staff to support each other 
  • Encourage fun activities such as a bake sale for charity.
  • Give staff the opportunity to ask questions openly. 
  • Ensure that staff get the training and development they need to do their job.
  • Provide opportunities for personal and professional development.
  • Make sure staff know about all available support structures – internal and external. 
  • Positively communicate with your staff; tell them why you value them. 
  • Treat others as you would like to be treated.

(P) Pressure reducers and regulators

  • Set achievable objectives – this may not be possible depending on a given organisation’s way of doing things, but it is possible to communicate how much flexibility the team has in influencing and meeting objectives. 
  • Distribute tasks evenly and fairly between team members.
  • When a staff member is away on leave or has been signed off for any reason, ensure that those team members directly affected by the absence have a say in how they wish to divide the work up amongst themselves, if this is indeed possible in certain circumstances.
  • Set realistic timescales. If it’s not workable, explain the exact reasons why and ensure that future timescales are communicated well in advance. 
  • Make departmental priorities clear to all team members, even if they are not directly involved. 
  • Plan ahead to allow staff to prioritise effectively for the week. A Monday morning team meeting can be really useful as it allows you to explain what needs to be done while enabling employees to raise concerns or questions before they become difficult to manage.
  • Delegate tasks as soon as you can – not halfway through a project. 
  • Avoid giving staff conflicting tasks or roles.
  • Match new tasks to skills whenever possible. 
  • Minimise environmental pressures. Is the lighting harsh? Is ventilation adequate? If not, speak to your HR team and ask for guidance from the facilities department.

How to apply the CUSP™ framework

As a starting point, make a note of the ‘hot spots’ in your team. For example, do the majority of team members voice concerns about their ability to complete their work on time? Are you and the team dealing with unacceptable environmental factors such as inadequate ventilation or poor lighting? Do you find it difficult to communicate priorities which in turn creates a mood of uncertainty or misunderstanding?

Once you’ve written the hot spots down, you’re then ready to apply one or more options from each of the CUSP™ headers.  Here’s an example and you might like to use this table as a template.

Example hot spotCUSP™ optionDo I need support from anyone to be able to implement the option?

Increased workloads with no sign of things letting off for the next six months.

C: Control enablers

  • Delegate, encourage and trust people to take responsibility.

U: Uncertainty reducers 

  • Be clear with all team members about their roles, tasks and priorities. 

S: Support providers

  • Ensure that every team member knows about all available support mechanisms – both internal and external.

P: Pressure reducers and regulators 

  • Plan ahead to allow staff to prioritise effectively.
  • I will speak to another manager who dealt with this last year as she might have some ideas on how to keep my team engaged and motivated.  
  • I’ll speak with my HR business partner who may have some insight into how other managers have managed this in the past. 
  • I’m going to contact the employee wellbeing advice line and talk to them about my options for managing this.