Tricia Woolfrey of PW Consulting has some insights…
When it comes to stress, work is said to be the biggest culprit. More stressful than relationship issues, money problems and even health worries according to mental health charity Mind which says that 41% of people are stressed or very stressed in their jobs.
Yet, apart from a small minority, we all need to work. So avoiding it is not an option. Nor is suppressing it. Many of my clients say that they are dealing with stress perfectly well but there are clues which suggest otherwise. For example:
• Getting more irritated than usual about small things
• Working longer hours without a feeling of progress
• Getting more headaches
• More colds and flu as their immune system struggles under the strain
• Feeling less decisive
• Difficulty concentrating
• Feeling more tearful or less humourful
• Becoming more withdrawn
• A change in habits: increase or decrease in appetite, alcohol on the breath or more cigarette breaks
Suppressing stress is a dangerous strategy because it can lead to burnout. This is where an individual experiences so much stress that they become completely exhausted and unable to function at anywhere near the level required of a business, especially in challenging times. It typically results in being signed off with stress – for weeks or even months.
But why is work so stressful?
The reasons can vary from person to person and business to business but these are the themes I experience with my clients:
• They have less influence at work than over other areas of their life – when we feel in control, this lessens stress levels
• Unworkable deadlines and unachievable targets give a sense of hopelessness
• Office politics distracting from achieving results
• Everybody wants to do a good job and if this goes unnoticed or is criticised, it can hit hard
• Not having the right skills for the job
• A types who are given too many boundaries
• Not being given enough support or time
• The ‘always connected’ nature of work means that it is hard to switch off, even on holiday
• Cultural differences can create conflict and confusion
• Stress is contagious – a stressed boss or colleague can have a negative impact on others
• A culture of fear
• Poor leadership (a survey reveals that 7 out of 10 workers say their bosses exacerbate stress)
• More people working for themselves are realising it isn’t the easy option they thought it was
So, what is the antidote?
First and foremost is leadership which understands stress – train managers in how to spot stress in others and how to manage it constructively.
Secondly is hiring the right people for the right role in the first place. When deadlines are looming and you are short of staff, it is easy to make decisions in haste. However, this can cause huge ramifications in time. Hiring should account for skillset, cultural fit, stress resilience, motivation and adaptability.
Thirdly, train people to identify and manage stress within themselves. Denial or powering through is not a strategy.
Fourthly, creating strong teamwork, especially cross-culturally can significantly improve stress levels in employees.
Finally, creating a policy and culture of openness so that problems can be discussed and dealt with early on rather than leaving things until they become serious issues for the individual and the business. This is also important as companies have a legal obligation to ensure the health and safety of employees at work – this includes stress.
Tricia Woolfrey is a coach, therapist, trainer and author specialising in stress resilience, performance and productivity.