Stress at Work

There’s often a hands-off response when employees are demonstrating signs of being “stressed” at work. It’s a red flag, but treated sometimes as if it will just sort itself out. Unfortunately – a bit like conflict – stress doesn’t usually resolve by being ignored!

I’ve been brought in to several situations where an employee has been so stressed that they’ve become ill with anxiety and physically unable to function normally. The difficulty in resolving the issues at this point includes identifying the exact sources of stress and clarifying employer vs individual responsibilities for dealing with them.

Stress is almost always a multi-faceted phenomenon and not likely to have a single cause. People bring, within themselves, their home experiences to work, and take their work experiences home. Some people develop good skills that enable them to “switch off” when they transition from one to the other. But as a person is a continuous entity, we can’t ever achieve this completely.

It’s interesting that one of the indicators that people are increasingly seeking when choosing their employment situations is “work-life balance”. We’re recognising, possibly from previous generations’ mistakes, that being a workaholic is not likely to result in quality of life. And, along with other strategies to achieve optimum health and wellbeing, we’re generally more focused than we used to be on the importance of that balance.

A certain amount of stress is actually good for us (this is called “eustress”) – it keeps us motivated and challenged. But it’s when stress is excessive and/or prolonged, that “burnout” can result, together with the increased risks of both physical and mental illness. I’ve included below the “burnout scale” for you to consider and see if you can gauge where you might be at the moment. Most people fluctuate between two or three levels – and most of us would want to be, as often as possible, near the top – the “thriving” level.

Burnout Scale

  1. Thriving: surrounded by successes, alert, active, positive, excited about possibilities, rarely sick, not reliant on “pick-me-up’s” (e.g. coffee or alcohol).
  2. Achieving: on top of things and motivated but tired and/or forgetful, get the flu a few times a year, need “pick-me-up’s” a few times a week.
  3. Surviving: managing most things but dropping a few balls, often disinterested, irritable and rely on “pick-me-up’s” daily.
  4. Burning Out: not keeping up with responsibilities, overwhelmed, lacking confidence, belligerent, relationships failing, sick a lot.
  5. Burnt Out: lost mobility and/or grasp on reality.

The more time you spend further down the scale, the more risk you pose not only to yourself but to those around you. The more likely you are to have an accident, the more likely you are to make poor judgements and poor decisions, the more likely you are to forget things and become incapable of taking care of anyone or anything. In fact the further down the scale people go, the more dysfunctional they become – they actually become a hazard.

If you’re a people manager, it’s really important to be managing yourself well so that you’re able to manage others well. And taking a preventative and/or proactive approach to understanding and managing the stress factors that influence your staff is likely to result in much better outcomes for you, your team, and your business.

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