Feeling stressed now and then is completely normal. In a work situation, it can even be motivating! But if stress begins to impact a person’s happiness and enjoyment of life, it can rapidly lead to physical and mental illness.
In the UK alone, stress is the single biggest cause of sick leave, at a loss of 105 million work days and more than £1.24 billion per year. It’s a similar picture in the US, where 25% of adults view their jobs as the number one cause of stress in their lives - and this is an issue that affects both employers and employees.
In the US, where 25% of adults view their jobs as the number one cause of stress in their lives - and this is an issue that affects both employers and employees.
As part of our wellbeing series, we spoke to Three Whiskey Chief People Officer, Jo Olsen, to better explore and identify the causes and signs of workplace stress, and how it can be managed and reduced.
In your experience, what are some of the biggest causes of stress in the workplace?
Some of the most common causes of stress are too great a workload, more pressure than we can deal with, or not having enough time or the right resources. At work, we tend to want to do the best that we can, so there’s a sense of professional pride when it comes to asking for help or support. One of the biggest obstacles is accepting that things will sometimes go wrong and that it’s perfectly ok to ask for help.
When does normal work pressure cross the line into something more harmful?
Feeling a bit of pressure at work is perfectly normal – even helpful! As the saying goes, “If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it.” But everyone’s different, and the key is in understanding ourselves and our style. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or physically unwell, it’s time to do something about it. Also be aware that it may not come on overnight. Sometimes stress has a cumulative effect and builds, sometimes imperceptibly, over time. Know yourself so that you can spot the warning signs before they turn into something more dangerous.
What are some of the warning signs that you’re overworked or are heading for burnout?
Some of the warning signs of harmful workplace stress include a lack of focus, trouble sleeping, muscle tension or headaches. When we’re stressed, we also have a habit of feeling like situations are worse than they are, or taking things personally. This lack of perspective shows how tied up we are in our own anxious thoughts. A good way to gain a better understanding of the situation, and calm our thinking, is through meditation and mindfulness, which can help us to get out of the pattern of catastrophising.
In coaching, a common technique is to become aware of the critical inner voice and locate where it’s coming from. Being aware that the voice is not you, and is most likely the result of anxious feelings, gives you a choice as to whether or not you choose to listen to it.
In coaching, a common technique is to become aware of the critical inner voice and locate where it’s coming from.
What advice would you give to someone who is experiencing stress at work?
As simple as it sounds, the importance of keeping up the basics of self-care can’t be overstated: getting plenty of sleep, regular exercise, drinking plenty of water. Also surrounding yourself with experiences and people that make you feel good. Life is more than work and you should maintain a sense of balance in your life so that every area gets the attention it deserves.
Secondly, you should communicate! Whether that’s to a friend, colleague or manager. Take the support that’s offered to you, because there’s no shame in it, and most workplaces have affiliations with third parties who can help you to ease the burden of stress.
Is there anything that can be done outside work to help to make working hours less stressful?
One of the most important things you can do is learn how to ‘switch off’. It could be going for a run, gardening, playing video games or watching a film. Whatever it is for you, our brains need these little mental holidays to stay healthy and productive.
It’s also helpful to create lists, which help people to offload their thoughts and feel more in control of their workload. A good technique is to list ‘big things’ on the left-hand side of the page, and smaller, easier, tasks on the right. This way you can gain perspective on your ‘to dos’ and keep yourself motivated by working through the less urgent jobs in between the bigger things.
Never underestimate the power of ‘ticking things off!’. As well as making you feel more in control, it’ll give you a little dopamine hit each time you do it. Success breeds success.
What advice/tips would you give to people who are struggling during lockdown and feeling isolated from their usual support networks?
It can be hard, especially if you’re in a flat share, to carve out space that’s just for work, but there are always ways that you can change your environment to signal ‘work’ and ‘non-work’ time. This might be putting away or hiding notebooks or anything else you can do. Some people have even had success with a ‘pretend commute’ where they take a half hour walk in the morning and evening before and after work – which has the added benefit of giving you all important fresh air and exercise.
Another tip is to find something, outside work, that gives you a sense of achievement. It could be something as small as making your own granola! Anything to build your confidence outside the workplace.
Find something, outside work, that gives you a sense of achievement. It could be something as small as making your own granola!
What advice would you give to managers who are looking to support their team, especially during lockdown?
The best managers are the ones who genuinely care, because we’re all human beings. Know what’s going on in the life of your colleagues and have an awareness of the help that’s available, if they should need it. With this being said, it’s also important to know the boundaries. You’re not a therapist, and you don’t have to be! Listen to your employee but know when to direct them to someone who is better equipped to deal with their problem.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Don’t only focus on wellbeing when things are bad. Self-care habits should be a part of your daily routine. Just as we shower every day and brush our teeth, so should we give the same attention to our mental health which, although invisible, is just as important.
Photo by Dustin Belt on Unsplash