Workplace stress: are you heading for burnout?

men rushing around

men rushing around

Stress is not always a negative thing.

It is everywhere. It is the thing that can propel us on to better things, forcing us to make changes so that life, work and so on, is better and more pleasant.

But stress can be huge in its impact, especially if it is out of control, eating away at inner self-esteem and wellbeing. The question of how to handle suffering from stress or depression in the workplace is one that has been presenting a conundrum for many, many years.

There is not one answer, but many for handling stress and dealing with depression is essential a personal, individual thing. How you deal with both is the difference between success and failure.

You cannot control everything!

The first and most valuable lesson in learning to deal with any kind of stress, whether in the workplace or from another source, is that you cannot control everything. You cannot hope to change everything, either. You must be able to recognise what you can change – usually factors to do with you, including your response to stressors – and learn to accept (or leave) stressors that you cannot.

Uncertain times

One stressor that needs to be acknowledge but cannot be changed (to a certain degree) are uncertain times. As the country calls out of a recession, many people will have very different lives and jobs to those from a few years ago. Upsetting as they are, some the redundancies and ‘lay off’ have been the best thing to have happened to some people, although at the time, the emotions were probably very different.

When times are uncertain like this, emotions are high and contagious, thus stress is high and tension is rife. And when this is the case, managing stress relating to work needs to happen but, this is a skill that must be learnt and taught.

The lessons

Stress is common. Everyone will ‘suffer’ from a degree of stress at certain times in the day, week or year. Some people will move job roles to lessen or avoid it. Others will desist in certain relationships. Others will bury their heads in the sand and others will become ill, suffering the effects of chronic stress.

Understanding and spotting the signs of stress early can help in controlling and managing stress. But be warned, some of these lessons are not easy…

  • Take responsibility – your health, both physical and emotional is your responsibility and yours alone. Your boss may be piling on the pressure, the deadline may be looming but you are still in control of how your stress is handled. If you know or feel your physical or emotional health is being affected, you need to take action; this could be from simply voicing your opinion, identifying the problem and suggesting solutions to backing away from the problem for a while in order to get a better view. Often, when people lose this sense of control, they submit to chronic stress.
  • Avoid the pitfalls – we all have knee-jerk reactions. But, have you noticed how some people always seem to be give a measured, thought-out response to a situation? This is because they have a heightened awareness of their own knee-jerk responses and negative attitudes to some things. How do you really react when the pressure is ramped up?
  • Communication skills – not just talking, but listening too, as well as acknowledging what people are saying (or not saying) and being mindful of how we interact with people is key to identifying stressors that we create for ourselves. Having positive and productive relationships with management and colleagues is one way of immediately reducing the number of stress-inducing factors in your work.

Recognise when stress if excessive

A great tip is that it is important that we, as individuals, recognise when stress is at danger levels.

Some high level stress is instantaneous; things out of the ordinary happen and we have to find the energy and motivation to deal with it. This stress is short term and most people will handle the ‘fall out’ after the task is completed, whether this is opting for a massage or taking part in sport, and so on.

But some stress is insistent, but low key. But it is there and it nibbles away at our core until we feel we have nothing left. This is when people can feel burnout and commonly, prolonged period of absences from work can result.

Attitude to stress is important. It is only in recent years that employers have realised that it is a very common factor in their work force absent rate. But, the attitude to stress is not always a positive or empathetic one. It has been seen as a by-word for ‘skiving’ or wanting to take some more time off.

Stress is an emotional response and thus, because it is not tangible, many people at one time assumed that it did not exist. Or, to admit to stress would be a sign of weakness.

Fortunately, attitudes have changed and thus work burnout due to stress should be becoming less common. How do you handle stress?