Six things you need to know if you feel stressed at work.
‘I used to pride myself on my ability to think creatively and make decisions – and now I’m struggling just to get through the day’ Angie told me during our coaching consultation. A high achiever, Angie’s default response was simply to push herself harder when facing difficulty, putting in longer and longer hours just to keep up, but feeling in reality like she was just spinning her wheels and not getting anywhere.
Angie’s inability to perform to her usual standards was undermining her confidence and leading her to question her abilities and her role. Caught up in the stress of her situation Angie was internalising the problem and was unable to appreciate the bigger picture of what was really impacting on her ability to perform – the environment and context she found herself working in.
Frogs in Boiling Water
Over many years, both as a therapist and now as a Coach, I have worked with many high achieving women like Angie who were highly stressed – sometimes on the verge of burnout – but who weren’t necessarily consciously aware of what was happening to them until things came to a head and either their performance was questioned or their health suffered.
It reminds me of the fable of the frog in boiling water – if a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put in tepid water which is then brought to a boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger until it is cooked to death.
Applying this to our work environments, if we land in hot water, we usually react to the metaphorical heat and do something to protect ourselves. It is our human nature to survive. However, if our work environment slowly worsens at barely noticeable increments, we can remain unaware of the potential hazards undermining our performance and health – until one day we reach our own particular boiling point.
Six Workplace Stress Hazards
With this in mind as I listened to Angie recounting her difficulties at work I found myself mentally ticking off six psychological workplace stressors she was swimming against. These workplace stress hazards were brought into legislation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) here in the UK in 2005 bringing a duty of care for employers to assess for stress risks and ameliorate against them. They are:
Demands Your workload; work patterns and your work environment
Control How much say you have in what you do and how you do it
Support How much support you feel you get both from line managers, colleagues and your organisation
Role How clear your role is; how well trained you are to do your role; clear induction when new; is there any role blurring that can lead to conflict
Relationships Whether these are harmonious or whether you feel there is conflict or potential bullying and harassment going on
Change Degree of change and how well organisational change is communicated and managed in your organisation – in particular how involved you feel in contributing to any changes / being consulted and heard helps to ameliorate stress here.
Once we explored Angie’s work challenges in the context of these workplace hazards she was able to gain a different perspective on her difficulties. Instead of internalising the problem as being her fault and feeling helpless to change things, she came to appreciate that following an organisational merger her role had become blurred, her workload and task demands had increased and support from her line manager had decreased – and she also began to question the wider cultural context that she now found herself working in post-merger.
She came to see that an organisation that had once been a good fit for her skills and temperament now no longer suited her (see earlier post here) and this contextual knowledge then gave her the power to choose what steps to take to resolve this situation. In the process she also began to appreciate the demands and at times unfair expectations she was placing on herself re her performance and began to look at ways to take back control and better support herself in order to make her desired changes a reality.
Over to You
What challenges are you facing in your workplace? How does knowing about these six psychological hazards in your workplace help you? I’d love to hear from you.
Need more help to move on from the stress in your workplace?
Take a look at my coaching programmes here. Or fill in the form here to arrange a FREE, no obligation Clarity and Confidence Consultation to help you get some clarity on the situation you are facing and move forward with confidence.