One of the trends in employment across all sectors is that jobs are getting more difficult, putting both managers and staff under pressure. More output is expected of each hour that we work and bosses want us to be self-supported, flexible, motivated and engaged. Add to this the pressure on the third sector in recent years to deliver more services with fewer funds over shorter timescales, and we are facing a stress epidemic. Most human don't thrive when they are anxious. It leads to heart disease, depression and the exacerbation of many other physical conditions.
Stress is defined by the Health and Safety Executive as "pressure that you feel you can't cope with". This provides an important personal dimension to the definition: it explains why one person is all right in a situation but another isn't. It's a personal response, not a scientific equation.
Here are steps you can take when you're feeling stressed in the workplace.
- Put work in its place by disconnecting every day and every week. Get into the habit of "going offline" by not reading emails after 6pm, putting your phone on silent and taking a proper weekend. Whatever it is, it can probably wait until tomorrow. And make sure you take your holidays. Work can manage without you.
- Move your body and get out and about. Take a walk round the block at lunchtime, go to the park, hug a tree – it helps to control the cortisol.
- Get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation raises stress hormones on its own without added stress. If you have young children, try to nap as much as you can and go to bed early.
- Don't beat yourself up – there's always someone else ready to do it for you. Try not to get into a loop of negative thoughts. If you find yourself catastrophising – saying words such as "never" or "worst" – this is an indicator that you are stressed and need to get some perspective. Get a trusted colleague to give you feedback: do you really never get things right?
- Get some support in place. Friday night in the pub is a good opportunity to let off steam about work and have a good grumble (don't break confidentiality, though). You might find that other people feel the same as you. Question whether you really have to do all this on your own or to that particular standard. Can you ask colleagues for help? Raise stuff at team meetings (without shouting) so the small stuff gets sorted. Other people might have better solutions than you.
- Remember that things change and you won't always feel like this. If you are really ill, go to a doctor and get some professional help, use any workplace counselling you have access to and take some time off.
This is how to address the stress you're feeling; but we don't have to handle it on our own: my column in December will look at managers' responsibilities to manage stress in the workplace.
Gill Taylor is a sector HR consultant