It seems as if the UK is beset by disagreements at the moment and attitudes to this year’s summer weather proved another topic on which we just couldn’t see eye to eye. Some of us revelled in the joy of Mediterranean heat in the back garden, but others looked on in disbelief, desperate for a cloud or cool breeze to bring an end to the hot spell.
Whether you loved or loathed the hot weather, though, the summer months provided a welcome pause in our usual work patterns. August in particular is often a quieter time, an opportunity to reflect and to re-evaluate, and no doubt lots of us will have returned to work this September determined not to lose that lovely chilled-out summer feeling.
It is, however, a resolution that usually proves too difficult to keep and, within weeks, we’re back to our old stressed habits, swept along by the panic of hitting deadlines as if that summer lull never happened.
Charity people work in especially stressful situations. We’re regularly dealing with short-term funding crises or clients who are in hugely challenging situations in under-resourced environments. One might reasonably assume, then, that we would be particularly good at managing our stress, used as we are to supporting staff and volunteers to manage these constant problems.
Paradoxically, however, it seems that rather than championing a healthy work-life balance, many sector staff prefer to revel in the strain of their work. People arrive late and flustered at meetings, clutching their smartphones and boasting of overflowing inboxes. Perhaps we fear that if we are not frantic we’re not really working or that if we are not visibly overwhelmed then our colleagues might think we’re slacking.
Whatever our motivation, we need to get over this outdated mentality, because while we are running around manically we are not working effectively at all. Studies show that stress clouds judgement. It hinders strategic thinking, closes down our openness to change and restricts our ability to feel empathy. We end up lurching from one crisis to the next, high on adrenaline.
What’s more, stress is infectious. Anyone who has ever worked in close proximity to someone who is continually anxious for an extended period of time can testify to just how exhausting it is. If we are overworking, we’re not helping anyone. Our stress levels are doing nothing for our organisations, our beneficiaries or our health and we need as a sector to start addressing this.
So if you haven’t yet lost that summer feeling or are looking for ways to re-inspire that more relaxed persona, what can you do? Well, while many senior staff complain of being overstretched, too many excellent junior staff suffer stress because they are not being used to the full extent of their ability. Getting better at skilling up others and delegating work is a great first step.
Indecisiveness is draining too, so sharpen up your decision-making muscles. Perhaps most importantly accept that we each have a finite amount of energy, so if you’ve come back from holiday fully charged, think twice before running down your batteries attending meetings of dubious value or fervently engaging in petty debates on, say, the British weather. If we want to keep the perspective of the summer break, we need to chill out in September and get heated only about what really matters.
Stella Smith is a consultant and facilitator