Stress doesn’t have to start at work to become a problem at work.
You’ve had an argument with your partner the morning before work. You sit at your desk and see that your to-do list is miles long. Your colleague asks for a favour and you snap back at them.
It wasn’t how you wanted to react, but the stress from the morning has affected your judgement. Now you’re in trouble. And the domino effect goes on and on throughout the day…
It’s a fact that stress can cause us to make bad decisions. That’s not rocket science (it’s neurobiology actually). The Pre-Frontal Cortex (PFC) is the newest part of our brain and sits just behind our forehead. It is our decision-making centre, where specific neurons help us to make decisions.
Stress actually disengages these brain cells.
And when these brain cells are disengaged, our ability to think logically and rationally becomes impaired. In short, we make bad decisions.
The more stressed you are the worse it gets! “Multiple stressors” may add up to be even more potent, and they tend not to keep to neat little boxes for “work” and “home”. Mortgage payments, illness, caring for a loved one and relationship breakdowns merge with high workload, antisocial hours and low levels of control.
But even though work may not have been the only cause of stress in this person’s life, work will almost certainly have to deal with the consequences. Like poor performance, a disruptive influence on the team, absence and presenteeism.
As a manager, you can’t expect to control what goes on in your employees’ personal lives. You can however, help nurture an environment where situations like this are less likely to happen.
The reality is we all have a finite ability to cope with stress. A stress bucket if you like. The stresses and strains of life will inevitably start to fill up the bucket. And if it gets too full and overflows, bad stuff starts to happen. So how do we keep the bucket from overflowing?
Old attitudes like: “if you don’t like it you know where the door is” or my favourite “if you can’t take the heat get out of the kitchen” need to be sent to the vocab scrapheap.
There are thing you can do. Understand your stress, and take steps to manage it. Learn to keep the bucket at a low level, and don’t empty yours out into others! April is Stress Awareness Month – although for people suffering with anxiety and stressors at home, every month is stress awareness month!
Terry is Director and Head of Training at Oakwood. He helps clients promote a proactive, rather than reactive approach to both personal safety and the positive mental health of their staff. He has over 12 years teaching experience in these areas, and advises organisations in the development of appropriate risk assessment and policy.