Stress: If We Didn't Cause It, It's Not Our Problem

Mental Health

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.

As an organisation, here are a few things you can do to help:
  • Think about it – does the kitchen have to be that hot? Would it be the end of the world if you ran at 80% rather than 100% every single day?
  • Encourage staff to take regular breaks from the screen
  • Realise that cramming in jobs one after the other is bad. Not only in terms of staff stress, but customer service too. Stressed employees don't tend to come across all that well (especially if jobs are emotionally charged). Where is the time to recover?
  • Email policy – consider getting off the habit to CC people "just in case"
  • Stop out-of-hours emails
  • Encourage staff to take annual leave and TOIL and remove the barriers that prevent this from happening
But what about ME? How as an individual do I keep stress at bay?
  • Realise there is only one bucket. You haven’t got one for work and one for home and one for your favourite sports team
  • Stop stress going into the bucket in the first place. Turn off notifications and non-essential work communication devices
  • Change jobs – speak to the manager/colleague you perceive to be causing your stress and see if we can come up with a win-win solution. Not compromise – that’s different. Win-win.
  • Find positive ways to let the stress out – a tap on the bottom of the bucket. Take a look at these five ways to wellbeing
  • Build protective factors into your life that allow you to cope better... get a bigger bucket!

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!