I know I’m a little late to the party on this as National Stress Awareness Day was on Wednesday (7th November), but I couldn’t let the week go by without acknowledging it…
We’re living in an ‘always on’ culture. Where smartphones have made it impossible to switch off and answering an email or responding to a call or text feels practically compulsory.
You can’t even receive a bloody WhatsApp message without it telling the sender that you’re ignoring them if you haven’t responded within 10 seconds of reading it…
If you work in the PR profession, you’ll know the feeling of being ‘always on’. Whether you’re dealing with a crisis on social media, about to push the button on a national campaign or hosting a press event, we’re confronted with situations that cause stress every day – it’s how we react when we come face-to-face with it that really matters.
Conversely, I’ve found that the way employers react to stress – both themselves and when dealing with staff – has a huge impact. As someone who’s experienced both stress and extreme anxiety during my seven-year career, I’m all too familiar with the worries that dance through your head and the questions you ask yourself:
“Does this mean I’m no good at my job?”
“Why can’t I just put up with it like everyone else?”
“I can’t say something – I don’t want to look like I’m moaning.”
Days such as National Stress Awareness Day – fronted by Mind, the mental health charity – are so important, as they give people an outlet to talk about these things. The truth is, we all need to talk more about tough situations and how we can better manage them so that they don’t control our lives.
Here are a few things that both employers – and employees – should keep in mind when dealing with stress or anxiety in the workplace. *
*I am fully aware that not all this advice will be applicable to every industry or position. A CEO can hardly switch off their emails for the weekend…but you get the idea.
- Stress can be contagious
It’s true that one person’s negative reaction to a situation can cause a domino effect in the office. I know this both from my time as a junior and since moving into a management role. Most of us have been guilty of sharing our stress in the office at some point (I am guilty of this, regrettably).
It’s important to keep an eye on those situations that have the potential to become challenging. Start a dialogue and work with your team to address any problems early on – before they spill out.
- Be approachable
It sounds like common sense but encouraging people to talk about issues as they arise is not only healthy, but essential for a happy team. How can you manage it if your staff can’t even raise the subject with you?
It’s all well and good encouraging people to talk – but are you listening?
I was once told by a manager…
“I can’t hire more people just to make you happy. The clients come first.”
Those words really stuck with me.
It wasn’t just me of course. Deep down I knew this; but in the moment I felt like a selfish, self-important fun sponge, who existed solely to ruin everyone’s day.
The conversation came after several weeks where staff had cried at their desks, called in sick from stress, work was being missed, and the morale of the team was generally at an all time low. Having realised that both I – and the wider team – were struggling, I’d raised the subject of needing more staff to manage workloads…
As an employer you can’t always do what people ask, you’re not a magician; but you can listen and make your team feel valued. After all, a happy team = a productive team = happy clients.
- Encourage people to take lunch!
Another obvious one, but fresh air, food and daylight can only aid productivity. The culture of eating ‘al desko’ has grown but try to encourage people to get away from their desks once a day even if it’s for 20 minutes.
You wouldn’t leave a pot plant in a store cupboard without nourishment – don’t allow it to happen to humans who are there to help you run the place.
- Let weekends be weekends
It’s not always possible – especially in PR when a crisis can arise any time of the day – but make sure your team knows that down time is down time.
If you’re sending emails over the weekend, let them know that you don’t expect replies out of office. Everyone needs a break from time to time and feeling like you’re constantly under pressure to ‘perform’ even when you’re not being paid, can only serve to demoralise.
- Don’t be afraid to speak up
Don’t get me wrong here – sitting down with your manager to talk about your workload and shouting all your personal problems from the rooftops are not one and the same.
Don’t fear having a quiet word with your boss if work is getting on top of you. Shrug off the concerns that they’ll think you incompetent. Ask for help.
- Don’t expect to be all things to all people
Everyone works differently of course, and it’s not always possible to keep on top of things when workloads increase dramatically (hence the need for point one).
Prioritise your workload as best you can by numbering your jobs and doing the most important ones first. If it helps, turn your emails off while you manage the more urgent tasks, and only look at them again when you’ve done what you needed to do.
You’re not a machine – be kind to yourself and understand that you can’t do everything at once.
If you can feel stress rising, put it into perspective.
Being able to rationalise your worries – though not always possible – can really help in times of stress. Admittedly it’s often easier said than done, but try asking yourself:
“If I stress about this, will it change?”
“If I cry, will it go away?”
“In 24 hours, will this matter?”
“Will the world stop turning because I couldn’t meet the deadline/missed a train/sent an email to the wrong person?”
- Be kind to others
Understand that it’s not just you. We’re all blundering our way through this universe together, wading through a tidal wave of bullshit daily, muddling along, and trying our best.
Try to see things from other people’s perspectives and remember that everyone has their own stresses – big or small – to deal with. Listen to others, be kind, and offer a different viewpoint.
You often find that it’s much easier to rationalise other people’s problems than your own. Help others however you can – you might just learn something.