Stressing Enough: How to keep pressure positive

Last year, a nationwide Labour Force Survey found that 35% of all work-related cases of ill health were down to stress. The total number of working days lost due to stress was just under the ten million mark, an average absence rate of 23 days per case.

Claire Havey: BrightHR Relationship manager

And when you consider the impact on individual mental health and team performance when those stressed out people actually turned up for work, the true cost of stress really starts to mount up.

The difference between stress and pressure

There’s a common misunderstanding that pressure and stress are one and the same. Let’s settle the score right now – they’re not.

It is completely natural to feel under pressure at times; in fact, our response to pressure is an instinct that developed in the days when early man faced the threat of crocodiles and sabre-toothed tigers. Nowadays it’s more likely to be the threat of an important business meeting or looming deadline, but the same principle applies.

We all rely on pressure to act decisively and to the best of our ability. So often it’s the nudge on the shoulder that reminds us to get things done. People thrive under pressure and, for those that do, it is because they view pressure as a positive force.

On the other hand, we know too much pressure over a sustained period of time can have the opposite effect. When we can’t cope with excessive amounts of pressure, it soon leads to mental strain and chronic stress. This can have huge repercussions for both the individuals involved and their families.

Left unchecked, prolonged periods of stress heighten the risk of both physical and mental illness – including strokes, heart attacks, obesity, depression and severe anxiety.

Duty of care

Bearing in mind that pressure only becomes an issue when it is dealt in excessive amounts, every employer is faced with the challenge of keeping pressure positive for the people who run it.
But avoiding stress at work isn’t always a piece of cake. Employers must focus on developing a culture of wellbeing if they are to keep staff engaged and challenged without ever pushing them too far beyond their limits. It’s down to business leaders to set a precedent for their organisation and openly communicate with staff to ensure all is well.

What does this mean in practice? Positive psychological wellbeing in the workplace is about having access to the necessary resources when needed and the right support structure in place for when employees are troubled for whatever reason. It’s about affording employees enough control (and increasingly flexibility) to take charge of their workload and avoiding micromanagement so that employees can take a sense of pride and purpose in their achievements.

Final thought

We also believe that fun and business are not chalk and cheese, and that having fun at work goes a long way to keep people in a positive mindframe and stave off the threat of rising stress levels.

Think about how often we talk about ‘stressful situations’. Of course, some days life throws way more at you than others but, when you break it down, these situations themselves are not the thing that causes stress; it is actually our own perception of a particular turn of events that stresses us out.

There are so many little ways that employers can start to promote a culture of wellbeing that encourages people to enjoy their work and look at things in a positive light. It could be a focus on building internal relationships or a comprehensive review of resources, for instance. So when a difficult situation inevitably does crop up, teams have the mental resilience to navigate it calmly and coolly.

Get your wellbeing culture right and the rest will follow. That is what keeps us from crumbling under pressure, and that is what makes us thrive from Monday to Friday. (Saturday and Sunday, too.)

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