My workplace is very stressful. What will help?
Now of course work is always stressful to some degree. There is never enough time in the day, you might not have the resources you need and people can be difficult. Dysfunctional organisations and managers also have a habit of shifting their failings onto their staff, who may try valiantly to mop up the mess, but who often end up feeling overwhelmed. Here are some practical steps to help:
- Spot the early warning signs
When you are at home do you seem to spend a lot of time worrying and brooding about work? Maybe it’s keeping you awake at nights or work is a relentless topic of conversation with loved ones. Stress at work can also find physical expression in terms of backache, panic attacks, migraines, ever-lasting colds etc. It is often easier for others to spot that this is more than just “a tough week at work” so if people are telling you that you “don’t seem to be yourself” it’s time to pay attention.
- Deal with the symptoms of the stress
You may just need some time away from the workplace to refresh, reinvigorate and remind yourself that there is indeed life outside of work. So book that holiday, mini-break or sabbatical. Start reclaiming your lunchbreaks and finishing work on time. Go to the gym, try mindfulness, buy some positive self-help books or write a journal where you can vent your feelings. Your career resilience will definitely be helped if you work on keeping yourself physically and psychologically in good shape.
- Talk to your boss
It can be hard to be objective when you are in a horrible work situation, but try to put your emotion to one side, and think about what the real work issues are and what could be done practically to help alleviate the difficulty. Then go and discuss this with your boss in a calm, rational and professional manner. Sometimes, just expressing whatever it is that is causing you most stress, can be amazingly cathartic, sharing the problem rather than shouldering the entire burden. If you can’t do the work you’ve been asked to do, remember that it is your boss’s problem too, and they need to know so they can do something about it before it all potentially goes wrong. They also have a duty of care towards you so if they want to avoid any stress-related injury or constructive dismissal claims at a tribunal, they need to show that they have listened to you, acted in a fair way and made reasonable adjustments where they can.
If your problem is your boss, then you may need to talk to someone else in your organisation, perhaps HR, another manager you trust or an employee representative. They can advise you on how you might best deal with this.
- Psychological support
If you are feeling overwhelmed and miserable and you have felt like this for a while, then it’s worth talking to your GP or a therapist. Also check out whether your organisation has an Employee Assistance Programme which is a confidential service designed to help staff with any personal problems, from well-being issues to advice on practical matters like finances, family care, housing etc.
- There are always options
If it becomes clear that your boss is either unwilling or unable to make the changes that would make a difference to you in your job, then there are always options. You could stay and fight, perhaps raising a grievance, getting advice from an employment lawyer or your Trade Union if the organisation seems unwilling to shift. You could also look at whether there are other roles in the organisation that might work better for you. Otherwise, it may be time to start looking for another job.
- Take action
Individuals tend to put up with far more than they should in horrible work situations, hoping that it will get better of its own accord. Sometimes it will. Usually it doesn’t. When you start to do something about it, whether it is talking to the boss, seeking advice and support, or brushing up your CV and applying for other jobs, you will immediately start to feel better because you have started to take back control, rather than feeling powerless. Every job will have its ups and downs, but life is too short to spend it in a job where you are unhappy or where the personal cost is too high.
Corinne Mills is Managing Director of Personal Career Management, the leading specialists in career management and outplacement services who are the official Career Management partners for the ACCA.
As part of ACCA Member benefits, Personal Career Management offer ACCA Members a free career conversation and a 10% discount off any career coaching or outplacement programme.
If you are looking for help in reaching your career goals, or assistance with a practical job search strategy, then call Personal Career Management on +44 1753 888 995 for a confidential discussion or fill in their online contact form