We know how you feel. You get into work, bust your arse, skip your much-earned lunch break (BAD GIRL) to continue finishing work and work work work work work. You go home feeling like your brain has turned into mush, and your body is showing up signs of fatigue that you may have never seen before, like styes in your eyes, a breakout of spots or sleepiness, or even lack of sleep as your mush brain goes into top-gear overload for the next working day.
There's a dangerous culture that occurs in the workplace that can impact both mental and physical health, with the above description being but a few signs of that dreaded word; stress.
Stress can be a motivator for some personality types, the types who like to work to tight deadlines as they thrive from the pressure. Some know how to combat stress so that it doesn’t affect their mental or physical health. Both are okay if you know yourself and how you like to work and how you can handle stress. However, what happens when stress becomes a measure of your hard work, when you are being observed on your level of stress as an indicator of whether you are a good employee? This becomes problematic to say the least…
For example, say it is customary in your workplace to have one-to-one meetings every so often to check progress, or have a type of review annual or every few months, like large companies do. In these reviews, it could be remarked from your line manager that even though you did a great piece of work, that you came across as blasé throughout the project and therefore didn’t put your full effort into it, or perhaps others perceived your ability to control your stress as a sign that you were not handling the project well, and your line manager has listened to them instead of observing it themselves. Do you think it fair that this is a reflection of your hard work and skills to produce a high quality finished piece? Fuck no, it is not.
It's cultures like these that damage even the best employees, and ultimately sometimes make them leave the company. I mean c’mon, everyone is entitled to at least a lunch break; I certainly do not sacrifice my time to enjoy a good sandwich, and I remind my colleagues that they are allowed a break. Just because a review may be coming up, doesn’t mean they need to seen to be stressed by missing lunch just to prove to managers that they are working hard. They already are working hard!
Everyone has a different coping mechanism established through their own life experiences. Some may have a tough hide but be a jittery mess on the inside. Some may save up all the stress and release it in one big blow-out dispute with someone. Some may not feel stressed mentally or emotionally, but show the physical signs of stress like the spots or styes or tiredness. Some may even be so awakened to the signs of oncoming stress that they just bat it off with one flick before it even enters their conscious knowledge. But, none of this has ANYTHING to do with ones ability to work hard. No correlation, diddly-squat. So it should definitely not be used an indicator or measure used by management to ‘check you’.
If this is happening to you, I suggest a good sit down with your line manager to touch base about your working styles. Make it abundantly clear how you handle stress and how this has nothing to do with the quality of your work. And also that if it is affecting your work, then they need to understand what is happening and how they can support you, like giving you a slighter lighter workload until you have caught up with what you're working on. That is also allowed.
The Stress Scale should hang back in the old way of working as we modernise for a more stress-free work environment, a place where badasses can continue to thrive.