Work is always stressful to some degree – bosses, colleagues, customers, suppliers and equipment can all be problematic, and there is often insufficient time or resources to do the things you really need to do. So if you feel you are in you are in an unbearably stressful situation at work right now or know someone who is, then here are some practical steps which could help:
1) Spot the early warning signs
When you are at home, do you spend a lot of time worrying and brooding about work? Maybe it’s keeping you awake at night, or has become a relentless topic of conversation with loved ones? Sometimes stress at work also finds 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”, pay attention to them.
2) Reduce the symptoms of stress
It may be that some time away from the workplace is all you need to refresh, reinvigorate and get some perspective on work, so taking some annual leave – or even a sabbatical, if that’s possible – might be a good idea. Start reclaiming your lunch breaks and finishing work on time. You might also find it helpful to go to the gym, or to take up yoga or meditation. Keeping yourself in good physical shape and staying psychologically positive will help your career resilience.
3) Communicate with 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. Think about what the real work issues are, and what practical things could be done to help alleviate the difficulty. Then 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 cathartic – sharing the problem, rather than shouldering the entire burden.
If you can’t do what you’ve been asked to, your manager needs to know sooner rather than later so they can do something about it. Your employer also has 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 the HR department or another manager whom you trust. They can advise you on how you might best deal with this.
4) Psychological support
Sometimes workplace difficulties can be rooted in, or affected by, personal issues. For instance, it may be that a conflict at work is magnified because of underlying self-esteem issues, a bereavement, health scare or relationship problems. While people tend to think they are good at compartmentalising their work and home life they seldom are – personal and workplace anxieties often leak through to other areas of our lives.
Your GP can advise you on the support that is available to you if you are feeling particularly anxious or depressed. Some organisations also have employee assistance programmes which provide a confidential service to those in need of psychological or practical support. You need to make sure that you are taking good care of yourself psychologically if you are feeling vulnerable.
5) There are always options
If it becomes clear that your employer is either unwilling or unable to make the changes that would make a difference to you, there are options. You could stay and fight, perhaps raising a grievance or 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. A career coach can be very helpful if you want to look objectively at your options. If you decide to stay they can help you manage your current situation more effectively; but if you decide to go, then they will work with you to ascertain what your next career move should be, and help get you ready for the job market.
6) Take action
Individuals tend to put up with far more than they should in work situations, hoping that it will get better of its own accord. Sometimes it will, but usually it doesn’t. When you start to do something about it – whether it’s talking to the boss, seeking advice and support, or brushing up your CV and applying for another job– you will immediately start to feel better because you are taking 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 and where the personal cost is just not worth it.