In a recent survey, a whole quarter of workers stated that work was their Number 1 life stressor. Yikes. We asked you what it was about the workplace that was getting you so stressed and took the issues to Indigo Senior Psychologist, Sarah.
1. Unreasonable Expectations
“What do I do when there’s too much expected of me at work?”
I think everyone has felt this way at times. However, if it is getting in the way of your ability to work effectively and it is a recurring theme then it’s best to communicate it sooner rather than later. We often assume that others must know how we feel on the inside (e.g. our thoughts and feelings). Maybe we are thinking “How can they not know? They couldn’t care less about me!”
The reality is people can’t see our insides and it is our responsibility to communicate it effectively if we need something to change. Taking responsibility means we are responsible, not that it is our fault! The power lies with you.
Sometimes the thought of speaking up can bring on anxiety for many people. The trick is to notice your anxiety or fear and harness its energy to do something proactive (even if the temptation is to run away and hide or struggle on alone). If this has been your tactic in the past – ask yourself how has this been working for you? Has it been helpful in the shorter term? What about the longer term?
When thinking about how to communicate it it can be helpful to frame it in a particular way. Firstly, try to take any judgement out of it and state the facts (e.g. “at the moment I have X, Y and Z going on”), state how it is making you feel, making sure you take ownership of your feelings (for example “I am feeling overwhelmed”). If you have any suggestions as to how they can help or support you, then state that as clearly as possible (e.g. “I think it may help if …”). If you are not sure how to address the workload ask for guidance (e.g. “I am hoping you can help me come up with a plan so I don’t feel so overwhelmed”). If the approach outlined above is new to you then it can be helpful to write down what you want to say and practice it in advance until it feels more comfortable.
You cannot guarantee a helpful response, but effective communication can certainly make it more likely! If we are communicating effectively and things are not changing over time, then it will need to be revisited.
2. Job Insecurity
“How can I not stress out when I feel like my role/income is unreliable?”
Firstly, it is worth recognising that the more we try not to stress about something the more we tend to stress! Welcome to the human mind. To demonstrate how the mind works, try this little experiment. In the next 2 minutes try not to think about X (substitute X for one of your favourite foods-chocolate, ice-cream, fresh baked bread-whatever you want). Put on a timer and see how you go. How long did you last? If you managed it you are doing very well indeed! What did you notice about this little experiment? Was it tiring? What if you tried to keep it up for a whole day? So, if trying not to stress is backfiring then what next?
If you enjoy your work but are worried about the security, you could try envisaging the worst-case scenario (maybe it’s that you might find yourself out of work and are unable to pay your bills or something like that). Then treat that scenario like a problem to be solved. Brainstorm a list of possible solutions and go through the list and write the pros and cons of each. Pick the solution that seems the most helpful and write a step by step plan to put it into action if your doomsday thought (aka your worst-case scenario) were to ever come to fruition.
Each time your worry shows up throughout the day, you can then just pause and say “thanks for reminding me mind, I have planned for doomsday” .
You may not be able to stop your worries but you can practice relating to them differently when they show up. The key is to pay attention with interest and curiosity to what your mind is saying and, if it doesn’t seem helpful in that moment, practice doing something to create a bit of space so your thoughts don’t have so much power over you. It is a bit like the difference between having a radio blaring in your face or playing along in the background.
- One way of doing this is simply to name your worry, give it a title (like you would the title of a book). It could simply be the “Financial Doom and Gloom Story” or the “Broke with Nowhere to Go Story.” Pick something that makes sense for you. Each time the worry pops into your head, your job is to notice it as quickly as you can, name it and when you are ready, refocus on whatever you are doing.
- An alternative idea is to practice ‘mind watching’ and see if you can let your worries come and go in their own time, along with any other positive or negative thoughts that arise. Close your eyes for a few minutes and bring your awareness to your thoughts with interest and curiosity. Notice the form of your thoughts. Do they appear as words or images? Where are they located in space? Are they moving or still?
See if you can watch each thought arise and give it a bit of space, noticing that your experience is constantly changing. Try and do this regardless of the nature of your thought, be it positive or negative. After a few minutes let go of the exercise and come back to the present.
3. Lack of Professional Fulfilment
“What if I don’t feel like my job fulfils me?”
The first thing I would do is take some time to connect with your values. Values are ongoing qualities of action around who we want to be and what we want to stand for in life. They are different from goals, which by their very nature, are off in the future. For example, maybe you have the goal at work to move into a management role. Values are about what you want to stand for as you move in that direction. How do you want to be as a colleague? What do you care about? What drives you? To get a sense of this, close your eyes and imagine it is 10-20 years into the future.
Imagine that some people that you care about are gathering to celebrate your life so far. Imagine a few of them get up to talk about what you stand for in your life and what you mean to them. Imagine them saying exactly what you would like to hear them say.
Take your time with this and allow yourself to build the scene first. Imagine it as vividly as you can. Open your eyes and jot down the key things that came up during the exercise. What does this reveal about what matters most to you? What sort of relationships do you want to build? What do you want your life’s work to be about? Do your answers suggest that you need to make some change in your life? Alternatively, perhaps you have been overly focused on the future (long term goals) and lost sight of what matters to you during the journey?
Next, take some time to write down what is holding you back. Get a blank sheet of paper and write down the pros and cons of staying in your current job (at the top) versus the pros and cons of making some sort of change (at the bottom) Try to be as specific as possible here depending on your personal circumstances. Is it a career change you dream of? Returning to study? Maybe you feel like you are in the right career but not in a rewarding position and perhaps you need to change your employer? When you are writing down the pros and cons try not to be too logical, just jot down whatever comes to mind.
When you are finished, just take some time to pause and reflect. Does one side seem to be weighing more heavily on pros or cons than the other? Have you gained any insight into the things that have been holding you back?
Work out how many more years and days of work you have left of working and let that motivate you to write a plan of action!
Still stuck? Come and see a professional! We don’t just help with problems, we can help with life changes and supporting you to take action and work through whatever is holding you back (perhaps it is overwhelming fear that you are struggling with?)
4. Conflict with Colleagues/Management
“How can I cope with all the workplace conflict?”
Learning to cultivate amicable work relationships is important for your overall wellbeing (not to mention your ability to get work done!). But workplaces can be tough. We can find ourselves lumped in an office with a bunch of different personalities who we may or may not get along with. In recent studies, 90% of respondents stated that workplace incivility was a serious problem for them. Learning to cultivate amicable work relationships is important for your overall wellbeing, not to mention your ability to get work done! At the heart of any healthy relationship is the ability to communicate clearly and & set appropriate boundaries.
At the heart of any healthy relationship is the ability to communicate clearly and & set appropriate boundaries.
If something is bothering you in your workplace, take some time to ask yourself is this something that really matters to me? Is it a battle that is worth fighting for? If it is then reflect on how you would like to communicate it. What kind of colleague do you want to be? Fair? Respectful? Honest? Assertive? Caring? What matters to you? Let these values guide you. Don’t try to tackle too many issues at once. Pick something that seems most important right now and start there. When you get some headway with that, you can always move onto other concerns. None likes to be bombarded with too many requests at once!
When you communicate clearly and assertively, you are stating your case in a way that is fair and non-judgemental. You take ownership for your feelings and let the other person know what you need from them. Think about the timing of your delivery. Is privacy important? When is the other person likely to feel most relaxed and receptive to your request? Make sure that your non-verbal body language aligns with your verbal requests (e.g. an open body posture, eye contact, friendly manner). If there is someone you’re butting heads with, find the right time to talk and rationally and calmly present the facts of the situation – don’t make it personal and try to be specific, e.g. “When you said *xyz* loudly to me in front of my colleagues, like you did yesterday morning after the meeting…” Use “I” statements to take responsibility of your thoughts and feelings, e.g. “I felt embarrassed and upset because I think that you’re trying to…” (vs “You made me feel…”) Acknowledge potential errors in thinking – that maybe your assumptions for their behaviour isn’t accurate, e.g. “But I could be wrong…” and clearly and assertively ask for what you want e.g. “I would like you to stop… etc.” They may or may not oblige, but at least you’ve taken responsibility for yourself through saying your piece calmly and clearly and that’s the best you can do.
Boundaries are also essential because they make it clear what needs to be in place for you to maintain cordial relationships with others, as well as maintain a stable, confident and calm sense of self. If your boundaries are being infringed upon, it’s important to acknowledge and address that.
In order to create healthy boundaries, it’s worth going back to assessing your values, and building boundaries that best support them.
Of all the relationships we have at work, the boss/employee relationship is the one that most directly impacts work satisfaction, daily productivity and the length of time spent at a particular company. Fostering an amicable relationship with your staff/superiors is so important and all workplaces should be doing their bit to facilitate the growth and support of such relationships. If you feel like your workplace is seriously lacking in this department, your company might benefit from our Workplace Wellbeing programs. You can check out what’s on offer here.