As elaborated in “Debunking 6 Workplace Stress Myths” we often view stress as an enemy, but that’s not the whole story.
When we interpret stress as a signal that we care about something deeply, it can propel us to take action and achieve our goals. Instead of blaming stress for our challenges, let’s try to focus on the ways in which we respond to it.
By debunking the misconceptions about workplace stress, we can learn to better manage our reactions and use stress to our advantage in both our personal and professional lives.
The following 2 real life case studies take a closer look at how we can proactively mitigate the negative effects of workplace stress and leverage the positive ones. We will also show why both, the employee and the employer need to make their contribution to a sustainable management of workplace stress.
Breaking the Blame-Game Cycle: Ruby’s Case
Meet Ruby*, a 32-year-old events manager from San Francisco. She’s driven, dedicated, and passionate about her job, but lately, she’s been feeling like things are going over her head: “I thought I was good at managing stress, but lately it just feels like too much. I feel like I’m always at the office, even when I’m not.”
She works long hours, takes on more responsibilities than anyone else in her department, and is always the first one to volunteer for a new project. She would say things like:
“I love my job, but it’s just so demanding. I feel like I’m always running on empty and don’t have any time for myself or my loved ones.”
What’s worse, despite all of this hard work, she feels like she’s never getting ahead and is constantly stressed and exhausted. She blames her employer for overloading her with work: “I just wish my employer would understand how much pressure they’re putting on me. They expect me to be a superhero, but no one can work like this for long” and it sounds relatable, especially for someone working in a buzzy environment like event management.
But Ruby doesn’t realize that her learned response to stress also plays a role in causing her suffering. She’s not alone, as many people in the workplace tend to blame their poor mental and physical health, on their employer and the stress they experience on the job.
The problem, however, is that the blame-game does not get anyone to feel better. It’s quite the opposite. Over time employees like Ruby will feel more misunderstood, miserable and powerless.
She may decide to leave, even though she loves her job. She may resign inwardly and turn to quiet quitting, as many others have done before.
There’s a better way for Ruby to stay in the driver’s seat and salvage the job she loves: To learn how to distinguish her personal responsibility from her employer’s responsibility.
Distinguishing Personal vs. Employer Responsibility For Workplace Stress
Ruby can learn to differentiate between what is her call for action and what is her employer’s responsibility by practicing reflection. This means taking the time to pause and think about the root causes of her stress, and what she can do to address them.
Here are 3 steps that Ruby can take to help her differentiate between her own responsibilities and those of her employer:
- Identify the sources of workplace stress: Ruby can start by making a list of the things that are causing her stress in the workplace. This could include things like heavy workload, unrealistic deadlines, unclear expectations, and lack of support. Her mantra should be: “I need to get clear on what’s really causing my stress at work. It’s the first step in finding a solution.”
- Assess what she can control: Next, Ruby can look at the items on her list and determine what she can control and what she can’t. For example, she may have control over how she manages her time, but may not have control over how many projects she is assigned. Telling herself “Okay, I can’t change the fact that I have a heavy workload, but I can change how I manage my time and prioritize tasks” would be a good starting point.
- Take ownership of what she can control: Once Ruby has a clear understanding of what she can control, she can start taking action to address these stressors. For example, if she’s feeling overwhelmed by her workload, she can start prioritizing tasks and setting boundaries for herself. She can say to herself: “I have the power to make changes in my own life. I’m going to start by taking control of my time and setting realistic expectations for myself.”
- Communicate with her employer: If Ruby identifies stressors that are outside of her control, such as unrealistic deadlines or lack of support, she can have a productive conversation with her employer about how these factors are affecting her well-being. This could include proposing solutions or making requests for additional resources. Her train of thought could be: “I need to have a conversation with my boss about the things that are causing me stress. It’s not just about me, it’s about creating a better work environment for everyone.”
It’s important to note that change may not happen overnight, but by being intentional about her approach to workplace stress, Ruby can build resilience, find a sense of agency and create greater peace and balance in her work.
From Overwhelmed to Empowered: Shaun’s Case
Meet Shaun*, a 31-year-old finance consultant from Boulder, Colorado. Shaun had always prided himself on his ability to handle stress at work. He enjoyed the fast-paced nature of his job and relished the challenge of taking on new projects and clients. However, as his workload increased and he found himself juggling multiple tasks at once, he began to feel overwhelmed and stressed.
Shaun’s situation is not unique. Many professionals experience stress and anxiety at work, particularly when faced with tight deadlines, difficult clients, or challenging projects. What sets Shaun apart is his ability to reframe his perceptions of workplace stress and approach it in a positive and constructive way.
Through his own journey of self-discovery, Shaun came to realize that the meaning he gives to stressful situations is what determines his emotional and physical state. Rather than seeing his workload as an impossible burden, Shaun began to view it as a series of exciting challenges: “It wasn’t always easy to change my perceptions and manage stress in a healthy way. There were times when I felt overwhelmed and discouraged, and it was hard to stay positive. But I found that by breaking down bigger tasks into smaller, more manageable steps, and by celebrating small wins along the way, I was able to stay motivated and make progress.”
Shaun also applied this approach to his interactions with clients.
Rather than seeing difficult conversations as personal attacks, he viewed them as opportunities to practice his communication skills and find solutions that worked for everyone involved.
By changing his perception, he was able to approach these conversations with a positive attitude and maintain good relationships with his clients.
Shaun’s experience is a powerful example of the importance of managing our perceptions and beliefs about workplace stress. By reframing our attitudes and approaching stressful situations in a positive and constructive way, we can build emotional and psychological readiness to better cope with the challenges of work and life.
If you’re struggling with stress and anxiety at work, take a page from Shaun’s book and try to reframe your perceptions. Can you see your workload as a series of exciting challenges? Can you view difficult conversations as opportunities to practice your communication skills? By changing your perception, you may find that you’re better equipped to handle the stress and achieve your goals.
Creating a Culture of Support: The Contribution From Shaun’s Employer
Shaun’s journey towards managing workplace stress in a healthy way was not only a personal one, but it was also influenced by his company’s approach towards stress management. Shaun’s company has a culture that promotes a healthy work-life balance and provides resources and support for employees to manage stress. This includes regular check-ins with managers to discuss workload and priorities, access to mental health resources, and flexible work arrangements.
Shaun’s company also encourages employees to take breaks throughout the day, to practice self-care and to participate in team-building activities outside of work. This creates a supportive and collaborative work environment where employees felt values and cared for, and can approach their work with a positive attitude.
Shaun’s employer’s approach to stress management has been playing an important role in Shaun’s ability to reframe his perceptions and manage stress in a healthy way. By providing the necessary resources and support, the company has been able to create a culture where employees feel empowered to take ownership of their mental readiness, and where stress is being viewed as an opportunity for growth rather than a threat.
“Ultimately, managing stress is about taking ownership of your own well-being and seeking out the resources and support you need. For me, that means being proactive about my own self-care, but it also means having a company culture that values employee health and wellness. By working together, we are able to create a workplace that is both productive and supportive” says Shaun looking back at his journey.
If you’re an employee struggling with workplace stress, it’s important to own your stress management, but it’s equally important to seek out resources and support from your employer. By working together, you can create a workplace culture that promotes health, wellness, and productivity for all.
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