2. Is Work Stressing You Out?

By 28th June 2016November 10th, 2016leadership

Is work stressing you out?

If it is, you’re not alone. But what exactly is the root cause of all that stress, and what effect is that is having on your performance and on the people around you?

For clues, let’s catch up with Frazzled Freda, recently promoted Operations Director at Murray’s Medical Moulds. Friday was a particularly stressful day for Freda. Here’s how it went.

“I’ve got a few comments on your report,” Tony, the MD, had said. “We need to talk.  Let’s catch up when I’m back from New York.”

Three hours later, Tony’s words were still going round and round in Freda’s head.  What did he mean? And now Tony was away for three days. She decided to take her lap top home so she could read through the document again and find out what the problem might be.

“Freda? Have you got a minute?”  It was Alex, the FD.  “I’m on my way to the meeting with Ann and Dave. I’ve just got a question about the production run figures.” Freda looked at him blankly. What meeting?  It wasn’t in her calendar. She forced herself to focus, and dealt with Alex’ question. She then asked him if he needed her at the meeting.  “No,” he replied.  “That’s all I wanted.”

As soon as Alex had left, Freda started calendar surfing. What other meetings were going on that she didn’t know about?

She was interrupted by Ian, her departmental second-in-command. “Fancy some lunch?” he asked. “No,” she snapped.  Her relationship with Ian was becoming more and more prickly. He didn’t seem to be nearly as helpful as he’d been when she first took over as Operations Director. In fact, the mood in the team as a whole had worsened recently. As, indeed, had the level of performance.  And she couldn’t understand why no internal candidates were applying for the new roles she’d introduced.

In an effort to lighten the mood, Freda had invited everyone on the 2nd floor to a cakes and coffee session that afternoon. She’d thought it would be also be a good opportunity to establish herself and get people bonding. But only Barry and Anna turned up, and they spent the whole time talking to each other about the fast-track leadership course they’d just come back from.

The rest of the day passed unproductively. Freda dipped in and out of various projects, unable to concentrate on any of them. At 5pm, she gave up and went home. She decided to take the opportunity of being back early to cook dinner for her and her partner Jim and their little boy, Sam. It had been a week since they’d all sat down together.

Rummaging around, she unearthed the ingredients for a lasagne – not the quickest meal to make, but it would be worth it. She was just getting the finished dish out of the oven when Jim arrived.  “Didn’t I tell you?” He said.  “Dave’s in town. I said I’d go and have a meal with him at the Red Lion.”

Without saying a word, Freda took the lasagne to the bin and threw it in, complete with wedding-present Le Creuset oven dish. She picked up the two glasses of wine she’d just poured out and went into the living room, slamming the door behind her.

Playing with his cars on the carpet, Sam started to cry.

What sends people into burnout mode?

Researchers have found across more than 200 studies of the effects of stress that the highest rises in the stress hormone cortisol are prompted by threats to social acceptance, esteem and status. The modern workplace provides the perfect environment for such threats to flourish.

The more our value feels at risk, the more preoccupied we become with defending it – and the less value we’re capable of creating in the world. We drop from performance mode into survival mode. Our negative emotions start to have a negative impact on those around us. If the cortisol stays in our body too long, the inevitable next stage is burnout mode.

Are you spending too much time in survival or burnout modes?

Try this.

First, note that it’s not what the other person says or does that triggers you; it’s how you interpret their behaviour.

Next time you feel you’re being criticised or devalued, take a deep breath and ask yourself the following question:

“Why am I feeling my value is at stake here – and is it really?”

Consider how you can hold onto your value without attacking the value of the person you feel threatened by. Blame keeps the negative emotion alive.

And build time for recovery into your schedule. No-one can perform like a computer, running continuously at high speeds and without emotions.  Even athletes only have to perform at their best for 5{205a4e8a83ff01c1299b1fa5858d665f87e8234ab64223651103df541d21c1a0} of the time. What do they do for the remaining 95{205a4e8a83ff01c1299b1fa5858d665f87e8234ab64223651103df541d21c1a0}? Training and recovery.

Do you want to become a more effective leader?

Are you spending too much time in survival or burnout modes??

My latest book, Stop Doing, Start Leading, reveals the six keys you need to realise your potential as a leader and addresses all the practical steps you need to take.

Don’t be like Frazzled Freda and click here to learn more about how to manage stress.



Sue has over twenty years of business experience and uses the latest thinking on leadership and advanced coaching skills to create the conditions you need to be at your best.

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