When it comes to workplace stress, and what to do about it, most people, most managers, will start to think about things in the workplace environment. Things that I would call ‘external factors’ like workload, overtime hours, the physical environment, etc. And these are all good considerations.
Yes, we should look at them.But very rarely is any attention paid to the ‘internal factors’. Those qualities, characteristics, or skills that reside inside each individual, and impact upon how much stress they will experience, regardless of the external environment. You see, in the same workplace, given the same conditions, different people will experience different levels of stress. Some people thrive on a challenge, work non stop and love doing it! Where as others seem to fall apart at the same challenges.There are individual differences, but that’s not to say that they are necessarily fixed. The studies are indicating that although people may be born with different sensitivities, and have different experience in their upbringing, personal resilience can be learned, like any other skill.
Therefore, when people respond differently to a pressure-filled environment, like many workplaces are, that is due to a combination of things relevant to the individual.
As we’ve talked about previously, in our article Workplace Stress we all fall somewhere on the mental health continuum, and that can change day to day, hour to hour, minute by minute even! So if we’re already feeling a bit stressed by other things going on in life, chances are we’re going to have a bigger reaction to each new challenge put forward.
Think of the analogy to the camel carrying straws on it’s back. We can carry only so much weight before we start to feel a bit strained by it all, and our knees start to shake.
But if we’re the camel, we can also build our muscles so that we become stronger, and able to carry more weight with ease. And that is ‘personal resilience’ or ‘emotional fitness’. If we do certain things to build our emotional stamina, when life (or work) does throw that extra challenge your way, you’ll be much more able to handle it in your stride.
We recently released our on line short course called ‘Mind@Work’, which introduces people to some of those techniques that can be used to minimise stress and build emotional stamina or resilience. It’s designed with workplaces in mind, but really, the strategies are tools that can be used in any area of life – after all, we’re still human wherever we are, right?
Building your own personal resilience, focussing on those internal factors, is particularly helpful for those people who might not be in a position to change their work environment. Similarly for managers, if you can’t make changes to the workplace itself, why not think about helping your team members to develop their emotional fitness to better handle the challenges.