Stress in the Workplace

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We’ve all taken radical action for the pandemic, but is stress a bigger killer in the workplace?

No matter if you’re overworked, overstressed, or not sleeping well, these factors will all impact your immune system to some degree. Even though you may be eating/exercising well and having a balanced diet, stress can still eat away at it.  Stress can be exhibited in everything we do – the thoughts we think, the behaviours we demonstrate, the emotions we hold.

“We don’t always take stress seriously.  We think of it as psychological; the causes can be psychological, physical or emotional but they are always biological. Stress chemistry is real.”

Dr Jenna Macciochi, author of Immunity: The science of staying well. 

Stress has a purpose; it can be a positive factor.  It gets us motivated to start our day, meet deadlines as well as it’s primitive value of course, to save our lives!  Stress hormones exist in our bodies so we can recognise threats and get ourselves to safety, they keep us going when we need endurance to complete tasks.

To some people working in a busy environment may not pose a ‘threat’ to their immune system.  However, if you perceive your inner self to be in a stressful environment for a long time this can have a significant effect on your longer-term health.  It really is a matter of perspective.

Dr Jenna Macciochi explains simply “Many people are familiar with the conditioned response of Pavlov’s dogs (where the dogs salivated when a sound was made as a learned behaviour of anticipating their food arriving), what few recognise however is that we may also have the same conditioned response to a stressful workplace, eg the body may have a reaction to walking into the building”.

Do you perceive yourself to be working in a stressful environment?

If that’s familiar what can you do to help yourself and what should the firm do to support you?

The first thing is to recognise that you’re feeling stressed; anxiety and stress build gradually but if you hold them for a long time it may begin to feel ‘normal’.  During the pandemic we have heard a lot about the “new normal”, but a stressed state should not become normal for anyone.  Communicating with someone you trust at work, or writing it down helps to express it.  You may be in a position then to try to figure out what it is you’re concerned about and again find an outlet that’s right for you to express this.

Start to understand how you react to stressors and what could you do differently?  As famously quoted from Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist, psychologist and Holocaust survivor, “Between stimulus and response there is choice” How could you create a longer space between any given trigger and reaction to make different choices?

How do you relax?  Can you combine different senses to enhance your relaxation? …smell food cooking, a candle burning while taking a bath, listening to music. Train yourself that when you smell that scent or listen to that music you learn to relax.  We hear much about mindfulness, yes it absolutely works and helps restore calm, however to a busy mind who just wants to make a cup of tea and sit for a minute, how about googling how to make tea mindfully, how to prepare dinner mindfully, the art of mindful walking…

Another idea to create calm is to understand more about your breathing patterns. As described by Northwestern Medicine scientists, “the rhythm of breathing creates electrical activity in the human brain that enhances emotional judgements and memory recall. It’s not surprising then that it’s often reported that breath is the connection between body and mind.  Taking time to listen or watch on a video a breath practice, and it can take practice, will support your mental health and boost your immune system long-term.

Lawyers are the second most stressed professionals (April ’19 The Law Gazette, UK)

Employers are of course responsible for the general safety and wellbeing of their employees while they are at work. The law requires employers to carry out risk assessments to identify hazards, including stress.  There are also of course the savings on costs due to sickness absence, replacing staff, increased productivity etc.

Research shows employers who invest £1 in the wellbeing of their staff result in a £10 saving in return to tackle the cost of mental ill health to the organisation. (Deloitte mental health and employers: the case for investment. A supporting study for the Independent Review; 2017).  In law firms where the greatest asset is their people, it’s so important to prevent a stressed workforce.  At an individual level isn’t it more important to show care and responsibility towards staff and at an organisational level, surely no firm would want to gain a reputation for employee burnout.

Organisations aiming to recover quickly will need staff to be resilient, willing and able to adapt to new working practices and engaged in the collective responsibility of helping the organisation return to work well.”

Dr Andrew McDowell, Partner at TPC Health and TPC Leadership UK.

At TPC Leadership UK we know how important it is for individuals to thrive as well as how to support organisations wanting to consider the wider implications of managing stresses and stressors.

Please do contact us for a confidential conversation to see how we might be able to support your firm to ensure you’re taking the best care of your talent – your greatest asset.

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