Image by herlitz_pbs under Creative Commons License 2.0

In my blog post last week I offered practical steps for improving inhouse stress levels and work flow as part of my contribution to Stress Awareness Month this past April.

My previous post targeted employers and business owners, so this week I thought I’d follow it up with some practical things employees could be doing when they feel like things are too much at work.

Firstly, I’d like to affirm that a little bit of stress is probably good for 99%of the world’s employees. Setting deadlines and meeting goals are crucial to the workflow of any company –  a little bit of pressure helps to ensure that standards are maintained.

But it is important to know your limit when it comes to work stress. Believe me, I’ve been there myself. So, the question is, do you know what steps to take when you feel like you’re drowning in a pile of emails, deadlines, meetings and reports (adjust categories as necessary according to role and work sector) and feel like calling in sick?

When Too Much Work Stress is Too Much – Drawing a Line

I think Melanie Chisnall summarizes the type of work-induced stress you should be worried about pretty well here.

She gives 8 symptoms as pretty clear indications that your work life is probably getting a little too out of hand:

1)      Sleep Patterns– You’re not sleeping properly because you’re thinking about work all the time

2)      Food Patterns – You’ve forgotten what real food is because each meal is the quickest thing you can find – instant and rushed

3)      Bathroom Patterns – You feel like you can’t go to the bathroom as there is just 1 more urgent thing to get done 1st, and the list keeps growing…all the time.

4)      Your Work Pattern is your Life Pattern – Despite not being paid for it, you come in early, work over lunch and work on weekends just to ‘catch up’.

5)      Vacation Pattern? What Vacation Pattern?You’d actually prefer to stay at work, because the idea of going away and coming back to a pile of work haunts you.

The difference is, Melanie outlines these things as indications that it might be time to start thinking about leaving your job — I suggest that there are various practical steps you should probably try first to remedy the situation (that is, if you generally like the industry and job you’re in).

Communicate – Communicate – Communicate

Unless you ‘speak out’, your employers or colleagues are unlikely to notice that the work load you have is unreasonable. They often have alot on their plate too and probably, genuinely, just aren’t aware of how much you’re trying to juggle.

If you’re exhibiting a range of signs as described above, this isn’t very healthy, and one of the key things to get out of your head is the idea that you’re failing. One person can only do so much so its not cool or smart to silently attempt to do more than is possible for any human being to do.

You won’t look incompetent if you raise the issue, and if your employer is a good one, they’ll value the fact that you’ve spoken out before allowing it to get to the point of a break down or resignation.

Moaning to individual staff members is also not going to solve your problems – the temptation to vent is high but the best way is to take a step back, assess the situation and raise your issues in a professional manner (again, been there, done that).

I’ve found if you have constructive suggestions for combating your workload to pitch to your employers or line managers this can also work well. Could you suggest outsourcing certain aspects of  your company’s business processes? You could recommend a payroll services company or an outside social media manager or alternatively, put forward a kind of inhouse-reshuffling formula. This way you’ve attempted to provide practical solutions for the problems you’ve recognised, which your employers will hopefully respect you for.

Find Steps for Managing Workaholicism  (if it’s ruining your life)

I’ve chosen my words carefully here as I belong to the school of thought that believes the ‘work-life balance’ cliché is thrown around far too frequently and easily. Who says you’re not allowed to invest more time into your work than other things? This seems like a rather arbitrary rule and I don’t think people hold the same attitude towards academia –no-one says ‘stop trying to learn so much all the time’.

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic writes over at the Harvard Business Review that “Overworking is really only possible if you are not having fun at work. By the same token, any amount of work will be dull if you are not engaged, or if you find your work unfulfilling.”

I agree, work-overload or ‘work life balance’ as they call it is only a problem in my opinion (as with most kinds of addiction) if it starts to affect your functioning in a detrimental way across various aspects of your daily life.

I think a better way to approach the issue is – how can I manage my workaholicism in a better way? There’s unlikely to a one size fits all method for this but I particularly like these articles because of their focus on stress-overload as the problem, not workaholicism. Steve Tobak offers 7 Ways to Be a Stress-Free Workaholic and Dr Dannielle Blumenthal offers 7 Counterintuitive Productivity Tips for Workaholics here.

Other people might have different opinions on this but I’ve found that when I’ve tried to force myself to switch off and ‘relax’, I’ve found become  more stressed because the problem was my current productivity rate – if you enjoy working hard, then work hard, but find ways to manage it if you’re getting too stressed and unhealthy.

There is a wealth of information and advice out there for you, so dig around and find the best solution that works for you – whether that’s an obligatory film at the end of a week, a routine early morning run, a talk through about everything with a friend or colleague or writing a short story at the end of a stressful day to focus your mind on something else.

The Physical Things – Tweaking your Diet, Exercise &  Sleep Patterns

                                                                                                                                                                                          Image by [email protected] under Creative Commons License 2.0

Again, I’m no preacher, I don’t want to tell people how to run their lives. But when it comes to the body and the physical things, there’s a more tangible (literally) aspect to understanding the effects stress is having on you.

It is a fact that poor diet, general fitness levels and constant sleep deprivation can have negative consequences for your health, mood, memory, concentration skills, creativity and overall work efficiency.

But if you’re feeling like you don’t have time, the worst thing people can say to you sometimes is , ‘take time out to cook more’, ‘go to bed earlier’.

If this kind of advice isn’t helpful, I hear you. Look for more practical steps to take without having to overturn your whole lifestyle: For example, could you improve your general nutrition by tweaking a few bad habits? Could you follow any of these general sleep routine tips? Could you tweak your daily patterns in small ways such as pacing the office while you take business calls?

Learn & Be Motivated by Others when you’re Feeling Stuck

When I’m really feeling stuck in a rut, I attempt to focus my mind on people that I admire or feel are successful. Sometimes I’ll also engage in forums to learn how others around the world find ways to deal with their daily grinds. Otherwise, I’ll just talk through with friends about my situation, their situation and swap tips that way.

In the end everybody’s got their own methods and I think discussion affords the best remedy for too much stress. If any of you have particular methods or patterns you follow when things are getting too much I’d love to hear more from you.