Economic uncertainty caused by politicians wrestling with the largest peacetime intergovernmental restructure since the Second World War (Brexit, in case you haven’t guessed), a rapidly changing work environment and demographic shifts unseen at any time in history, means that the business world can seem a frightening and hostile place.
Against this backdrop, the Labour Force Survey (LSF) recently presented evidence that “workload pressures, including tight deadlines and too much responsibility and a lack of managerial support”, were major drivers of stress for managers in the workplace. Taken together, these things suggest the business world is harder than before and business leaders are suffering. Or do they?
In 2012 I was writing a development programme for PwC, the global consulting firm, which was intended to help their management consultants be stronger critical thinkers when it came to understanding their clients’ business problems. One of the modules I wrote concerned the importance of separating correlation from causation. In plain English this means making sure that although two things may appear related, they may in fact merely be coincidental.
Determining if things are coincidental or correlated means taking the time to step back to evaluate if or how they may be connected. It means asking searching questions such as:
- What mechanisms are making one thing influence the other?
- What would I expect to find if they were connected in this way?
- What other mechanisms might explain these things?
Performing this form of systematic analysis reveals that there is far less evidence that managers are stressed because of these external factors. And this is significant. Because while we’d all agree that managerial stress is real and more prevalent than we have recorded before, the source, and therefore the solution, may be less ‘deterministic’ than solely being the consequence of external environmental changes. And that means we can do something about it.
Slow down and de-stress
We can't avoid workplace stress, but my colleague Dr Jutta Tobias has developed a number of ways that individuals can practically and effectively develop strategies to reduce the impact of workplace stress on themselves and sometimes those around them. These include:
- Slowing down and focusing on observing, and not doing.
- Taking mindful breaks to return to work refreshed and recharged.
- Noticing five things (good or bad) - either about you or the situation.
However, knowing what to do to reduce stress is one thing, actually doing it is much harder. For example, we can know how to diet, exercise more, drink less or stop smoking, but managing any of these things, especially when stressed, is usually hard. This means that managers need to find something impactful and effective, something that can help them embed practices that assist them to manage workplace stress, rather than false promises and ‘3 simple quick fixes’.
Taking action to address stress in the workplace
Programmes and retreats that use an evidence-based approach, such as those run by Dr Tobias, will help you reduce stress in real-time and learn how to embed new practices into your everyday working life.
But how do you know if you need a retreat for senior leaders? It's time to consider one of these retreats if you are experiencing any of the following:
- Changes in your emotional state, such as feeling more irritable than normal.
- Changes in your mental state, especially around worry or decision-making.
- Changes in your behaviour such as drinking more or arguing with others.
If you are doing these types of things more than you used to, then I’d suggest enrolling on Dr Tobias' Retreat for Senior Leaders. Her retreats have been developed to provide you with the space and time for you to clarify your priorities and find practical ways to solve problems and make decisions in high-pressure situations. As a result of attending one of these retreats, you'll return to your workplace refreshed, galvanised for action and confident to tackle your current business challenges.
We don’t know for certain if the external world is making managers more stressed, but we do know that when stress is there, dealing with it effectively means getting the right help. Stress in your personal life might see you visit a medical doctor. But if you're suffering from stress in the workplace, then call a business doctor.