Geeks Vs Loneliness: workplace stress

Workplace stress affects a huge number of us, so here are some tips on how to tackle it...

Hello and welcome to Geeks Vs Loneliness, our weekly spot where we try and talk about issues that may be affecting you, or people you know. Each of the things we’ve talked about are topics that make someone, somewhere feel lonely. We don’t promise a magic wand, but hopefully, there’s something in these pieces that may be able to help.

This week, we’re handing over to the terrific Jane Roberts, who’s going to talk about workplace stress…

Live long and prosper.

So the mantra goes. You get educated; go to work; build a life. Neatly fitting jigsaws of dependency that contribute to your wellbeing and happiness.

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Geeks Vs Loneliness has looked at many issues that can knock you sideways and skew that jigsaw’s pieces out of whack. One that keeps popping up in the comments section is workplace-based stress. 

We geeks are not alone. The Labour Force Survey 2015 (carried out by the Office of National Statistics) found that an estimated 440,000 cases of work related stress took place during the survey period. The total number of working days lost due to stress in 2014/15 was 9.9 million days – an average of 23 days lost per case of work related stress. To put it into perspective, 43% of all working days missed due to sickness are caused by stress. 

This is huge. And what it shows is that if you are one of the people suffering from work related stress you are not alone.

Work place stress can be extremely lonely. No matter where you work, no matter what you do, it can stem from many places – too much work, frustration at a lack of prospects, workplace bullying, a lack of managerial support, being micromanaged, or even concern for the future of the business you are working in.

The effect can be insidious. Often we don’t realise how stressed we are becoming until the levee breaks. In my case my special report-editing pencils had gone walkabout. The pencils themselves were incidental – it was the underlying seething mass of uncertainty, insomnia and crippling fear I’d been suffering from as I tried to meet impossible multiple deadlines that pushed me over the edge.

I felt I couldn’t complain. I still had a job – other people I’d worked with and respected had recently been made redundant. That was another part of the problem – the huge weight of guilt on my shoulders that I’d ‘beaten out’ my colleagues to keep my job. Those pencils were symbols of my insecurities magnified in the lens of my own anxiety – and I crumbled. Part of my jigsaw was violently punched out of play. Crying over a misplaced pencil is not normal.

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We don’t just depend on our jobs for money or to support our lifestyles. They give us an identity, a sense of who we are as a person. If you find your work mug is brimming with Kryptonite, then hopefully the following steps can help you a little…

Acknowledge the problem 

Accept that we are not superhuman. Circumstances change – sometimes we cause this, sometimes other people do. Occasionally it’s events outside of our control. And if you realise you have a problem with work place stress, be honest with yourself. Trying to cope when overwhelmed or trying to hide an issue can cause even greater problems. In the long term it isn’t worth it.

Time out

If walking into the office on Monday morning becomes too much then don’t be afraid or ashamed to take time out. Request leave or ask your doctor to give you some time. Often a sick note from an employee for stress will give your boss a wake up call and they will offer help on your return. It’s in their economic interest after all.

More importantly, it gives you time to step back and examine the stress without the pressure of physically being there. Make time for yourself in the process – perhaps a Statham marathon may help? 

Take some time to get what is happening clear in your head and then ask yourself and your loved ones objectively what the options to do next are. Often the people we are most afraid of telling are those closest to us, because we are so worried about letting them down.  They’ll (mostly) understand and they’ll want to help. Use their support.

Talk / don’t talk

Stress may be caused by multiple incidents or a one off confrontation that leaves you reeling. Don’t bottle it up. Ask for support – from your manager, your HR department, your partner, your family, your GP. You may think your problem will seem trivial to other people – but if it is making you unhappy then it’s real.

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A caveat – be a little cautious about who you trust in the workplace. They are often cauldrons of seething ambitions, grudges and whispering voices – and conflict can come from the most unlikely of places. If a colleague notices your distress and offers genuine support, then by all means accept it. But be a little wise in who you give your confidences to. Management and HR have to treat your conversations in confidence – your colleagues not so much.

It seems drastic, but consider suspending or restricting access to your social media accounts. It may be tempting to vent online – but it can be used against you. Waking up the morning after the night before to find you’ve drunk twittered your spleen to your colleagues is not a good start to the day.

Accept your emotions but keep a check on them publically

It is perfectly legitimate to be angry at the situation you find yourself in, particularly if you find yourself being reprimanded unfairly, being bullied or having difficulties with management. It is perfectly normal to want to go a little Norman Bates on their asses. But try to keep it in check until you get home, then take it out on the videogame of your choice.  

In public fasten on your Lecter mask and hide your emotions behind it. Be courteous, direct and to the point. Stick to the facts and stay professional. People who are genuinely trying to help you will be relieved at your composure and it will open the conversation up to address the situation. If someone is trying to shout you down or accuse you of unprofessionalism it becomes a little difficult when met with a wall of polite courtesy backed up by facts. Which leads us to… 

Document everything

You know those irritating things called appraisals?  They usually happen yearly and seem like a monumental waste of time. Well, they completely saved my professional bacon. They gave me five years of management certified impeccable behaviour to fall back on, and crucially proved that I had raised certain issues that hadn’t been addressed that ultimately contributed to a failure to protect my welfare in the workplace. Take care when completing them and highlight both successes, volume of work and legitimate concerns that you have. No emotional accusations, stick to the facts. 

Make sure you have read your employee contract and staff handbook. If you need to go down a formal grievance route follow any steps outlined in that to the letter – and keep a record of it. 

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Seek professional help

Sometimes we just can’t do it alone. There are organisations out there that can help you deal with work place stress. They can help you to articulate a problem, provide mediation where necessary and provide support if it becomes overwhelming.

These include unions – if you are in one you can ask for support from a union rep (most unions specify a six month membership period before you are eligible for support). They also often offer a period of free legal advice. 

ACAS support both employees and employers, offering impartial mediation and dispute resolution where appropriate. Their website provides information on employee rights and employer obligations. You can call their helpline on 0300 123 1100 (8am-8pm Monday to Friday and 9am-1pm Saturday).

Finally, we don’t just want you to live long and prosper. We want you to be happy and fulfilled in the process. Please don’t think that workplace stress is something you should suffer alone.  Leave a comment here – talk to us, talk to someone. Don’t suffer alone. 

As always, take very great care. And thanks for reading.