Pressure and stress at work – do we know the difference and what to do in response?

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Today I participated in an interesting discussion about “pressure” and “stress” at work, two terms which many of us are not only familiar with but often experience at different times during our work year. My concern is that as people become caught up in the “I’m so busy syndrome” we are losing sight of what it actually means to be pressured and stressed at work.

So let’s start by being clear about what each really mean in a work context. While there are a myriad of definitions I am going to use Weisinger’s[1] perspective on both terms, remembering both are real experiences for some people depending on circumstances.

Stress refers to situations where there are too many demands and insufficient resources (people, time, money, materials and motivation). Put another way, you are overwhelmed by the demands of what the job at hand requires, for example, a client advises that instead of taking one shipment per week for the next four weeks they want the four shipments delivered in full in the next four days and you only have sufficient stock cover for two shipments.

Pressure is where you find yourself in a situation which you perceive to be of critical importance and the outcome is dependent on your response, such as, you have a new business meeting at which your prospective client will decide to proceed or not, the outcome is dependent on how well you present.

The first step is to be able to understand what you are experiencing as each situation calls for a different action.

If you recognise that you are under stress consider:

  • Requesting assistance to deliberate the options available and determine the best course of action to resolve the issue
  • Slowing down to allow yourself time to think
  • Applying some mindfulness techniques[2] that are readily available
  • Regular exercise and healthy diet

Pressure requires a different approach and course of action.

  • Ask yourself “in this situation what are the worst things that could happen?” Once you determine what they are, well in advance, set about carefully mapping how you will respond if you find yourself in one of the situations you identified. When a situation occurs, then is not the time to start considering your options as most people find it even more challenging to think on their feet
  • If it’s important, practice ahead of time; not just your preferred course of action, also practice those options that have a high probability of occurring and will have a major impact on the outcome you are seeking
  • Focus on the task, not the outcome. Going back to my earlier example, if winning the account is contingent upon your presentation, focus on the quality of your presentation not winning the account
  • Don’t overthink the situation. As clichéd as it sounds, it’s true. Your resources and mental capacity are finite. Wasting your valuable resources pondering the imponderable impairs your ability to focus on what you have to deliver

Understanding both stress and pressure, and knowing what to do in response to each, is essential. It may assist in preventing you from wearing out which, if not addressed, in turn may eventually result in you burning out.

Viventé Australia enables leaders and managers develop the bond between people and performance, creating a powerful advantage: the synergy between people, leadership, management, and culture, produces performance that allows your business to achieve its best.

[1] Performing Under Pressure: The Science of Doing Your Best When It Matters Most; Hendrie Weisinger