Stress is a huge issue at work so it’s important to know that you are not alone. Just because you are stressed doesn’t mean you are incapable of doing your job. In fact research shows it is often highly engaged employees who are at the highest risk of stress or burnout. In the current pandemic work stress has increased and women appear to be disproportionately impacted as identified in a recent report "Burnout Britain," by Nic Murray. Women are more likely to be working longer hours and experiencing additional burdens and stressors outside of work, especially those with children or elderly relatives to care for.
If you are struggling with work related stress whether it's working from home or in the workplace it is essential to advocate for yourself and ask for help. Nothing will change unless you take action and the first step is to talk to your boss. Understandably talking to your boss about stress may feel like a very difficult conversation to have. Even if you have a good relationship it can feel very intimidating so here are some tips that will help you to get the support you need and deserve.
Don’t suffer in silence - take action
The effects of workplace stress build slowly over time and often you don’t realise it until you get to a crisis point where you feel overwhelmed. The natural tendency is to think, "I am not good enough, not working hard enough," or "I should be able to manage this." Feeling like this can cause you to suffer in silence so it is important to be self-aware and not ignore the signs. If you delay taking action overwhelm can leave you feeling isolated and unsupported and can lead to burnout.
Identify what is causing you stress
There may be many reasons for feeling overwhelmed at work but it is important to be honest and clarify exactly what is causing you stress. Identifying what challenges you are dealing with will enable you to start a conversation with your boss more effectively. Is your workload too great? Are you over committing because you are ambitious or want to impress? If you feel like you are constantly having to prove yourself it will leave you exhausted, both mentally and physically and your overall wellbeing will be negatively impacted.
Why it is a good idea to talk
Your boss won't necessarily be aware of what’s happening with your workload or what is affecting your work. Delaying the conversation with your boss will only cause you more stress. Bosses want their employees to perform at their peak so if something is holding you back they will want to know. Being honest about how you feel will be the best option for both of you. After all when you feel good your work you will be more productive and effective.
Confide in someone you trust
Before you talk to your boss it's a good idea to speak to someone you can trust, preferably outside work, who will listen and be able to help you to work through what to say or offer suggestions. After meeting with your boss tell your confidant what happened and what actions you are going to take. They may be able to support you with your plan of action.
Prepare what you are going to say
Arrange a one to one meeting when your boss will have time to talk with you and you won’t be interrupted. Perhaps a meeting outside the workplace over a cup of coffee may be more appropriate. Make a few notes beforehand so you can be assertive and communicate clearly and calmly about the aspects of your job that are causing you stress and what you think might help to deal with the problem. There is no need to share too much personal information. Your boss does not need to know the exact symptoms to respond to your needs.
Demonstrate your value
When you advocate for yourself you are demonstrating self-care and self-worth. Make it clear that you are committed to the company and it’s goals. Frame the conversation so that you focus on how best you fulfil your role and perform at your best. Describe how the affects of stress directly impact on your productivity and what changes need to be made.
It helps to be honest, positive and solution focused when talking to your boss. If you can suggest possible ways to help resolve the issue your boss is more likely to work with you. Think about what would be the best solution for you. It may be asking for support to complete a project, request flexible working or extra resources to manage your workload. Rather than immediately dismissing any of your boss’s suggestions be flexible and ask if you can continue the conversation at a later date to feedback on what is working or to find a suitable alternative. At the end of your conversation reiterate your plan of action and agree on a follow up meeting to see how things are going.
Follow up and continue the support you deserve
Take a little time to put your actions into practice. Even if your actions are working well it is imperative that you continue the conversation with your boss and meet again to update on your progress. If you find the actions you agreed upon are not improving the situation, don’t give up. Continue the conversation on a regular basis and decide together how you can improve on previous actions.
What to do if your boss is unsympathetic
There are always going to be some bosses who are not willing to listen or to compromise. It is uncomfortable to discover that your boss doesn’t see health and wellbeing as important and maybe views it as a weakness or an excuse. If this is the case you will have to make decisions for yourself. If you can’t see any way to address or change the situation then you may feel it’s the right time to consider other job options where you can find greater job satisfaction and balance for your health and wellbeing.
Fortunately in these challenging and uncertain times most bosses are more aware and understand that stress and burnout is a growing problem at work and are willing to support you. They may have even experienced a period of stress or burnout themselves and will appreciate your situation.
If you are feeling overwhelmed or stressed don’t delay. Take that first step and ask for help. Finding a coach or someone you trust who will be supportive can help you through this challenging time. It will start you on the path to becoming more self-aware, resilient and taking action to make positive changes that will enable you to enjoy your work and have greater ease and flow in all aspects of your life.