In a recent survey carried out by UK call-handling specialists CALLCARE, 64% of respondents felt that their salary wasn’t high enough to match the stress of their job.
With the economic pressure on UK businesses following 2016’s EU referendum, businesses are more cautious about investing in higher salaries, especially in light of the increase to the national living wage levy.
As a result, making up the deficit in this salary-stress ratio isn’t simply a case of making more money. It’s more important that workers understand how to reduce the amount of stress they experience in the day-to-day, to reduce their risk of burnout or depression.
Why are we so stressed out?
Stress is by no stretch of the imagination a new development. In fact, stress is a necessary part of our physiology; it’s what pushes us to work harder when we need to, and historically it’s what saved us from the jaws of a hungry predator.
Yet in the world of work — where circumstances aren’t quite as “life or death” as they were for more primitive homo sapiens — stress has become something of a dirty word.
Dr Dimitrios Paschos, Consultant Psychiatrist at Re: Cognition Health, highlighted the scale of stress as a problem in British workplaces. “The total number of working days lost in 2015 / 2016 was 11.7 million days,” he said, “which has a huge effect on businesses and the economy.”
He urged businesses to address stress as a mental health problem in the workplace. Failing to do so, he warned, “will end up costing businesses more money in the long run in sickness absence costs.”
But what’s the source of such high levels of stress?
Geraldine Joaquim, Clinical Hypnotherapist and Psychotherapist at Mind Your Business, points to technology as one culprit in turning stress into a chronic problem.
“We spend a huge amount of our adult life at work and it often carries over into our home life, with emails pinging well into the evening,” Joaquim notes. “This constant switching of attention — from texts and emails to social media — is exhausting and leaves us feeling like we haven’t achieved much.”
Feeling unproductive is yet another source of stress, because we often find a sense of purpose in our work. The frustration of non-productivity is toxic to our mental health if it is allowed to build up.
The key to reducing stress
One of the main reasons that work stress feels so overwhelming is that it builds up over time, because many UK workers — especially those at a higher pay grade — struggle to “switch off”.
Richard Daniel Curtis, leading behaviour expert and founder of The Mentoring School, said that stress can be strangely addictive. “When people get used to a certain level of stress, it becomes the ‘norm’ for them,” he explained. “As humans, we’re programmed to return to our default emotional state — our ‘norm’ — which is known as ‘hedonic adaption’.”
Hedonic adaption in people with high-stress jobs can be damaging to their mental health, because stress can only be relieved when the mind can relax. “We get used to high demands and then struggle when those same demands are no longer placed on us,” Curtis continued: “that’s the reason why it can take a few days for you to start relaxing when you’re on holiday.”
Being able to unwind without thinking about work is the only way to detox the mind from the toxic pressure that builds up with days and days of uninterrupted work.
Practical ways you can reduce stress at work
Preventing stress from building up is vital to feeling content in your job. Follow these helpful tips to ease stress…
Change what you can, accept what you can’t — If you can learn to accept what you cannot change, you won’t become easily irritated when things go wrong. Instead, you’ll reduce the scope of your concern to only those things you can actively control, helping boost your productivity and job satisfaction.
- Attention management — We live in an era of constant interruption from emails, telephone, texts, social media and apps. Help yourself focus on the task at hand by delaying notifications on your phone and computer for the duration you intend to work for.
- Take a break — Make sure you use up all of your holidays, even if you just spend a week at home. This is important in training your mind and body to relax, so it’ll be easier for you to de-stress in future. You should also take your whole lunch break if you can, engaging in something other than work to help refresh your mind.
- Nurture your relationships — Actively listen to other people, make new connections whenever you can, and don’t be afraid to ask for help from managers, colleagues, friends and family. Sharing your problems often helps you realise they’re not as big as you originally thought.
- Practice mindfulness — Take time in your day to meditate, sign up for a yoga class, and listen to mindfulness podcasts to help declutter your mind so you can think more clearly.
Focus on your long-term happiness
When stress at work becomes a chronic problem, no salary will ever be enough to compensate for overwhelming stress.
Instead, stressed employees should focus on what they can do in and out of work to reduce the amount of stress they’re feeling, which in turn will boost their productivity and — as a result — their career prospects.