The Psychology of Business Series 2011: The Individual in the Workplace

How Can I Remain Balanced in a Stressed Business?

Today we are going to look at how an individual person can better cope in a business that is stressed. Next time we will look at the company itself, and what strategies can help a stressed business maintain its mental health. There are three main ingredients to maintaining mental health as an individual in a stressed business. The first is to become aware of your reaction to stress. The second is to see the effects of your reaction in the business context. Thirdly, is to find more effective solutions to the stress in the business.

As an individual person surviving in the workforce, self awareness is essential because as stress increases you are likely to fall into old defense pasterns. So it is important to know how you react to stress. This includes both what ways are your coping mechanisms are helpful and in what ways are they a barrier to your success. For example, if when you are stressed do you put your head down and work harder? If so, the benefit is that you may become more productive, however the disadvantage may be that you stop listening to others and stop looking where you are going. Another example is that you may become more directive and push others harder. The advantage to this is that you may increase control over the direction of the project or the company, but the disadvantage is that your leadership style may become a dictatorship and you may loose the morale of your workers. Another possible reaction to stress may be that you become increasingly aware of others and hypertensive to the stress around you. The advantage is that you are very aware that appropriate action to the stressful environment is required, but the disadvantage is that you may become highly anxious and find it hard to speak up. In short, recognizing your reaction to stress is the first step to addressing it.

The second step is to take a step back! Here it is important to reflect on how you can address the disadvantages of your reaction to stress. This may require counselling, yoga, meditation, exercise or similar appropriate solutions to reducing the stress itself so you can get clarity of mind. Mindfulness is a very effective way of addressing this, as it can both decrease stress and increase awareness of your reactions to the stress. Mindfulness is simply the ability to detach from the thoughts, body tension and emotions and watch them with curiosity and awareness. This type of detachment is beneficial as we can see what is actually happening within ourselves. It is important to note that this process is very different from becoming aloof or suppressing thoughts or emotions. Detaching peacefully and WATCHING mindfully is all about increasing self awareness and seeing what we might otherwise not want to see. It may also mean feeling and learning to tolerate unpleasant emotions. However the benefits in the end can be freedom from stress, anxiety and depression. So, step two is to see how your reaction to stressful circumstances increases your suffering and contributes to the negative dynamics within the business itself.

Step three is to then ask, what could I think, feel or do differently that would contribute to a better outcome in this difficult situation? For example, perhaps instead of working harder, the answer is “working smarter”. Maybe getting different ideas, approaches and learning about new business initiatives will bring about more rewarding outcomes than simply doing more of what you have been doing in the past.  Another example is that it may be that a different leadership style can help staff to better cope, feel more confident in their positions and increase value and respect in the workplace. Or it maybe that speaking up in a way that helps empowers both you and the business you are working for is the answer. There are a range of different personal reactions and therefore solutions to stress. The key is to know yourself and commit to change if that is what is needed to decrease stress.

This may not be the whole answer as there are a number of things that are outside our control and are not our responsibility to change. If we aim to influence the situation positively and things do not change then perhaps the next step is to detach and come back to what you do have control over. Remaining stuck in unpleasant circumstances and believing that you are helpless to change it, can eventually lead to depression. So come back to what you can change in your own life to create a better outcome. If a stressed business cannot or will not change then perhaps looking else where can alleviate your helplessness and open up opportunities.

Ultimately, a business is only as good as its workers, and visa-verse! If you feel stressed and you are aware that the business you are working in, own or are managing is a big part of what is contributing to this stress, then seek appropriate help. If the business needed an accountant, book keeper or financial adviser, it would be a “no brainer”… access the appropriate expertise. It is the same for mental and emotional issues. In the current market, anxiety, high stress and depression is becoming more prevalent. When we look at the stress of the economic market, this is completely understandable. The trick is to access counselling earlier rather than later.

Often we belief we are more powerless than we really are in a business. Embracing your strengths and moving towards your personal potential is an asset to the business you work for. Working through old defenses and discovering new more effective ways of dealing with stress in your business, can result in you realising your potential within the business you are working in.


8 Responses to “The Psychology of Business Series 2011: The Individual in the Workplace”

  • Krishna Everson:

    Great to see you addressing this issue Vanessa. There is no doubt that people are feeling stressed in the current climate, and it is essential to get a good perespective on it. Thanks for opening the door for discussion in this area, I think we often lie silent when we need to speak up, and of course, get help if necessary. Looking forward to your future posts!

    • Vanessa Bushell:

      Hi Krishna, thank you for your comment. I agree, there are a lot of people who find it hard to admit they are feeling depressed or experiencing high levels of stress or anxiety. This is especially so for people who usually cope very well and are in business. My next blog on this topic will be posted next week. It will focus on the mental health of the business itself.

  • Helene:

    Interesting post Vanessa, it leaves me to reflex on my journey business coaching and how critical it is.
    We are in extremely interesting times and in many areas will continue to inflame this stress in business … however working together and from a different perspective we can Educate our Expectations and ultimately create greater results.

    • Vanessa:

      Hi Helen, thank you for your comments. Yes, I agree that things are probably going to get harder in the business /economic world but I think you are right… we are going to have to pull together and support each other if we are going to move forward. It’s interesting that there is a trend towards ethical businesses surviving much better than traditional profit orientated businesses.

  • Kama:

    Great blog Vanessa. I have experienced so many people who have been afraid to speak up at work. I think many fear being fired or causing problems for others. The environment in a work place can only improve if people speak up and make changes.

    • Vanessa:

      Hi Kama, thank you for your insights… you’re right about people finding it difficult to speak up in the workplace for a range of different reasons. I think there is a stark reality that workers rights have severely decreased in Australia over the past decade and for some people the business may not support an empowered approach to dealing with work stress. The next blog is going to be about empowered businesses, because those businesses that do not change to embrace more ethical and respectful workplace conditions probably will not survive the economic trends. Happy workers will be more productive, loyal and flexible to organisational change!!!!

  • Debbie Ducic:

    I have been in the business world for many years, just about in every capacity… corporate, small business, business owner and solopreneur and I have experienced everything you are talking about. It would be great if the issues of mental health would be addressed as you have here in the business world, but I have found some better at it than others.

    There is nothing worse than having to go to work every day to a bad working situation! At one time I had a “dream team” working with me and it made my life so enjoyable. At others, it was a nightmare. Since we spend so many hours a day at work, these issues are very important and I commend you for addressing this important issue in this blog and in your business!
    Debbie Ducic

    • Vanessa:

      Hi Debbie, thanks for your comment, I appreciate your expertise in this area. You are so right! We do spend a large number of hours at work and I believe the team you are working with is an essential pat of our metal well-being. Investing in cultivating a healthy balanced working team in business can save a great deal of money and heartbreak down the track.