How to avoid becoming overwhelmed at work

A recent report by the CIPD and Mind mental health charity found that mental health issues are now the primary cause of long-term sickness for almost a quarter (22%) of organisations.

The survey of over 44,000 employees also found that only four in ten (42%) felt their manager would be able to spot the signs if they were struggling with mental health issues.

Emma Mamo, head of workplace wellbeing at Mind, said: “Our research finds that almost one in two workers reported they had experienced poor mental health – such as stress, low mood, and anxiety – while working at their current organisation. Given how much of our lives are spent at work, and how common poor mental health is, it’s really important that our employers and managers take an active role in helping us keep well and supporting us when we need it.”

So how can managers and businesses help spot the signs and prevent their employees m becoming overwhelmed at work?

Appreciate that everyone is different

Jonathan Taylor, senior psychologist at Pearn Kandola business psychology firm, says one of the first things to understand is that everyone has a different response to stress. “Stress occurs when we feel unable to cope with the current demands being placed on us. That ‘this feels too much’ moment. But we are all different and we each have different thresholds.”

These thresholds are influenced by a number of different factors and the working environment. “For example, have we overcome similar challenges before? Do we feel like we have additional support on hand if we need it? How rested are we? Having an understanding of what stress is, what causes it, what it feels like, and how we can manage it is key,” says Taylor.

Learn how to spot the warning signs

“The most common warning signs of stress include feelings of anxiety (rapid heartbeat and difficulty concentrating), irritability or short temper, reducing social contact with others, difficulty sleeping and memory problems,” says Taylor. “Carry out your own risk assessment and encourage employees to take regular breaks, mentally switch off from work at times, socialise and look after their wellbeing by making sure they are getting enough sleep, eating well and exercising.”

Learn how to say no

While “yes” might be the default for many of us, we can’t say yes to everything and everyone. Sometimes this comes down to learning to say no to things without feeling as though you’re letting your boss or colleagues down. “Rather than a straight ‘no’, turn the discussion into a positive by offering suggestions on what you feel is possible. For example, ‘I won’t be able to make Friday, but I could do Monday?’” Taylor advises. “Or if the new task has created a conflict for you, share this with your manager – ‘I’ll struggle to do this and the other task. Can the deadline for the other task be pushed back a day?’”

Encourage and reassure people

Adrian Lewis, director of Activ Absence software company, says encouraging people to communicate more openly is essential. “People would rather be perceived as being lazy than having a mental health problem, so leaders must reassure people there are no stigmas around mental health,” he notes. “They could also promote mental health support services, such as EAPs or counselling, and use great events such as World Mental Health day to communicate positive mental health messages.”

Give employees more autonomy

Peter Clarke, co-founder of Qlearsite HR consulting firm, says there will inevitably be times when we all feel overwhelmed but that it’s about giving employees the autonomy to speak up. “Employees need to be given the autonomy to decline a task if it doesn’t fit within their long or short-term priorities,” he notes. “It is far better to commit to doing ten things excellently than to commit to doing 20 and not being able to deliver on any of them in full detail or to the high standard others expect of you.”

Don’t suffer in silence

Ultimately, it comes down to not trying to be a martyr and letting your boss and colleagues know how you’re feeling. Lewis says: “Being authentic and realistic is far better than taking on too much and suffering in silence and becoming overwhelmed. Unless there is a two-way, open dialogue about workloads then managers simply won’t realise they are over loading their staff.”

Georgina Fuller is an award winning freelance journalist and editor.

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