Some people perform at their best at work when they are under time pressure and working to a deadline. Others, however, literally collapse under the same stress. How is it that some people can handle stress at work so much better than others? According to psychologists, resilience, our psychological immune system, plays a big role here. In this article, you'll learn more about the connection between stress at work and coping with it through resilience.
What is stress?
We usually only associate "stress" with negative things. Today's "To Do's", the ever approaching deadline, the unfinished household chores waiting for us at home - we feel tense, uncomfortable, overwhelmed or in short: stressed.
But stress is not a bad thing per se. When we are confronted with a stressor, it first of all means that our body and mind are being activated. They switch into "problem-solving mode," so to speak. This ensures that we are more efficient and have extra energy to cope with an upcoming task or challenge.
Scientists speak of a "stress reaction or stress response" that takes place. The amygdala is responsible for this - an almond-shaped brain region that is part of the limbic system. Through nerve cell activation and hormone release, our body prepares for activity. Evolutionary biologists here refer to the "fight-or-flight" response that becomes necessary when we find ourselves in a "dangerous situation".
So from a perspective of evolutionary biology, stress is relevant to survival. Of course, today we are no longer exposed to such dangers that require us to fight or flee to ensure our survival. Nevertheless, stress, or a stress response, is useful and relevant to our daily work: Activating our bodies and minds helps us gain an extra dose of motivation, focus and performance.
However, the positive effects of stress evaporate when stress becomes a permanent condition. That is, when the body is permanently on "alert." This has a negative impact on the mental health of employees and can cause mental illnesses such as burnout.
It is worrying that more and more people today are suffering stress-related illnesses such as burnout. According to a study by the Techniker Krankenkasse, the number of absences from work due to these increased by 92% percent between 2006 and 2018. It is therefore necessary to look at what stressors employees are increasingly facing in the workplace today and how they can be managed.
What are the causes of stress at work?
The fact that employees feel increasingly stressed at work can have a number of causes. Often, several stressors interact and reinforce each other. Stressors that are particularly common in today's working world are the following:
- A high degree of work compression: With increasing speed of work processes, due to new technologies, the demands and the pressure on employees are increasing. More and more tasks have to be completed in less and less time. The thought of not meeting this expectation causes stress.
- Deadlines and constant availability: Deadlines can lead to employees working too much overtime. When deadlines are looming, employees also tend to check their work e-mails even in their free time. According to studies by the German Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health more and more employees today say that they feel they have to be reachable by e-mail or phone even after work hours. The result: employees do not have enough free time and distance from work to recover from stress.
- Lack of (positive) feedback: If employees do not receive feedback on whether their work was good, they constantly carry the uncertainty about this with them. The thought of not being good enough can cause an enormous psychological stress level in employees. If positive feedback is absent altogether, employees become less motivated, which actually reduces the quality of their work.
- The Corona Crisis: With the Corona Crisis, employees are confronted with additional, new stressors on top of the "regular" stress at work. Examples include the forced shift to digital collaboration, fears about the future associated with short-time work, layoffs and the economic crisis, and little or no recovery from work-life blending.
Coping with stress at work through strengthened resilience
With more and more people suffering from stress-related mental illnesses today, effective stress management is more important than ever. A particularly effective and sustainable tool in this regard is training your own resilience.
"Resilience" can be roughly described as our inner resistance to stress. More concretely, it means the ability to cope with particularly stressful times such as strokes of fate, separations, dismissals or time pressure at work without suffering any psychological impairment. It is often said that resilient people carry with them a kind of "inner shield" that repels stressors and preserves their mental health. It is as if resilient people are "immune" or "resistant" to stress. If you are interested in learning about the specific characteristics of resilient people, read this article.
Research on resilience has shown that this resilience can be learned and strengthened. But, one might argue, wouldn't it make more sense to reduce stress in the workplace rather than make employees more stress-resistant?
The neuroscientist Raffael Kalisch, asked himself the same question. He goes even further: Would a completed training, which is supposed to strengthen resilience, lead to employees then being burdened with even more tasks by their bosses?
Of course, it must be of utmost importance for any company not to burden its employees with too much. This is true, on the one hand, because their mental health must be protected and preserved. And on the other hand, because the economic performance of the company decreases when employees fall ill due to stress.
But, according to scientist Kalisch, actively strengthening resilience offers a great opportunity and many advantages. Successfully applied resilience training for employees can lead to a reduction in the number of stress-related illnesses, relieve them of unnecessary anxiety, and increase their productivity and thus that of the entire company.
It is therefore more than advisable to provide employees of a company with resilience training or resilience coaching to actively support them in managing stress in the workplace. Sparrks Coaching offers such a specific training or business coaching on the topic of "Strengthening Resilience" in its selection of coaching topics.
Of course, it is also possible to work on your own resilience without a professional business coach. To do this, we recommend you to read the article "How can resilience be strengthened?" In it, we provide you with practical tips that you can use to work on your own psychological resilience. However, only a learning or coaching process accompanied by an experienced business coach, as is possible with Sparrks, is really promising.