Biggest source of employee stress is not knowing what bosses want

davanti counselling confused employee

Unclear expectations from managers can create stress among workers (pic courtesy of iosphere/freedigitalphotos.net)

Never mind heavy workloads, long hours or annoying colleagues. The greatest source of stress for employees is having bosses who aren’t clear about their expectations.

Nearly a third (31%) of employees in a survey carried out by US employee assistance firm ComPsych said lack of clear direction from supervisors was the primary source of their stress. Second (20%) came confusion or conflict between colleagues or departments. Belief that workload would intensify was the third stressor (18%) and fourth was uncertainty about the future stability of the organisation (15%).

Dr. Richard A. Chaifetz, Founder, Chairman and CEO of ComPsych, said: “Change has become a constant for many workplaces, whether in the US or globally. Employees are telling us that much of the disequilibrium around change is coming from managers.” He added that employees are increasingly asking for training around resiliency in the workplace.

I agree that change can be stressful, as you just don’t know what it will mean for you. When your stability becomes threatened it can trigger a survival response (like fight, flight or freeze) and you can become stressed. It can be a terrifying time not knowing what lies in store for you, and you can end up with anxious days and sleepless nights fretting over what will unfold. It can put you in a place of second guessing what your boss might want – not knowing if you’re right or wrong – which can leave you feeling deskilled and fearful.

The unknown can also bring up feelings of powerlessness, like being a child again. Hard though it may be, the antidote to this is to step into your adult state and take steps to feel as though you are taking charge of something at work. That may be asking for a meeting with your boss to clarify what is required of you, no matter how hard that might seem. Your stress levels will thank you for it, though.

The ‘dark side’ of perfectionism can cause stress and burnout

Worrying about meeting standards, and fear of failure are two aspects of the darker side of perfectionism, which can lead to burnout (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/Marcus74id)

Fear of failure and worrying about meeting standards are two aspects of the darker side of perfectionism, which can lead to burnout (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/Marcus74id)

Think of a perfectionist, and you’ll picture someone conscientious who goes the extra mile to produce top-notch work. Someone with extremely high standards who is motivated and energised to achieve them. That’s the ‘light’ or positive side of perfectionism, according to researchers, who say that these qualities and attributes can contribute to a strong sense of achievement.

But there is also a darker side to perfectionism, which is when people “constantly worry about making mistakes, letting others down, or not measuring up to their own impossibly high standards”, according to lead researcher Andrew Hill, associate professor of sport psychology at York St. John University in England, whose findings were published in the Personality and Social Psychology Review. People who become consumed by perfectionism are more likely to achieve the opposite, by sabotaging their success in relationships, on the sports field, and especially in the workplace.

The results from this current study came from an analysis of 43 other studies over the last 20 years. The dark side of perfectionism – or ‘perfectionistic concerns’ can lead to people fearing they’re not being good enough, of berating themselves every time they make a mistake. Instead of feeling good about their achievements after all the work they’ve put in, sometimes a lack of support or acknowledgement in the workplace can turn perfectionism into cynicism, and the darker aspects can turn in on themselves – sometimes leading to mental health concerns, such as stress, anxiety and depression. Not to mention self-criticism and the voice of the inner bully/critic, mercilessly tormenting the perfectionist who feels that nothing will ever be good enough.

The antidote to dark perfectionism is compassion and forgiveness (not always easy for a perfectionist), and seeking out environments and people where mistakes are not only tolerated but encouraged as an opportunity to grow and learn. Admittedly, this isn’t always easy. Hill added: “People need to learn to challenge the irrational beliefs that underlie perfectionistic concerns by setting realistic goals, accepting failure as a learning opportunity, and forgiving themselves when they fail. Creating environments where creativity, effort and perseverance are valued also would help.”

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Your ‘weekend effect’ could depend on how happy you are in your job

Happiness levels in your job will depict how much you enjoy your weekends (pic courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos/net/Mr Lightman)

Happiness levels in your job will define how much you enjoy your weekends (pic courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos/net/Mr Lightman)

Do you live for the weekend, counting down the hours and minutes until clock-out time from work on Friday? Or is the weekend merely a continuation of a socially complete, happy lifestyle? The answer to that will depend on how satisfied you are with your job, how well you get on with your boss, and how much social interaction you have during the week with colleagues and friends outside work.

At least, that’s the conclusion from analysis of the ‘weekend effect’ on seven emotions – happiness, sadness, enjoyment, laughter, worry, anger and stress – of thousands of US workers in the Gallup/Healthways daily poll 2008-2012, carried out by John F. Helliwell and Shun Wang and published in an NBER paper.

They found that while stress levels were lower all round, there was no significant ‘weekend effect’ in terms of happiness or laughter for people who felt satisfied in life and work during the week. Their happiness remained pretty much constant across the span of seven days.

However, there was a marked difference in happiness levels for people who were miserable in their jobs, especially for those with micro-managing bosses and an environment where there was little trust. Their happiness levels were three times higher compared with people who had fulfilling work lives.

If five days out of seven are making you miserable, it could be time to look at why, and what you can do about it. If there’s a payoff for you at weekends, then fine. But if deep down you know you’re not living your potential or achieving what you’d always set out to achieve, then it might be time to explore some options that might just make you happier.

Redundancy can create long-lasting trust issues

Losing your job can make it difficult for you to trust people again. (photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/pakorn)

Losing your job can make it difficult for you to trust people again. (photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/pakorn)

Losing your job can create such deep scars in your self-esteem that it can take you 10 years to be able to trust people again. Not even a new job can heal the wound or help you regain a sense of self, according to a study of 7,000 British adults by the University of Manchester.

Social scientist Dr James Laurence found that being laid off can create “a decade of distrust” – and the cynicism doesn’t go away even when the person made redundant returns to employment. He said: “People’s willingness to trust others tends to remain largely stable over their lifetime. However, this work shows that trauma like redundancy can shift people’s outlook of the world and this change persists long after the experience occurred.”

Losing your job can feel traumatic, especially if your identity and self-esteem are wrapped up in the work you do. Redundancy can bring up all kinds of feelings of failure and shame, and the study shows that the impact can be long lasting. When the sense of self is punctured, it can take a long time for the trauma to be processed and for the person to feel whole again.

If you’re suffering the effects of redundancy and would like to regain trust in others and faith in yourself, email or call Karen on 07956 823501 to book a confidential counselling appointment.

Have you caught ’empathic stress’?

Scientists say stress is contagious. (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/ddpavumba)

Scientists say stress is contagious. (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/ddpavumba)

Has your boss ever started huffing and puffing, even when everything is going to plan and to deadline, and you can’t help but start to feel the pressure too? Or how about you’re watching a tense moment on TV and you feel yourself far more stressed than you should?

Scientists say stress could be as catching as the common cold. Just being around stressed individuals, or watching them stress out, raises levels of the stress hormone cortisol even if you’re an observer. This was the main finding of a study by the Max Planck Institute for Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig and the Technische Universität Dresden. The researchers found that observing stressful situations has a physical response – and say that this form of ’empathic stress’ should not be ignored because it can lead to serious issues of burnout, depression and anxiety.

Empathic stress was worse when the observer stressed individual were in a relationship. But even watching stressful programmes on TV can raise cortisol levels. “Stress has enormous contagion potential,” say the researchers.

They added that people working as caregivers could be particularly susceptible to the harmful consequences of empathic stress. “Anyone who is confronted with the suffering and stress of another person, particularly when sustained, has a higher risk of being affected by it themselves,” they add.

Interestingly, while other studies have shown women to be more empathic than men, this piece of research showed that “men and women actually experience empathic stress reactions with equal frequency”.

Confiding in a trusted colleague can alleviate work stress

Don't take it out on customers. Chat to a colleague if you're overwhelmed. (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/jesadaphorn)

Don’t take it out on customers. Chat to a colleague if you’re overwhelmed. (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/jesadaphorn)

With a third of UK workers struggling to cope with depression, stress and burnout, perhaps the chat around the water cooler could be refreshing in more ways than one? The key thing is to pick the person who’s going to empathise and – most importantly – be able to keep your issues confidential. Being able to speak to someone you trust could make your issues seem more survivable.

A survey from the Depression Alliance, as part of Depression Awareness Week, says that eight in 10 workers suffering stress-related issues feel lonely and isolated because of their feelings. Only half of those feeling lonely or isolated had confided in a colleague, yet nearly 71% found that discussing their condition with a colleague helped them feel better.

I think the key point here is trusted. Workplaces can abound with politics. It’s great to offload on a colleague feeling similarly overwhelmed, but think about who this colleague would share it with. If you can’t trust someone at work, then your partner or friend might be able to help.

But if you really need to offload to someone who’s outside your professional and social circles, and who won’t spread the whispers around that water cooler, then call 07956 823501 or email davanticounselling@gmail.com

Workaholics are at risk of compulsive internet addiction

60% of people are at risk of compulsive internet usage, says research (pic: istockphoto.com/matka_Wariatka)

60% of people say they use the internet compulsively, says research (pic: istockphoto.com/matka_Wariatka)

It’s Monday morning. You log onto your emails at work and yet there are no surprises. Why? Because you’ve had your smartphone by your side all weekend and you’ve been checking your emails compulsively, unable to switch off. You see ‘relaxing’ as a pointless waste of time. Pushing yourself harder to achieve career success is what drives you. But it can also be what drains you.

If you recognise yourself here, then you could be among the 60% of workers who use the internet compulsively, often as a coping strategy. Increasingly it is high-fliers and overachievers whose internet usage can be excessive and compulsive, rather than students and the unemployed. That’s according to research among 516 people aged 18 to 65 by Dr Cristina Quinones-Garcia of Northampton Business School and Professor Nada Korac-Kakabadse of Henley Business School, which was presented at the British Psychological Society’s Division of Occupational Psychology’s Annual Conference in Brighton.

Using the internet was strongly linked to working obsessively, and overuse of the internet could lead to “measurable withdrawal symptoms” such as anxiety, isolation and depression. The researchers said that workaholics will often wake up several times in the night to check their emails, and their health and relationships suffer because they can’t manage to tear themselves away from their computer. They tend to be the high-achieving successful employees, but continued compulsive usage could lead to burnout.

This research is the latest in a growing body of evidence around the dangers of excessive internet use. A study by Missouri University of Science and Technology investigated the impact of heavy internet use on mental health and found that young people who used the internet excessively – including games, social media and email – showed signs of addictive behaviours, such as introversion, craving, loss of control and tolerance.

The Guardian offers five ways to curb your internet use and get your life back. However, if you’re worried that your internet use is getting out of control and having a negative impact on your life, email davanticounselling@gmail.com or call 07956 823501 to take the first step to speak to a therapist about it.