There's a growing awareness of workplace stress which is to be applauded. But there's an assumption that pressure is always negative – but that’s not always the case. Pressure understood and channelled correctly can sometimes be a positive energy.

Can we be honest about the reality of the job?

If you’ve ever done an interview, you’ll have been asked this classic question: “How do you perform under pressure?”

Why? Because pressure is part and parcel of working anywhere and in any job. When you responded, it’s unlikely you said you couldn’t cope but presented strategies you use to perform instead.

Post-COVID, the workplace culture has changed with greater awareness about anxiety, pressure, and the potential effect on our mental health. This is a necessary change – something we can all agree has been positive. But we can’t – and shouldn’t – mislead team members about the reality of work. In every job, you will experience pressure – but you’re never on your own.

We must be honest about the reality of working in a job and what support is available to all team members.

Awareness or adapation?

Younger people are exposed to more stress than ever, say HR experts. But, if you’re old enough to remember the workplace in the 80s and 90s, you’ll agree that terms, conditions, care, and culture have changed immeasurably. In almost all cases, these changes are for the better.

There’s a growing awareness of workplace stress which is to be applauded. But there’s an assumption that pressure is always negative – but that’s not always the case.

Stress and pressure are subjective and can be affected by our experiences, capabilities, confidence levels, and external factors. For example, we’re better able to cope after a full night’s sleep than after a restless one. Individually, the roles, responsibilities, tasks, and team management that can overwhelm one person may be openly accepted by another.

Pressure understood and channelled correctly can be a positive energy. It can help team members be alert, motivated, and able to work and learn, says the WHO.

Sometimes, things will get difficult at work for all of us. We can all feel anxious and experience self-doubt. But without exploration, these feelings can penetrate other areas of life. If we accept pressure and understand it in the workplace, we view it differently. Accepting pressure as inevitable enables us to channel this energy positively into helping performance – and leaders must facilitate this process.

We can and should all develop tools, techniques, and strategies to adapt. Leaders, managers, and senior colleagues that have experienced stress have a duty of care to their team. They can share their experiences and strategies with colleagues, offering insights and experiences.

Raising awareness is admirable, but acknowledging pressure is inevitable and adapting to it is critical.

Be 100% truthful

People have the right to be respected and supported in the workplace. They must have mechanisms to raise issues and concerns and be confident about support. But we must get honest about what a job is and our expectations of team members. Pressure is a part of professional life.

People who work in our space (or any commercially driven environment) expect a certain degree of pressure. At times, we will all have a difficult day or week. The key is what personal processes you can put in place to support yourself, navigate around and learn from the challenges that a difficult day brings. There are also the benefits, rewards, and professional development, that comes with overcoming challenges. This in itself provides some with an innate drive.

Whatever industry you’re in, the role of a leader isn’t to insulate team members from pressure because that’s impossible. Instead, it’s about nurturing them end helping them to develop the personal and professional skills required to cope.

Creating a culture that embraces pressure

Leaders must support individuals to address and overcome these feelings in the short run. Facing up to your fears isn’t easy – but doing so is fundamental to personal and professional growth.

Why? Because the skills developed will help you deal with stressful situations in the future. They can also help identify situations where stresses might arise – enabling you to act to manage them before they worsen.

The ability to manage stress is part of personal and professional development. It also enables you to answer the interview question with honesty and authority.

At Saragossa, we’ve developed a culture where everyone on the team feels empowered to talk about their feelings. They know support is available if required, and their manager will step up – or step in – if things are getting too much.

It’s right to ask for help when you need it. But first, think about what you can do to manage.