Coping with today’s pressures

There can be little doubt that most people in the public sector are feeling anxious and concerned about their future.  Redundancies are on the horizon and those left in position have to do at least the same with less support and less budget.

Let’s focus on redundancy first. Many of us define ourselves and our status by our job, so to loose your job induces fear, anger, humiliation, grief as well as concern over finances and the effect on the family or dependants. Such emotions flood the body with chemicals which can have a negative effect on our health and have recently been identified as ‘physiological dysfunction’. At the very time when we need to be alert, focused, innovative and creative, we feel depressed, anxious or sick and existing conditions like psoriasis, eczema, ulcers, blood pressures and heart conditions flare up. These are the chronic health effects of excessive pressure perceived by the brain. Excessive pressure over a period of time results in the ubiquitous condition called stress – so these are the chronic stages of stress. This is not a good state to be in when you need all your faculties to focus on repositioning yourself in the marketplace of work.


Here are a few suggestions to consider if you find yourself in such a situation:
•    Assess your health condition honestly
•    Accept that you can influence your health by the choices you make
•    For serious illness consult your GP or health practitioner
•    Assess your lifestyle and identify changes you can make to enhance fitness of mind and body
•    Brainstorm your options with a few ‘wild cards’ thrown in
•    Rule nothing out and everything in
•    Assess your life and work skills
•    Assess your transferable skills
•    Consider retraining to upskill in areas you feel you would be more marketable
•    Network actively using traditional methods and social media

In other words take control of your current life situation instead of allowing it to control you. It is a cliché that “redundancy can be an opportunity” but I speak to so many people who reaffirm that statement. People tell me they are now doing something they are passionate about and the satisfaction factor has increased their wellbeing, happiness and contentment. They may not be richer in a monetary sense and may have had to change their expectations but achieving an inner satisfaction and contentment is a state well worth striving for.

In our intensely consumer society today where satellite dishes, smart phones, electronic games, etc, are all ‘essentials’, designer clothes and shoes are a ‘must’ for many teenagers and adults, this all makes the demands on the monthly salary very great.  

Instead of feeding this consumer frenzy, families could:
•    discuss how to cope differently
•    work together to support and encourage each other
•    share family tasks
•    grow some of their own vegetables (hanging baskets, potato bags etc)
•    share equipment
•    ensure the senior family members are safe and involved in activities
•    take part in local sport
•    take part in local music and art
•    learn a new skill for the benefit of the family and even the community

I often hear “but the kids ‘must have…’ and sometimes wonder whose ‘must have’ it is. The recent riots in London and other UK cities saw looting for these ‘must haves’ from people alienated from society in general but probably highly committed to their own 21st Century youth culture. This culture sadly alienates them for the rest of society who find them threatening and this creates anxiety in the population who see, hear and feel their highly charged presence. This all adds to the increasing personal and community anxiety with the perception of the effects of less money from government and personal income streams.

In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the basic human needs are shelter, food, water, air and sex followed by safety and security.  In the Britain of today, basic needs are met by the government if required but redundancy feels as if it challenges the second level which is why it feels so threatening. This is a basic human need. If we look at both safety and security it may have to be defined more clearly to convince ourselves that although it may be threatened, we can make contingency plans and this helps us to feel more in control. Some people find it helpful to write down action plans with proposed dates for completion as it helps keep them on track.

The third level of human need is love and belonging which brings me back to the involvement of family and friends. These are a resource which no money can buy and are therefore highly valuable. If this level of need is not nurtured and tended it becomes fragmented allowing break up, resentment, anger and rejection to flourish. As above, these emotions create body dysfunction resulting in illness both mental and physical of individual and families.

All people but particularly those fearing redundancy, change in income and status or change in state service provisions would do well to consolidate these three lower levels of human need to ensure a firm foundation to support changes.

The other situation to explore is being in post but with higher expectation of your work load, less budget and less support – popularly know as ‘less for more’. This situation can have a demoralising effect if not handled well and staff can feel overwhelmed. In this type of situation it is essential for managers to take the lead and prioritise tasks as well as offering flexibility, encouraging creative and innovative methods of getting the job done instead of doing it the same old way.  Using a coaching style to explore realistic options within the new budget can be empowering for both managers and their staff. This is a learned skill and a worthwhile addition to a manager’s toolbox.

If a job has too many demands and little control of how, when and in what order they should be done there is a high risk of the employee experiencing continuing excessive pressure which can lead to stress, ill health, absence, mistakes, accidents, poor service, reduced productivity – in other words a downward spiral towards negativity for staff and organisational morale.  

Senior staff need to be aware of their responsibilities for this situation as they hold the keys to motivation and development of a positive culture. Mission statements and aspirational targets go down well with Trustees and politicians but unless they are seen by employees to be appropriate and relevant they will create an organisational culture of posturing and shallowness.  

At a time when every person counts, staff need to be fit and well to do the new set of tasks required. Openness, honesty, respect and working together for the higher good (rather than egos) are essential if teams, sections and departments are to produce the outcomes required. These qualities are often missing in today’s organisations but are fundamental to inspiring success and wellbeing both of the organisation and the individual.

Staff also have a responsibility to keep themselves fit in both body and mind. This can be achieved by exploring energising lifestyle choices and developing enhanced life skills such as
self confidence, assertiveness, sensory communication awareness, stress awareness and effective use of time as well as the personal and family options outlined above.

In summary, we live in a fast changing, sometimes confusing, sometime exhilarating world and both individuals and organisations need to identify and adhere to their values to develop confidence in themselves, the community and the world of business. Consummate organisational and consumer greed has taken us to a tipping point. All of us can influence the direction from here, which I sincerely hope will be on the lines of the Three Musketeers “one for all and all for one”

Ann McCracken is Chair of The International Stress Management Association and director of AMC2