We’re hearing a lot about Resilience these days, so much so that it may have lost some of its meaning. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from stress or hardship. For most of us, work is stressful. This stress comes from three basic sources, no matter what industry you work in: Personal, Organizational, or The Work.
Personal stress includes not having enough time to spend with family, friends, or hobbies because you’re working too many hours. For some people, even if they have the actual time to spend, during the time they are with family or friends they are distracted by things at work. Personal stress could also include financial pressures. Some of that pressure comes from personal choices, some comes from family circumstances. You might earn enough money to live comfortably but then get hit with unexpected medical bills, or a car accident, or responsibility to care for a relative. Another layer of personal stress can come from family conflict or isolation. When someone comes to work exhausted because they were up all night fighting with their spouse, or sleeping outside the door of their child’s bedroom because they are worried about him, that is going to have an impact on how they do their work and how they relate to their co-workers. People who feel isolated and alone in this world have a tough time showing up to work with energy and a team-oriented approach.
Organizational stress describes the environments we work in and how that contributes to our stress levels. Much like children react to the stress levels in their homes, employees react to the stress of their environments. I’ve certainly had bosses who knowingly or unknowingly sprayed their stress on our team. The result was chaos. We all knew there was a problem, but it felt like no one had it under control, no one was in charge, and no one was empowered to take charge. I’ve also experienced what it’s like when my boss did a great job of leading and managing the team, but there were just too many competing demands on all of our time. We were all in the same boat together of too many things to do and not enough time to do them. We are all impacted by organizational stress. Sometimes that can be from the people we work with, such as the boss who doesn’t manage his stress well, or the co-worker who gossips and causes tension on the team. Other times the stress comes from the workload, the expectations, or the competing demands on your time. Regardless the cause of the stress, over time, it wears us down and has a negative effect on our wellbeing in the workplace and at home.
Then there is the stress of The Work. When The Work is the stressor, we might find ourselves either rushing to get it done because we just want to get it over with, making mistakes in the process. Or we might find ourselves procrastinating because it’s complex, difficult, boring, or tedious and can make mistakes in getting it completed. In other cases, The Work is draining and can leave us feeling wrung out, with nothing left to give and yet more is needed. Sometimes the stress of these kinds of jobs can lead to trauma. This can certainly apply to first responders and medical professionals who see terrible things happen to people, but it can also apply to people in other industries who see suffering of different kinds. When someone in the financial industry sees people lose their homes, when a teachers has a classroom full of students who are hungry, bullied, or unsafe at home, when we are exposed to things that hurt our hearts and there isn’t anything we can do to fix it we are impacted in a big way.
Usually, The Work starts out as the biggest stressor, but we are pretty good at finding ways to cope with that. Our co-workers know what we’re going through and can step in and offer support to help us through a challenging time. We know when we need more time with family, more time in our hobby or recreation, more time in prayer or meditation to strengthen ourselves. Most often we reach our breaking point when The Work is coupled with Organizational stress. When The Work takes a toll on us and the Organization compounds the stress, it’s just too much and people reach the point of wondering “why am I doing this?” Sometimes Personal stress can compound The Work or Organizational stresses.
Bottom line, most of us can deal with one of the three:
- If your Personal life is a mess, but you love The Work and have a supportive Organization you’re good.
- If you Organization is in chaos, but you still love The Work and your Personal life is stable, you’re good.
- If The Work is hard and draining, but your Organization is stable and your Personal life is supportive, you’re good.
Few of us take a step back, take a deep breath, and evaluate where the stress in our lives is coming from. Even if we did, few of us would know what to do about the circumstances in which we find ourselves. At Synchronous Health, we design programs that help build workplace resilience through strengthening connection to The Work, promoting strong and healthy Personal lives, and consulting to the Organizations on ways they can support their greatest asset, their people.