When is high pressure too much pressure?
Often a certain amount of pressure in a work environment can be motivating and encourage good quality work. However, a point may be reached where the pressure is so great that quality suffers as you struggle to find equilibrium and a sense of well-being.
- Expectations exceed your capacity to fulfil them
A key warning sign for this is when demands made of you exceed your capacity to fulfil them. You may work in an environment where workloads, targets, recruitment issues or staff cuts are such that you feel overwhelmed: however hard you work, you are pressed to meet the expectations of the different stakeholders to whom you are accountable. You find yourself fire-fighting for most of the time in order to stay afloat from day to day, juggling tasks so as to “keep all the balls in the air” as far as you can.
- Working long hours
Often linked with this are expectations that you work long hours over a protracted length of time. Indeed, there may be an assumption that you will show up early, leave late and take work away with you as a badge of honour. You may not have much opportunity to take breaks during the working day either.Whether you are productive and fully able to focus on task during these hours is not always taken into consideration.
- Appearing infallible
In some instances, the pressure may be exacerbated because you are expected to cope and just get on with things. To show vulnerability, ask for support or admit you feel overwhelmed may be seen as a sign of weakness. You may feel you have to put across an image of infallibility in order to avoid being blamed for difficulties that arise.
Effects on well-being and quality
The effects of such pressure can be deeply wearing on your motivation and morale. The chances are that your sense of well-being will be put out of balance. You will start to experience reduced job satisfaction as conflicting demands prevent you from completing tasks in a thorough and meaningful way and you are unable to maintain the quality of work you would like. Frustration and disillusionment may build up if you feel there are no channels for sharing your concerns openly without the risk of being found wanting. It is also likely that you will put your own welfare on hold, becoming exhausted and devoting little time to matters outside work such as family and friends.
Time to reflect
Time seems to be at such a premium when under intense pressure and so it seems counter-intuitive actually to stop, pause and take time out to assess what is going and gain some perspective. This is exactly what is needed, however, as we will explore in future blogs.