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Understanding the causes of pressure at work

Understand the Causes of Pressure
There are numerous conditions in the workplace, many of which are linked, that can contribute to high levels of pressure. Some of the most obvious are:
• insufficient resources—not enough time, funds, or staff to get the job done properly;
• insufficient appropriate resources—skills gaps in certain critical areas;
• unreasonable demands—management expectations to maintain an unreasonable pace;
• improper staffing or staff direction—failure to understand or capitalize on employees’ individual strengths;
• insufficient training;
• poor planning;
• promising to do too much in too little time;
• lack of job security.

Develop Coping Strategies
There are also many types of pressure. The most common is time pressure—too much to do and too little time to do it in. However, there are plenty of coping strategies to help manage time pressure and to smooth out organizational problems which contribute to it. For example:
• Anticipate where the pressure may come from.
• Separate overwhelming tasks into multiple, smaller jobs. Create “to do” lists of all the tasks that must be completed in the short term (perhaps within the next week), and in the long term.
• Reserve your prime working time—when energy levels are high—for complex tasks, and save trivial, routine tasks for non-prime time.
• When planning your work schedule, attempt to balance routine tasks with more enjoyable responsibilities.
• Accept that risks are inevitable and that few decisions are ever made on the basis of complete information.
• Communicate progress to other stakeholders in the task and manage expectations. For example, if a task will take longer to complete than originally thought, be honest. The sooner people are alerted to potential problems, the sooner you can collaborate on contingencies.
• Learn to say “I don’t know” or “I don’t understand” when necessary.
• Manage technology rather than allowing technology to manage you.

For example, with telephone conversations, plan what you’re going to say and/or ask in advance; prioritize e-mail messages according to their importance to your objectives; turn off your cell phone when it could interrupt an important meeting or activity.
While these time-pressure coping strategies do not necessarily extend your deadline, they can increase your sense of control. If time pressure continues to be an issue, you may need to re-evaluate your role and its demands and resources. Are you delegating enough? Have you prioritized your actions? Are you promising to do too much?

Fix On a Solution
Once the cause and type of pressure has been identified, begin the task of determining a solution. The solution may lie in organizational changes at work, or in changes on a more personal level. Some options in both categories are described below.

Organizational Changes
Pressure can be a result of the nature of the job, or of how the role fits in with the rest of the business. To alleviate this kind of pressure, your role or job may need to be renegotiated, with different boundaries instituted. Clearer lines of responsibility, as well as better delegation and prioritization, can help reduce pressure on individuals, teams, and departments.

Better organizational planning and anticipation of pressure points can help ensure that resources are in the right place, at the right time. Sometimes pressure is unavoidable, but it is certainly more bearable when the duration is minimized.

Personal Changes
People also put themselves under pressure when they lose confidence in their abilities. A good self-awareness and a solid understanding of your real skills are important for avoiding this type of pressure. Building and supporting confidence is also invaluable.
When assessing potential changes on a personal level, be aware of how you respond to pressure. Some symptoms you exhibit may be positive and motivating, others may not. Know your balance and how others respond. At the same time, be aware of pressure in others. No two people respond to pressure in the same way.

There are physical strategies to help manage pressure. Exercise is good from a health standpoint, and often relieves pent-up frustration. In the office, simple things like stretching in your chair, going for a quick walk, or talking to a friend can be good remedies for relieving pressure. Take occasional breaks from work using holidays or vacation time. In more serious cases, consider moving further away from the situation through a sabbatical, job rotation, or study leave.

In addition, a sense of humour can help manage pressure, as can remembering to step back from a situation. It is important to tackle the underlying causes of pressure whenever possible, rather than just dealing with the symptoms. Above all, remember that you are not alone in feeling pressure or attempting to better manage it. Do not hesitate to confide in a friend or colleague, or to seek counseling when help is needed. Some causes of pressure are much more overwhelming than others—for example, being ill, caring for a sick family member, or experiencing a change in marital status. In these circumstances, talking to someone may help you to see things from a broader perspective and to take the first step toward a solution.

What to Avoid

You Try to do Too Much
People sometimes take on too much at work, thinking that they can cope without additional support. Perhaps they think they are saving their organization money by covering a number of responsibilities—but in reality they may be wasting money in missed opportunities or inefficiency. Often the one thing employees fail to do well under pressure is to delegate work appropriately. Thus, a focus on improved communication is critical and a better prioritization of objectives is essential. Also important in dealing with pressure are effective resource management, building in time/slack, anticipating pressure points, and monitoring progress.

You Forget How to Say “No”
Perhaps you are capable of sustaining high levels of activity over a long period of time, and it has become expected that you will always perform at that pace. Your colleagues may not be aware of your sacrifice, and there may be no reward—in fact, additional work may be dumped on you because of your intensity. The solution is to be assertive and to say no or push back when the pressure keeps building. Just as it isn’t practical or productive to keep a car in fifth gear at all times, you too must vary your speed and occasionally make a “pit stop.”

You Succumb to a Long Hours Culture
In some organizations, the tendency to work long hours has become part of the corporate culture. In this context, pressure creates status; putting yourself under pressure is interpreted as accomplishment. Many people put in long hours, hoping that their hard work will be noticed and rewarded, but secretly resent that they have to do this. Resist succumbing to this influence. Focus on outputs rather than inputs to define your success. Working hard and working long hours are not the same thing.

You Take it out on Others
Pressure respects no boundaries. Pressure from one aspect of your life will eventually affect the other parts of your life as well. Be aware of how pressures in your personal life may affect your work performance. It is not fair to transfer this pressure to coworkers, or anyone who is not actually part of the problem. Work on the causes and not the symptoms of pressure because compartmentalization will only work in the short term.

Source BNET: Courtesy of the Young Entrepreneurs Association of Jamaica

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