Workplace stress is a significant problem that is not only detrimental to physical and mental health but can impact personal and family life as well.
“People are experiencing an increase in the number of episodes of a fractured sense of self,” said Dr. Robyne Hanley-Dafoe, a Toronto-based multi-award-winning psychology instructor who specialises in resiliency, navigating stress and change, and personal wellness in the workplace.
“Women are particularly susceptible because they often feel they are falling short at work, and they are falling short for their family and partner,” she said.
“A lot of the time, women feel that they are the gate-keepers of knowledge for home life. When women entered the work-force they didn’t renegotiate the social expectations of home-life so they are still the ones doing most of the family schedule-planning, child-care and elder-care. It takes a lot of cognitive energy.” Hanley-Dafoe noted that this is a heterosexual phenomenon that doesn’t occur with same-sex parents.
Although technology has enhanced our capabilities on so many levels, it also adds to our daily stress as it makes it harder to disconnect from work.
“Now we’re doing everything on computers, and bringing technology home, there’s no sense of completion,” said Hanley-Dafoe. She added that social comparison is another growing contributor of stress - particularly for women.
“Down-time used to be private, but now we are looking at social media and seeing pictures of perfect children’s birthday parties and beautiful dining table settings,” she said. “Women tend to compare themselves to other women which can lead to feelings of inadequacy.”
Knowing your worth is key to overcoming stress.
“When you embrace your worth it increases the likelihood that you can set boundaries and not feel you have to apologise for your needs,” said Hanley-Dafoe. “Saying ‘I’m sorry about this’ is a gendered response,” she added.
Setting solid boundaries and being mindful of your goals are equally important strategies for feeling in control, along with maintaining a positive attitude.
“When optimism starts to decrease, stress will increase,” said Hanley-Dafoe. “Choosing to be positive is really important. Ask yourself if you’re fulfilled right now and is this going to be a positive interaction.”
Taking regular breaks will increase energy levels and enhance performance at work, Hanley-Dafoe advised.
Employers play a critical role in maintaining the good mental and physical health of their staff.
“People are often afraid that it’s going to look unprofessional if they make mistakes, so employers need to be clear that they know there will be ebbs and flows, and they’re not looking for perfection,” said Hanley-Dafoe.
“People in leadership roles need strategic development training to know how to support and foster a positive culture in the workplace” she added.
Hanley-Dafoe is an instructor of psychology at Trent University in Ontario.