Low energy, high stress: mantra of the modern workplace

Why is Monday morning so daunting? Often, the cause is not our job itself but some mundane ideas and behaviours that we let go unchallenged at work.

The glorious Monday morning has arrived. It is 8.30AM and you are dashing off the tube station, power walking to the office. You even managed to sneak in a thirty-minute cardio session to start the week off the right way. With your semi-skimmed latte in one hand and your gym bag in the other, you almost feel ready to embrace the week.

But there is an underlying sense of dread lying inside since you went to bed the night before. There is that e-mail you got on the weekend that needs to be answered first thing, the team meeting and that report due by the end of your day. They all hang like a sword of Damocles over your head. As if that was not enough, you realise there is a mountain of new demands as soon as you open up your inbox. This adds a pile of new to-dos to your day and demands a swift change of plans. Thankfully, your afternoon team meeting ends up being cancelled. You can finally breathe, but only for a brief moment.

What is, exactly, this underlying subtle dread you simply cannot shake off? There is nothing obviously wrong, after all. In the best case scenario, your job is pretty interesting on most days and you have worked hard to get to where you are. Sounds familiar? The answer lies in some mundane ideas and behaviours that we never really challenge at work.

Misconception #1: being stressed out equals working hard

A general misconception is that not being stressed out means being laid back or disinterested. Both behaviours sit at opposite sides of the spectrum. You can be highly engaged in very demanding work but, rather than wear stress as a badge of honour, try to actively manage it. You could do it both for your personal well-being and that of your co-workers. Most situations people stress about are far from comparable to working real-time on managing a response to a natural disaster. The modern workplace creates stress by subtly praising it, instead of promoting a dose of intelligent calm.

Misconception #2: being overwhelmed equals being productive

Take one of those rare days when you have just enough work to keep you going for a day without feeling completely suffocated. You can give enough attention to detail and deliver something of great quality. You even have time for a leisurely lunch break — the ultimate sin. You almost feel guilty about it. Often, this is seen as ‘not having enough on your plate’. In the modern workplace, the ultimate aspiration is to feel like you are always drowning, fighting to swim to the surface. It almost does not matter if multi-tasking makes you less productive or if too much chaos decreases your focus.

Misconception #3: being tired equals being ambitious

Sleep and rest are two taboos in the modern workplace. Your ambition can sometimes be proven by pretending to be your best with the minimum amount of sleep. The reality is that lack of sleep has severe repercussions on the long-term mental abilities of employees. These can range from loss of focus to debilitating chronic fatigue. Very few people feel their best when sleep deprived. As our knowledge about the science of sleep is deepening, organisations should encourage their employees to come well-rested at work.

This sense of dread can often derive from the mundane ideas and behaviours that shape our daily routines. To ease this, it is not always about making radical changes but slowly changing our approach to work. If ‘high energy, low stress’ is to become the mantra of the future, let’s start by taking a deep breath and sorting those e-mails out patiently. Let’s encourage others to do the same along the way.

I am a coach and trusted advisor to driven and gifted people who feel there’s an inkling of rebellion in them. I help them create more fulfilment and reduce stress in their work and careers, on their terms. Connect with me here:

Coach — Career and Work Transformation | PhD Researcher | Facilitator

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