“A problem shared is a problem halved” is a saying we have all heard but is there any truth in it when it comes to workplace stress? When people are stressed out by work they often have a tendency to focus purely on the stress and to isolate themselves from colleagues by ignoring breaks and social occasions. Yet often when people are overly stressed the amount of time spent ‘working’ is actually time spent procrastinating, worrying about the to-do list and just feeling stressed.
We are bombarded with messages that stress is bad but stress can be good or bad depending on how you frame it. Chronic, uncontrollable stress is not good but short bursts of stress can sharpen our thinking and give us the tools to address future challenges. Often the difference in feeling overwhelmed is how we react to it (e.g. see ). If you see stress as something unfixable that you have no control over it is likely to make things worse. Most of the time, however, the cause of stress can be addressed either by changing our mindset or by changing something practical.
For example, if you are stressed about a problem in work that seems huge and important try stepping outside of yourself and asking if, in the grand scheme of things, it really is that important. If the answer is no then you can keep working on it but tell yourself that you can only do as much as you can do. If the answer is, yes it is important, map out a series of small steps that you need to take to challenge the problem and take them one at a time to prevent becoming overwhelmed.
This is where talking to colleagues can help. Research has shown that social support can buffer stress . The more social support people feel when faced with a stressful challenge, the less likely they are to feel the strain. However a second study found an interesting addendum to this. Social support from colleagues is more important for reducing stress-related exhaustion than social support from external people . This may be because colleagues can offer practical support in dealing with a stressful workload. While family and friends can be supportive they can’t offer aid in the same way that colleagues can.
This suggests that it is not just talking about stress that helps but talking about stress with the aim to tackling the underlying cause. For example, can you request more assistance from your supervisor or colleagues on a problem? Can you suggest changes to administration structures that would free up time? Has anyone else previously faced and surmounted the challenge you have been set and can they offer any tips?
Sometimes we get so caught up in our own work that we forget about the colleagues around us that are going through the same thing. Social support and friendship in work helps not only tackle stress but also increases job satisfaction, job involvement and even productivity . So the next time you’re feeling stressed about work try to take back some control, take a break with a colleague and try sharing a problem to find a solution.
1. Robertson, I.H., The Stress Test: how pressure can make you stronger and sharper. 2016:# Bloomsbury Publishing.
2. Viswesvaran, C., J.I. Sanchez, and J. Fisher, The role of social support in the process of work stress: A meta-analysis. Journal of vocational behavior, 1999. 54(2): p. 314-334.
3. Halbesleben, J.R., Sources of social support and burnout: a meta-analytic test of the conservation of resources model. Journal of applied Psychology, 2006. 91(5): p. 1134.
4. Riordan, C.M. and R.W. Griffeth, The opportunity for friendship in the workplace: An underexplored construct. Journal of business and psychology, 1995. 10(2): p. 141-154.