Finding clarity in the chaos of a high-pressure work environment

Tom Boyd's advice on finding clarity and maintaining high-performance in a high-pressure work environment.

Tom Boyd
Wellbeing & Growth Leader
Finding clarity in the chaos of a high-pressure work environment

In 2020 we spoke about the challenge of dealing with disconnection, in 2021 we are speaking about the challenges of managing the new COVID Normal. So the question I've had to ask myself and the businesses I work with, what are the significant challenges facing us as individuals and as businesses at this moment in time. Furthermore, what can we do about them?

In my experience, much of the process of successfully overcoming a challenge is in properly defining it. Many times in my life I have mischaracterised problems with mental health, workplace and personal issues, only to find myself spending copious amounts of time and energy attempting to solve the wrong thing. This can be disheartening, it can be frustrating and at times it can be detrimental to yourself and others as your best intentions lead you astray through the problem of diagnosis.

My world has been filling up with things that are slowly but surely turning up the dial on my stress levels, as it has been with many people and businesses alike. Here are a few things that I have seen work well.

1. Put your own oxygen mask on first

The aeroplane instruction we have all heard countless times, the command from aircraft personal to first care for yourself before worrying about others. This has been one of the great pieces of advice I've been given over the years and it applies in a multitude of ways.

For those who admirably attempt to solve the problems of the world, it can often lead to burnout, poor decision making and skewed perception of reality. In fact, I would say that not following the advice of putting your own oxygen mask on first can lead to another of my favourite sayings; “Hurt people, hurt people”.

To be the best version of ourselves for others, we need to first be the best version of ourselves, for ourselves. It often means that we need to prioritise our own health and well-being. Even with the best intentions in the world, a person who is overwhelmed, stressed and hypersensitive is unlikely to be able to accomplish the goals they set out to.

2. Most of the time, we know the answer to the problem.

I often speak about the value of being proactive in your life and setting up the relationships and structures that will allow you to overcome adversity. It's often the pre-emptive action we take that later becomes the solution. In the times of life when stress is at its highest, or we as individuals are at our most vulnerable, the last thing any of us need is to be wandering through the dark, scared and searching for an answer.

So how does this apply to an organisation in a high-stress moment right now?

In recent times I have seen both from close and far the tendency of stressed managers to want to accumulate all control in fear that things may be headed awry. This often leads to reactive and impulsive decision making, which other members of the team interpret as stress and react accordingly, leaving them feeling disenfranchised for being cut out of the process.

This has only been exacerbated by the logistical challenges of hybrid working from home models and world volatility. But remember that you have chosen the people around you during calm times to support you in those times when the world isn’t. Trust the instinct that you had then, support those around you, listen to their perspectives and make decisions accordingly.

In many ways, fear and stress are the enemies, so take stock in the decisions you made when fear and stress weren’t so prevalent and discover what you and your teams can accomplish together.

3. My way or the highway

This is one of the great challenges that confront successful people who have dedicated their lives to reaching the top of their game. Through years of dedication and hard work, some people can accumulate the skillset, acumen and knowledge to lead large cohorts of people.

So how do you tell a manager that the way they reached their positions isn’t necessarily the only way or right way?

In a previous life not so long ago I was a member of a highly successful AFL team, one that reached the pinnacle of the biggest sporting industry in Australia. In many ways, there was a level of conformity that was expected and required to obtain the high levels we achieved. But at the same time, our collective ability as an organisation to cater for all the different individuals in our team is what made us special.

The amalgamation of people from different socio-economic backgrounds, cultures and even countries was the power within the building, as everyone brought a unique set of skills that we combined to make something great.

So the trick is not to make everyone drive the same route, but to convince everyone to drive towards the same destination that counts.

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