By Jacqui Wallis, CEO Genius Within
Stress Awareness Month encourages us to talk openly about how stress affects our wellbeing, our productivity and our happiness. Previously, stress at work was seen as a by-product of having a responsible job and many people were judged harshly for not being able to ‘deal’ with it, putting the pressure back on the individual and removing responsibility from the workplace. More modern approaches are starting to treat pervasive stress like an industrial accident, where repetition or consistent stress is considered from the organizational level. Looking at how resourcing, environments, job design and flexible work policies can reduce difficulties.
Recent events have affected all of us. Those who were fine are now anxious, those who were already stressed at work are now extremely vulnerable. At Genius Within, we saw a 128% spike in requests for help around stress or ‘state management’ from our clients during the peak of the pandemic.
As a recently appointed CEO, I felt the pressure too. Genius Within works with thousands of individuals to improve their performance at work. Our work carries a heavy emotional tax. Genius Within has a largely disabled team, and it can be extremely draining (as well as rewarding) work. My own dyslexia, covered up for years as I built my career in the high-pressure world of advertising, had been a cause of stress in the past too. Being open about my dyslexia now gives me lived experience to bring to the role as head of an organisation that champions the skills of neurodivergent people. When so many people have invisible disabilities, it can be hard for business leaders to acknowledge and adapt in order to improve working environments and reduce stress that so many of us live with on a day-to-day basis.
Not everyone adjusts easily to change. The sudden changes of lockdown to the working environment had a psychological impact on the entire working population. And now, for some, the prospect of going back into the office is increasing tension once again. Facilitated wellbeing workshops can be a real help. A workplace wellbeing psychologist, for example, can host webinar or in person group meetings or one-to-ones where people have an opportunity to connect and decompress, with a positive focus on exercising the control we do have over our situation. An occupational psychologist can help uncover some of the structural forces that might be making things worse, such as those mentioned above. It’s best to get ahead of issues before people become fatigued or overwhelmed with stress.
We want all our employees to fulfil their potential and for that we should maintain their support packages. Coaching support can be a critical factor in maintaining confidence and performance when colleagues are experiencing stress. As business leaders with a duty of care to all employees, we must factor in the neurodifferences of our colleagues when working towards an inclusive and supportive culture. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to manage stress. But organisations that recognise the individual’s needs and provides space for discussion – either formally with a coach or informally as a team – are better informed and can make changes when needed to reduce triggers to stress.
Government statistics show that 50% of work-related illness are caused by stress, anxiety and/or depression. As business leaders we share a responsibility to address stress at work. We can do that by leading by example for a start. Allowing stress to build up behind a ‘brave face’ isn’t going to help your teammates. Supportive workplaces recognise that stress is very real, and we should all work together to find ways of reducing its impact on the people we work with and ourselves.
Jacqui Wallis is CEO of Genius Within, a social enterprise working towards a future where neurodivergent people can maximise their potential and work to their strengths. Jacqui has over 26 years of business experience, delivering senior leadership coaching, strategy and implementation ranging from start-ups to world famous brands. She was diagnosed with dyslexia at university and, after successfully masking it during a 25-year career in advertising, now feels comfortable and confident to share her diagnosis with both colleagues and peers. Genius With is committed to bringing about systemic change to improve work opportunities for neurodivergent people.