Under Pressure

It can turn a lump of coal into a flawless diamond, or an average person into a perfect basketcase.

Surely, the above quote is something we can all relate to from time to time. Certainly, over the past few months, I’ve certainly had my moments where I look at myself in the mirror, or listen to myself speak, and was more than a little surprised at what I hear/see. There’s nothing scarier than not recognizing yourself.

Some people seem to thrive in a stressful environment. In general, I tend to do well under pressure. Sometimes it all just adds up to be too much, though, whether its just work, or a combination of work, academics, and personal stuff happening to us on a day-to-day basis.

For me, the basket-case-ness comes in bursts when stressed. I have been fortunate enough to have strong managers, who notice right away when something isn’t right, and generally can talk to me about it (normally with a, “Well, something’s not right with you right now…”). On top of that, I have a good circle of friends who can act as a sounding board on any wide range of issues. With all the said, sometimes it doesn’t help you from feeling like a complete basketcase.

The same sort of things have happened to my friends, and it turns out that they are not alone in the Public Service. Surely reported mental health issues only make up a small percentage of the reality in any group of people. I have colleagues and friends who have all been well on their way towards burnout, often at the expense of their sanity in their personal lives. Their personal relationships become strained, which in turn has a negative impact on their work. Some do not have managers who can adequately support them, where as others try to turn inwards to manage their issues rather than trying to reach out for help (something I’m certainly guilty of). In many cases, these people are high performers that are being depended on for any number of important files. This dependancy only adds to the pressure, as many are expected to take on work far and above a reasonable workload.  

The ‘solutions’ to these issues vary widely:

  • Talk to Manager — Some can have a quick talk with their manager about their workload, and figure out a strategy to cope.
  • Switch Jobs — Some recognize quickly that they need to switch out, and look for new paths. Whether a new job, a new academic path, etc.
  • Cut Friends — Some end up alienating some friends, and that loss motivates them to sort out their stresses.
  • Seek Help — Some look for professional help to manage their issues.
  • Burnout — Some never recognize the issue, and end up burning out.

In the past few years, there has been a greater focus on mental health issues, especially in the Public Service as a whole. There is recognition that issues exist throughout the Public Service that need to be addressed. Many of these issues can contribute towards stress in the workplace.

But I’m wondering if there isn’t something more subtle. Are there any systematic stressors that exist within the PS and its structures?

More importantly: How do we address those causal factors?

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