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Thinking about workplace health and wellbeing

What is the relationship between stress, pressure and performance in the workplace? How does this impact on health and wellbeing?

As well as being clear about the context for this course, it’s important to recognise how we think about and relate to our own – and others’ – health and wellbeing. In this step we are going to raise awareness of our beliefs about health and wellbeing in the workplace.

In the video above, clinical psychologist, Dr Sonya Wallbank, explains some of the key health and wellbeing concepts and language in use, and introduces a task we would like you to have a go at over the coming week – keeping a stress diary. After you have watched the video, read on and explore the activity in more detail.

Pressure and performance

We are all different, with unique personalities and highly individual tolerances for different kinds of pressure and how we communicate and relate to stress. And each of us has different combinations of factors that may be protective, or make us vulnerable to distress. Take a look at the diagram below, which illustrates the Yerkes-Dodson law, an empirical relationship between pressure and performance.

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We’ve all experienced the benefits and downsides of pressure at work. Too much and you feel you can’t cope, too little and you can become bored and unmotivated. Both extremes are unhealthy places to find oneself, albeit for different reasons. However, there is a point where the right kind and amount of pressure (for you) helps you to be and perform at your best. This is sometimes called the ‘window of tolerance’.

Much of the pressure (or absence of it) we experience at work comes from the job itself, the organisational culture we’re in, and from wider influences such as staffing pressures or regulation. But pressure (and stress) can also come from within us, from our expectations of and relationship to ourselves and work.

When the pressure is high and we feel under strain, we often believe that if we just work harder our performance will improve and things will get better. However, this is delusional, because what actually happens is our performance worsens as we multitask, make mistakes, lose focus and panic.

Stress diary

To help you reflect on your own relationship to pressure and performance, we would like you keep a ‘stress diary’ over the coming week, using the pressure performance curve which we’ve made available in a download. At the end of each working day take a few minutes to reflect and plot where on the curve you find yourself.

Use the following questions to reflect on your health and wellbeing before starting the exercise.

  • Overall, where on the curve do you think you spend most of your time at work?
  • What is the source of the pressure you do experience?
  • What might you need to do to move towards optimal performance?
  • What do you notice in your colleagues and where they seem to be?

As Sonya mentions in her video, if you need to seek additional help and support with your health and wellbeing, you can start by speaking to your line manager or human resources team in your organisation. You can also seek support outside of your organisations through some of the resources that we’ve listed on this previous step.

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Leading Well for Staff Health and Wellbeing in the NHS

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