Pressure! Some people hate it. Other people thrive on it. We all react to it differently and have varying levels of pressure we can cope with, but one thing that’s common is that all work environments have it.

As a leader, it’s important that you know how to balance the pressure in your working day but can also spot the danger signs for your team members – and support them when overwhelming pressure looms.

Find the right amount

Research reveals that a certain amount of pressure is good for us because it helps to motivate action and keep us focused. This is because when we experience the right amount of challenge and interest, our brain releases the chemicals noradrenaline and dopamine, which make us more alert, motivated and receptive to learning.

Researchers and educators often refer to this as the Goldilocks zone. This is the zone of optimal performance where we are working on a task or learning something that is neither too hard, nor too easy.

Pressure is unhealthy when a person feels like they:

  • Have no control or autonomy
  • Are making little or no progress
  • Have so much to do it feels overwhelming
  • Are going backwards
  • Are ruminating about the same issues repeatedly

When pressure isn’t managed well, it causes stress. When prolonged, it leads to burnout.

Recognise the warning signs

Be alert to the warning signs of burnout in yourself and your team. These signs can include feeling ineffective or negative, having reduced energy, motivation or efficiency, and being more frustrated and irritable.

Notice if team members appear to be working excessive overtime and yet their productivity is waning. Check in on how they are feeling – if they feel as though they are working hard but accomplishing less, that’s a sign.

When burnout hits, people often turn to unhealthy crutches such as drinking, eating badly and relying on substances or other unhealthy mechanisms to get them through the day. This can be difficult to spot but the better you know your team members and the greater the degree of trust between you, the more likely you are to notice some early indicators.

Talk to your team

Be open with your team about your pressure points and what you do to manage stress and maintain a healthy lifestyle. As part of this, encourage your team members to take care of their physical and mental health. It helps if their leader is a role model for self-care behaviour.

As a team, agree on the boundaries of what’s acceptable when working outside of standard hours, so that team members are comfortable with not responding to emails or phone calls in their personal time. This involves a unanimous team decision to be comfortable with saying ‘no’ and in turn, respect one another’s boundaries. It could be helpful to hold regular meetings to discuss and prioritise individual workloads.

Encourage your team to take regular breaks during the day, and ideally once a day to go outside the office and walk. Consider holding walking meetings with your team members – rather than doing your regular one-on-ones in an office or cafe.

The key is getting away from the desk because when a person’s environment is shifted, it helps to shift their mindset and recharge their batteries.

Core to all of this is the relationship that a leader has with their team. It will be more effective if the leader has already laid the groundwork for a psychologically safe work environment where people are comfortable to share what is or isn’t working for them, and how they are feeling.