by Paula on February 25, 2014

However much you try to remove yourself from stress in your life, the chances are that at times it will find you. We live in a world of deadlines and promises and an increasing pressure to provide products and services quicker, at higher quality and lower cost.

In the world of work there is pressure coming from four main areas:-

1. The pressure we put upon ourselves

2. The pressure our customers put upon us

3. The pressure from our managers

4. The pressure from our employees

If you work alone you will have two of these, if you are an employee with no staff reporting to you or you are the Business Owner you will have two or three (depending on whether your role is client-facing). If you are in middle management the chances are you will have all 4.

Pressure is not always a bad thing. Pressure to achieve to a certain deadline or quality drives people to focus and achieve. You may have seen this graph detailing the amount of pressure where optimum work is achieved.

What a graph like this doesn’t show is that for every person, that area of best performance is in a different place. As an employee you will know how much pressure you require and how much tips you over the edge. As a manager you need to know this pressure point for every person you manage!

Some people work well with just a little pressure, others work optimally at just below breaking point. It is up to a manager to understand and assess this with each person and juggle work accordingly. It’s no wonder they sometimes get it wrong.

The first thing a manager needs to do is recognise these differences in people. Too often they know their own pressure point and make an assumption that all are the same.


Jack is an excellent worker. He knows his stuff, he works well with others and is an asset to the team. The business is currently going through a busy period. Work is coming in fast, deadlines are looming and the pressure is on. Jack finds himself with twice as much work as usual. But Jack’s pressure graph is not the same as his manager’s. Jack finds pressure very stressful. He:-

  • – Struggles to prioritise
  • – Feels anxious
  • – Is afraid to ask for help as he’s conscientious and knows everyone has pressure
  • – Starts making mistakes
  • – Spends longer at work trying to sort them out
  • – Has no time to eat properly so doesn’t eat well, or at all
  • – Is not sleeping well as he’s worrying
  • – Gets no time for himself or his family & friends
  • – Feels tired and low and makes more mistakes

And so on…

This is where a manager makes or breaks.

A poor manager has his own pressure, is frustrated and angry at the mistakes, doesn’t recognise the signs of stress and applies more pressure potentially combined with threats. Quite possibly they are also getting this treatment from poor management above them! This causes the cycle of pressure and mistakes to get worse until the employee breaks.

A good manager feels that frustration too but recognises the downward spiral and reassures, pulls in extra resource if possible, and suffers too to get the employee and the company through that difficult period. He recognises that now is not the time to apply further pressure or anger or threats. Getting less than hoped from the employee is better than getting nothing at all.

When the intense period is over – then is the time to sit down with the employee and go through it. What happened? How was he feeling? What could have been done differently? This is a time to teach/train the employee with the skills that they might need to make them able to be more productive through the next busy period. It’s also the time for the manager to evaluate the team – what skills did this employee bring and how could they be used more effectively? Who else in the team performed well under pressure and could roles be adjusted to make better use of skills with this added insight into ways of working?

There is no removal of pressure in a company. Work fluctuates and a company that never has any times of unusual pressure probably has too many staff! What is important in times of pressure is:-

  • – Performance does not suffer
  • – People do not suffer beyond acceptable boundaries
  • – Learning occurs after the intense period is over

Have a think at work today.

Think about the signs from your last period of pressure. What could you learn from it to make the next time more tolerable?

Are you in a time of pressure now? Thank you for still finding the time to read my blog! But now’s the time to focus inwardly, recognise where help is required and get your business and your team through it with as little personal damage as possible.


As always, do contact me if I can help talk through any of these issues further.


Phil Collard February 25, 2014 at 10:21 am

It’s funny – I often think (and say) that I put more pressure on myself than anyone else can even get close to.

I think it is why, in my career, I have worked with some pretty challenging individuals without cracking where many others simply haven’t managed it. There is very little these individuals could do to shake me beyond that which I do to myself.

I actually enjoy putting myself under stress – it is what tends to drag the best from me and makes me feel most alive.

I have always been like it too – I remember being at school (A-levels) and having months to read a Thomas Hardy novel in preparation for a presentation I was to do on it. I ended up not even starting to read it until my lunch-break before the afternoon in which the presentation was due to be delivered!!! I got an “A”. (Sometimes, I rue the day that that teacher gave me that grade as, almost as a result, I find myself being eternally optimistic of my ability to achieve despite seemingly maddening odds.. in the main, of course, this is a good thing but, one day, I fear that it will lead to a fall!)

Back to the here and now, though – some might feel that I put myself under too much of a load sometimes and that I could “let some of it go” which is a fair point but as long as I am enjoying it, I think I will carry on.

There are three key things, though, for me at least:

– I need to be organised. I like routine and if the routine breaks down then, suddenly, everything can feel out of hand. That is my tipping point and, if it happens, I need to wrestle back control pretty quickly
– I am pretty good at recognising when I do need a day where my mind is removed from it all. On those days, I kick back (barely even get properly dressed) and just play with the boys or sit on the sofa with my wife.
– Knowing that you have people around you who understand how you operate and strike the right balance between supporting you and restraining you.

My personal summary on pressure then:

– I reckon that with organisation comes order and with order comes the ability to not only cope with more pressure, but to turn it into positive thing.
– I also reckon that a self-awareness regarding how you are reacting to the pressure, taking avoiding steps whenever necessary, means that you are less likely to crack.
– Finally – It is so important to have people around you who you trust implicitly to allow you to find your own sweet spot whilst ensuring that you don’t go too far.

Nice blog

Paula February 25, 2014 at 10:54 am

Thank you for taking the time to reply. THIS is exactly the point I am making. You as an individual know exactly where your pressure point is and what you need to have in order to optimally achieve. Your pressure point is far higher than others but the fact is, in a work place, that in itself doesn’t matter.

The problems where pressure causes breakdown and failed deadlines are:-

– Individuals without self-awareness of how they optimally cope, or without the confidence to speak up and let people know when they are on the downward slide of their pressure curve.

– Managers who don’t recognise that their staff have different pressure points. i.e. treating someone who reacts poorly to pressure the same way they would treat someone like you.

That is where the damage is done. Both to individuals and to the business.

Interestingly it’s not (as might seem) the case that someone who can take more pressure is a more valuable employee as this is just one facet of a person’s value to the company. The managers job is to understand all the facets of the individuals and knit the team together in such a way to best use the qualities of the individuals while allowing for their weaknesses.

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