Return to Work
We all know first day jitters: the precarious balance between excitement and nerves; encroaching doubts about your ability to do the job with an overarching desire to prove yourself and others; and the uncertainty that comes with opening a new life chapter. It goes without saying that starting a new job can be stressful.
Stress and performance at work are related. An optimum level of stress will give you sharpened senses, heightened cognitive and physical abilities, and enhance overall performance. Too much stress can have a detrimental impact on your overall performance, reducing your ability to learn and think clearly, while too little stress reduces motivation. In this way, it is important to be able to get a handle on your stress so that you can cope, and even flourish, with learning a new job, and meeting new people.
Those Who Are Most Vulnerable to New Job Stress
A new job is stressful at any time, but even more so if you have been out of work for a while, have unstructured routines or have a physical, medical or mental health condition. A 2015 Back2Work study asked participants who had been assessed as having a physical, medical or mental-health condition, what they were most stressed about when starting a new job.
Common responses included:
- Coping physically with full-time work
- Coordinating relationships both at work and at home
- Health issues
In the same study, researchers investigated the effects of providing bi-weekly counselling sessions, where participants could discuss their progress and any concerns. Various counselling strategies were implemented, such as:
Teaching cognitive behavioural therapy to deal with negative thoughts about work, others and performance.
Motivational interviewing to assist the participant to set goals for the future rather than focusing on the current resistance.
Communication and problem-solving strategies to navigate relationships with peers and employers.
Before the support sessions, control groups reported a 4% retention rate for Stream 4 job seekers. Employment Services post-placement measures showed 37.5% retention. Our Back2Work counselling sessions yielded a 67% retention rate. These results show that, for groups that are particularly vulnerable to new job stress, extended professional psychological support can have many benefits.
No matter who you are, new job stress can affect you, so if you’re about to start a new job, or are stressed about a career transition, here are a few strategies that may help.
- Make sure your thinking is balanced.
This means making sure you realise you may not be as quick as your peers at the job. This is because you are learning. Have realistic expectations of yourself in the new role and this sometimes means not being too hard on yourself.
- Remember you will be tired and may not have as much time or energy to invest in your personal life during this time.
Let family and friends know you might be off the radar while you settle into the job. Ask them, “How can we work around this?” and problem-solve a solution. This will balance out over time, once you are confident in your work, know the best way to get there on time and are comfortable with your new co-workers and responsibilities.
- Have the right attitude.
Most employers say they are happy to assist new staff that have a positive, helpful and friendly attitude. Even when you are stressed, asking for help with the right attitude will usually result in a positive outcome.
- Give yourself time.
The normal period of change is four to six weeks. As employment professionals, we know this is the critical period where there is a risk of falling out of employment. So, in the first six weeks, give yourself time to settle in.
- Get support.
We know those who engage in support quickly gain the most benefits so if you feel like you need some coping strategies during your new job transition, talk to a health professional.
Anxiety; fear; COVID-19. These words have become synonymous with each other since the pandemic was announced back in March 2020. For many of us alive today, a global pandemic is unchartered territory, and with that comes uncertainty and fear of the unknown.
If you have been experiencing increased anxiety, you are certainly not alone. But what exactly is anxiety? And what can you do to alleviate it?
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is an uncomfortable feeling of fear or impending disaster. Everyone experiences some anxiety in their life, it’s a normal response to stressful situations. But sometimes anxiety can prevent us from doing the things we want and need to do. And when anxiety becomes constant and excessive, it can become hard to cope with day-to-day life.
In most cases, symptoms of anxiety include feelings of fear or impending doom. This may be accompanied by feeling faint or dizzy, experiencing an accelerated heart rate and/or breathing, as well as sweating more than usual. Cognitive indicators may also be present, such as fatigue, restlessness, difficulty with attention/concentration and sleep disruption.
It is important to remember that there is a distinction between feelings of anxiety, and a diagnosable anxiety disorder, which shares the same symptoms, but where the risk of something happening is higher than the risk of this being chronic. If you think you, or someone you know, falls into this category, you should reach out to a health professional.
Anxiety and COVID-19
In a survey distributed during the peak of the pandemic in Australia (March to April 2020), it was found that 78% of the 5070 participants reported that their health had deteriorated since the since the beginning of the pandemic. Rates of self-reported feelings of depression were felt among 62% of people; 50% reported higher anxiety; and 64% reported elevated stress levels. What’s more, those who had a history of diagnosed mental illness, reported even greater anxiety, stress and fear, than those without a medical history.
So, what can we do to combat feelings of anxiety?
Tips for dealing with anxiety
- Set Structure & Plan Accordingly
Break down tasks into small manageable steps to help with concentration. Write To-Do lists to help you keep on track and use the early part of the day to focus on tasks that demand a high level of attention. Set up a routine. Many of our-pre-pandemic routines have dissolved, so it is important to set up new ones to follow.
- Social support
Researchers have shown that keeping a strong support network can play a large role in protecting against mental illness. Social support can help in anxiety-provoking situations and assist in developing resilience and tolerance. Technology gives us the tools to connect, even when we are stuck at home.
- Accept the anxiety
Recognising that anxiety is a normal human experience can help to relieve stress associated with experiencing anxiety symptoms. COVID-19 has brought about unprecedented stressors, so it is important to practice self-compassion, and understand that you are not alone in your experience. Be sure to continue to reframe your thoughts on risk and something bad happening.
- Learn controlled breathing
Controlled breathing techniques can assist to relieve anxiety. Many mobile phone applications have been developed that provide short meditations and breathing exercises to help develop a practice.
YourHealth app (https://yourhealthplus.com.au/)
Smiling mind (https://www.smilingmind.com.au/)
- Focus on what you CAN do…
…not what you can’t do. Focus on your strengths, adopt a growth mindset, and practice positive thinking. Positive thinking is the opposite of anxiety. If feelings of anxiety are becoming overwhelming, take whatever actions are within your control. At work, you may wish to choose jobs where:
- The tasks are self-paced;
- There are small teams;
- The communication mode is variable – i.e. computer, phone, and face to face
- There are repetitive tasks;
Once you have learned strategies to manage your anxiety, then it is likely you will be able to expand your job options.
Anxiety, and feeling anxious, is manageable and more common than you might think. If you are struggling, these 5 things might just help.
Newby, JM., O’Moore, K., Tang, S., Christensen, H., and Faasse, K. (2020). Acute mental health responses during the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia. PLOS ONE, 15(7): e0236562. https://doi.org/10.1371/
Just when the light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel began to appear, the declaration of lockdowns, border closures and increased restrictions around Australia have resulted in rising tension, and growing angst surrounding stable employment, and income. Some of the most affected, are our Job Seekers, and where there are pent up emotions, there often also resides potential conflict.
What is conflict?
Conflict can look and sound very different depending on the individuals involved. Technically, conflict is defined as a disagreement, struggle or fight that occurs when two or more people’s wants, needs, demands, values and/or beliefs clash. This can be passive, direct, or indirect. Though, when conflict is not addressed or well managed, anger often ensues.
So, how can we manage conflict?
What NOT to do:
There are a number of seemingly inconsequential actions that can have a detrimental effect on rapport with an angry job seeker.
- Keeping a job seeker waiting (if this is inevitable, ask reception to offer them a drink to break up the wait time).
- Attempting to deal with conflict or anger at reception
- Closing an interview door
- Being seated when an angry person is pacing or standing
- Trying to seat a client too early
- Using threats of the police or ultimatums
- Touching an angry job seeker
- Turning your back or losing eye contact
The Angry Job Seeker
The amygdala is one of the most evolutionarily robust parts of the brain. It runs our fight or flight system, which evolved to keep us alive. As such, when we become angry, it is the amygdala that becomes more active, fuelling our anger, but also reducing our ability to concentrate, listen, and think rationally. These abilities lie, largely, in our frontal lobes.
Unfortunately, in a battle between the amygdala and the frontal lobes, the amygdala has the competitive edge. It therefore takes a great deal of conscious cognitive effort to be able to inhibit our anger inducing thoughts and behaviours and allow for our frontal lobes with their powers of rational thought, to take the lead and calm our over-active amygdala.
By following the L.E.A.P model, you can help facilitate the calming of the amygdala, by helping people to process and talk through their emotions, before coming up with a solution.
Managing your own emotions during conflict
Emotions run high during times of conflict, and it is therefore important to moderate your own response to conflict, so that your emotional brain does not take over. Depending on your style of dealing with conflict, you may need your own self-regulation strategies. Try phrases like, “this isn’t personal” or “conflict is a way of bringing a problem to resolution” or controlled breathing exercises.
When dealing with, or defusing, anger we suggest using the L.E.A.P model:
L: Let them talk and listen
If a job seeker is upset, they may exaggerate or become confused with their facts. This is not the time to disagree with them. Let them talk, uninterrupted, and listen to what they are saying. Effective listening and understanding requires a combination of verbal skills (tone of concern, open-ended questions) and non-verbal skills (nodding, eye contact).
Avoid using words like “I understand” as it often receives a negative reaction. Paraphrasing, or using statements that show you’ve been listening, shows empathy. Try phrases like, “Let me get this right, you said ….” or “I can see this would be very frustrating considering….”
Isolate the incident by taking the job seeker into an office, or meeting space, as it is harder for an angry job seeker to calm down if they are in front of a group, or audience. Focus on what you can do for the job seeker. Use strong eye contact, a confident, reassuring tone and words like “I can” and “I will.” Avoid using friendly slang like “buddy” and “mate.”
Ask how the job seeker would like you to work together, define your roles and remember, honesty is the best policy. If you don’t know an answer, tell the job seeker you will find out and call them by the end of the day. And make sure you follow up by the deadline.
Back2Work is Australia’s leading health service for jobactive and Disability Employment Services providers and supports job seekers getting back into the workforce. For more information about our on-site programs and services, please contact Back2Work here.