5 Tips to Maintain Healthy Performance at Work

In today’s fast-paced environment, stress is an inevitable part of our daily lives. While a certain level of pressure can enhance performance and help us achieve our goals, excessive pressure over a prolonged period can lead to overwhelm and burnout. Understanding how varying levels of stress impact not only our productivity and effectiveness at work but also our overall health and well-being is crucial. In this first article of our two-part series, we will explore how to determine if you are operating at your peak performance level and provide tips on maintaining your best performance in the workplace.

What is Stress?

Stress is your body’s natural response to challenges or demands. It’s that feeling of tension and pressure, often triggered by situations you perceive as threatening or overwhelming. When you’re stressed, your body goes into “fight or flight” mode, releasing hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones prepare your body to respond to a threat by increasing your heart rate and boosting your energy. While this stress response is natural and beneficial in life-or-death situations, in the workplace it can disrupt cognitive processes such as attention, memory formation, and recall, ultimately affecting our performance.

Identifying what triggers your stress and recognising the signs early is important. Reactions or symptoms of too much stress can include physical reactions such as a rapid heart rate, sweating, breathlessness, frequent illness, and headaches. Additionally, stress can lead to psychological symptoms such as negative thoughts, fear or panic, and increased irritability as well as behavioural reactions such as increased drug and alcohol use.

It’s important to acknowledge that the required levels of stress and stimulation differ among individuals. Coping styles and symptoms of stress vary from person to person. While you might need a more relaxed work environment, other employees may perform better under higher stress. Remember, the goal isn’t to eliminate stress entirely but to manage it in a way that keeps you balanced and productive.

The Pressure Performance Curve

The pressure-performance curve illustrates the relationship between stress levels and performance, demonstrating how moderate pressure can enhance productivity. Minimal work pressure often leads to lower performance due to boredom or lack of motivation. As pressure increases, so does performance, up to an optimal point known as the ‘peak performance zone’ or the ‘sweet spot.’ Here, you are sufficiently challenged to stay engaged and focused without feeling overwhelmed. However, beyond this peak, further increases in pressure result in sharp declines in performance, with excessive stress leading to burnout, errors, and declining mental and physical health.

Recognising when you’re outside the optimal performance zone is crucial for maximising healthy performance. Striking the perfect balance isn’t just a personal goal; it’s vital for maintaining both mental health and workplace productivity. While the curve depicts a universal optimal state, individual variations exist. By identifying whether you need slightly more or less pressure than others, you can tailor your approach to achieve personal peak performance.

It’s important to be aware of the signs that indicate you’re “in the zone” or tipping over the edge. While symptoms can vary from person to person, some common signs include chronic fatigue, anxiety, irritability, and difficulty concentrating. Having self-awareness helps you make necessary adjustments to return to your peak performance zone.

5 Tips for Healthy Work Performance

Striking the right balance between pressure and performance is essential for maintaining your well-being and maximising productivity at work. Here are five practical tips to help you achieve this balance:

1. Recognise Your Signs of Stress and Peak Performance

Identifying when you’re stressed and understanding your stress signals is the first step to effectively managing it. Look out for physical signs like headaches, muscle tension, or an increased heart rate, as well as emotional signs such as irritability, anxiety, or mood swings. Recognising these cues can help you address stress before it escalates.

Physical Signs: Pay attention to symptoms such as fatigue, frequent illness, or digestive issues.
Emotional Signs: Notice if you’re feeling overwhelmed, irritable, or anxious more often than usual.
Behavioural Signs: Be aware of changes in your sleep patterns, appetite, or reliance on substances like alcohol.

2. Identify What’s Causing Your Stress

Pinpointing the root cause of your stress is essential for creating an action plan. Is it a looming deadline, a challenging project, or even an interpersonal conflict with a colleague? The better you understand the cause, the easier it will be to tackle the issue.

Keep a Stress Diary: Document your stress triggers and responses to identify patterns.
Prioritise Tasks: Break down large projects into manageable tasks to reduce feelings of being overwhelmed.
Set Boundaries: Learn to say no to additional responsibilities that you cannot handle.

3. Evaluate Your Current Coping Strategies and Implement New Ones

Examine how you currently deal with stress. Are your methods effective, or do they add to your stress? For example, procrastination might offer short-term relief but increases pressure in the long run. Reflecting on this can help you refine your approach. Consider adopting new strategies that work better for you.

Healthy Coping Mechanisms: Engage in regular physical activity, practice mindfulness, or develop a hobby.
Avoid Unhealthy Habits: Steer clear of excessive caffeine, alcohol, or reliance on comfort foods.
Seek Professional Help: Don’t hesitate to consult a mental health professional if needed.

4. Communicate with your leaders about your stress levels

Open communication with your leaders and employers can alleviate some of the pressures you’re facing. Discussing your stress levels can facilitate understanding and support, leading to a more manageable work environment.

Schedule Regular Check-ins: Arrange periodic meetings with your supervisor to discuss your workload and any concerns.
Be Honest and Specific: Clearly communicate your stressors and propose potential solutions.
Explore Reasonable Adjustments: Reasonable adjustments such as flexible working hours, changes to start and finish times, or the option to work from home can help manage your stress.

5. Continue to Monitor Your Stress

Set Regular Reminders: Use apps or calendars to remind yourself to take breaks and assess your stress levels.
Practice Self-Care: Make time for relaxation, hobbies, and activities that rejuvenate you.
Adjust as Needed: Be flexible and willing to change your strategies if they are no longer effective.

Maintaining healthy performance in the workplace requires a balanced approach to stress. The pressure-performance curve is a useful way to understand the ideal level of stress required to reach peak performance. Everyone is operating somewhere along the pressure performance curve at any given point in time. Different people require different amounts of stress to find their “zone.” By recognising your stress signs, identifying the causes, evaluating your coping strategies, communicating with leaders, and continuously monitoring your stress, you are better placed to achieve and sustain peak performance.