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Work pressure

If you’re experiencing too much work pressure, talk about it to your colleagues and your manager. This is the only way we can jointly work towards a solution. How do you raise the issue of work pressure? And what can you do to prevent work pressure from getting out of hand?

Did you know that…

For many people, talking about work pressure and work stress is a taboo? Employees often try to avoid creating the impression that they ‘cannot handle things.’ This is a pity, because by raising the issue you can make agreements with your manager to reduce work pressure. Please try and speak up if you’re suffering from too much work pressure, work stress, or a burn-out. 

Experiencing work pressure is not necessarily a bad thing. A reasonable amount of work pressure can actually help you to work more efficiently. Problems only arise when the work pressure gets too high.

When work stress festers on for too long, this can affect the productivity and quality of your work, which can in turn interfere with your career objectives. In some cases, long-term work stress can even lead to a burn-out.

Prevent work pressure from getting out of hand

Are you experiencing work pressure? If so, talk about it with your manager. Here are some more tips for keeping your work pressure at a healthy level:

  1. Create a work schedule

    Create your own work schedule and use it to align and plan your work with your manager.
  2. Plan down-time

    Mark an hour a day in your diary as ‘unavailable’ for meetings. Use this time as working hours to be used at your discretion.
  3. Use University equipment

    Use a work laptop and/or mobile telephone to do your work. That way, you avoid receiving work-related notifications on your own devices when not at work.
  4. Raise the issue of work pressure in your P&D interview

    Include work pressure as an agenda item in your P&D interview, for example in Section 4 of the P&D suggestions list.
  5. Set boundaries

    Avoid working in the evenings or at weekends. Inform your manager whenever you work overtime, and make agreements about this. Even if you enjoy your work, working overtime can still affect your vitality.
  6. Switch off

    Do not respond to e-mails outside working hours, even when other people do e-mail you.
  7. Dare to say no

    If you feel that you cannot handle an extra task right now, do not hesitate to say so. It can help to keep an ongoing overview of your activities and use it to channel this conversation.
  8. Take time off

    You are entitled to holiday leave. In fact, the University actively works to ensure staff members use their leave hours. So take some time off! And when you are on leave, do not try to log in to your work account.
  9. 9. Take care of yourself, but also of your colleagues

    Are you experiencing work stress? If so, talk about it to your manager or a doctor. If you suspect that one of your colleagues is suffering from work stress, or that they may be heading towards a burn-out, ask them how they are doing.
  10. Take your future into your own hands

    If planning your career is stressful, you might want to get help from a career adviser.
  11. Eat healthily and exercise

    On the Healthy University website, you will find tips and tricks for a healthy lifestyle at work.
  12. Create clarity

    Work stress can arise when goals, tasks, and processes are unclear. Concrete tasks, results, and deadlines can help to lighten work stress.

Work pressure arises when:

  • The amount of work within a position is so great that the work cannot be carried out within the hours of work
  • Tasks are unclear
  • The work is regularly interrupted
  • There are insufficient work resources available
  • Time pressure is too great and the quality requirements too high for the hours allocated
  • A member of staff is physically and mentally not capable of carrying out the tasks assigned

Symptoms of work stress can include:

  • tiredness
  • insomnia
  • irritability
  • low spirits
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • high blood pressure
  • pain
  • weight problems
  • digestive problems

Talking about work pressure

If you experience too much work pressure, you can make agreements with your manager on how to reduce this. Initiating this kind of talk can be scary. Maybe your department is facing a heavy workload and you do not want to let anyone down. Or you want to avoid the talk getting emotional. Good communication skills can help you to have an effective conversation about work pressure. If you need help in learning how to have such a conversation, you can sign up for the free online training programmes of New Heroes:

Or you can explore the Open communication and Address issues themes of the Let's Connect Toolkit for articles and videos on communication skills.

What should I do if it doesn’t work?

If you and your manager cannot reach an agreement and you need help, please contact a confidential counsellor for personnel affairs. The confidential counsellors work on a strict confidentiality basis. In case of medical symptoms, please contact the university doctor. These conversations are also confidential. Your own GP can also help.

Do you find it difficult to indicate your limits or to talk to your manager or colleague? Do you want to prevent unhealthy stress or restore your balance? Make an appointment with one of the coaches of HRM L&D at coaching@bb.leidenuniv.nl.

What can managers do?

Employees are responsible for raising the alarm when work pressure becomes too high, but managers are responsible for making sure that the work pressure remains manageable. It is an inherent part of being a good employer.

We expect our managers to

  • Be proactive in preventing stress-related work pressure among the staff from becoming too high and learn to recognise signs of stress
  • Raise the issue of work pressure within their team
  • Plan tasks and projects and allocate them in a way that reduces work pressure
  • Refrain from contacting employees outside working hours
  • Issue clear assignments that are in line with the employee’s abilities and capacity
  • Work to break the taboo around work pressure
  • Create a pleasant working atmosphere, as this also affects work pressure
  • Make sure that employees feel supported, are given a chance to recharge their batteries, feel valued, and are given the opportunity to grow and develop
  • Act as role models

We encourage our managers to

  • Create annual working schedules, so that the task load within the team is more transparent
  • Include work pressure as a standard item in the P&D cycle
  • Compensate for overtime, and make sure that staff members take time off
  • Say no to administrators and negotiate when assignments from higher echelons are likely to create too much work pressure within the team

University-wide approach: the work pressure toolkit

To create better work processes and reduce work pressure, the Work Balance Community of Practice has developed a work pressure toolkit (Dutch only). This toolkit consists of lists of measures to help faculties, units, and expertise centres to reduce work pressure at a local level. A number of these measures are implemented at University level, such as the ‘Leidse kwartier’ (practice of starting lectures 15 minutes later) at the start of a meeting, or managers acting as role models. You can read more about what we do to reduce work pressure on the Reducing work pressure page.

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