Five myths of pressure at work

We don’t need to tell you that EAs spin a lot of plates and wear many different hats – you know too well that it can be a high-stress role, so use Alison Hill’s tips to combat some of the pressure.

Job pressure can be a major source of stress and it can escalate quickly – and the PA role is no different. With competitors closing in, digital transformation at the forefront and a 24/7 work cycle this can only rise – but, despite this, there aren’t enough open and useful conversations about pressure. We know we need to work better with pressure, but some of the old beliefs that we hold on the topic can be counter-productive.

Let’s explore five of the most common pressure-related myths – and I’ll share five truths that can shift your relationship with pressure in the EA role.

Myth 1: Stress is bad
The truth: It’s our belief that stress is bad, that’s bad
During the 1980s and 1990s researchers found a link between stress response and negative physiological changes in our bodies, and concluded that stress was bad. But recent research, similar to the work of Kelly McGonigal in her latest book The Upside of Stress, actually demonstrates that stress itself is not bad – it’s actually our belief about stress being bad that’s bad. It’s our belief that matters – and fortunately that can be changed.

Myth 2: People don’t cope with pressure
The truth: Pressure is needed to get into flow
In our workplaces, the fear that people won’t cope with pressure if and when it builds can stop productivity in its tracks. The truth is that we need a level of pressure to get into action: a looming deadline can be just the thing to get you moving. When we see something as a challenge and pressure shows up, we shift out of the fear response – so think of pressure as the energy that’ll drive action.

Myth 3: The goal is always to take the pressure off
The truth: Apply pressure at the right time
As a high level EA it’s your job to know your team and boss well enough to know when to apply the right pressure at the right time in order to achieve results. For continued peak performance we certainly need to tilt the scales and provide some release of pressure – then it’s about knowing when and how to encourage others back into the challenge again.

Myth 4: My environment causes my pressure
The truth: Pressure is an internal response
It’s easy to find an external cause (tight deadlines, difficult clients, tech issues) when you start to scan for the source of pressure. And, although these external situations may have unfortunately happened, others face very similar situations and rise to the challenge. An individual’s response to pressure is internal and you have the ability to choose to set boundaries, have tough conversations and have a different relationship with pressure.

Myth 5: My pressure won’t affect anyone else
The truth: Our emotional experience is contagious
When someone walks into a room and they’re under pressure you feel it. Yet most of us believe we can hide how we’re coping. Research from the Max Plank Institute for Cognitive and Brain Sciences found that levels of cortisol (the major stress hormone) are elevated when we’re around highly stressed people, so remember that your experience is contagious. Having a different relationship with pressure won’t just benefit you; it’ll boost those around you.

Alison is a registered psychologist with a wealth of experience in working with organisations and individuals going through transitions, ensuring behaviours are aligned with company strategy. She’s also an author, keynote speaker and trainer.