Personal conversations are important to get work pressure under control

Mark Uyl

Reflecting regularly on how you feel and how your balance is, is important. So is having the conversation about this with managers and employees. Lieke Skidmore, HR-director of EUR, updates us about work pressure in a crisis year. 

Was last year busier than usual for HR?

"We had a lot of extra work because of Corona. But the effort was focused. There was a clear, shared goal: to support the organisation during Corona. The cooperation with other departments and faculties was constructive; we noticed that our efforts were appreciated. But of course, there were also projects that we had to put on hold because other things were given priority." 

What was a priority for you?

"Especially in the beginning of the crisis, we received a lot of additional questions and we always prepared 'HR updates' for executives. We offered a lot of information and additional facilities through MyEUR, for example the support with workplace design."

Has the work pressure for EUR employees increased (even more) this year?

"It was already a big concern. Yes, there are many groups that were given a lot of extra work, for example due to the rapid adjustment to online education. The support staff was also extra busy: all sorts of things had to be adjusted in the background to keep things running smoothly. Uncertainty about health and the lack of contact with colleagues, friends or family did not help either. But I also hear positive stories."

What are the positive sounds?

"Some people like working from home, and they have found a better balance. Online meetings are more efficient and almost everyone joins a Teams-meeting on time. Commuting time is gone, for some colleagues that saves them two hours a day.

We had been planning for some time to introduce 'Blended working': working independently of time and place. Now people have become accustomed to meetings via Teams and find that some tasks can easily be done from a home workplace. Without the pandemic, we would not have been able to develop this so quickly."

How can we solve work pressure, in your view?

"It's not a sharply defined problem that you can easily solve with some interventions. It has many causes, many consequences. Temporary work pressure is not alarming. But persistent work pressure can lead to serious complaints. We have to prevent that from happening. It is important to be able to have the conversation about it openly at all levels. It should be okay to indicate to your team or supervisor that you need help or advice. Whether at the individual, team, or organisational level, everyone has to do something in this story. The individual can break patterns by gaining self-insight and being critical at times. As a team and organisation, we need to recognise the problem and break unhealthy patterns.”

"It’s HR's job to start having conversations about stress or workload, and to ensure that these conversations are no longer a taboo”

What can the individual do?

"It starts with discovering and recognising for yourself if you have work pressure, and what you can influence, what you can solve or change in a situation. Recognising what works well for you personally, and what doesn't, is also helpful. For some, workload decreases when appreciation increases, for others a student assistant helps, for a third it works to turn off the computer on the weekends."

And what can the organisation do?

"Making sure that managers and employees learn to talk to each other better and more openly about this. I see it as a task for HR to encourage such conversations, and to make sure they happen.

An example in my own department: I would be happy to jointly agree that we no longer email or call in the evening. But someone else who is with their kids during the day might be happy that emails can still be handled in the evening. Sometimes certain agreements benefit a team, you can make agreements that work for everyone. But if you start deciding this top down, you're flattening the personal differences and needs between people."

Do you experience work pressure yourself?

"I will always have a full agenda. Because I have a lot of energy, I like to take things on and like to see good results. I know that about myself. I also know that every now and then there will be a moment when it's too much. I have to slow down and reflect on my activities, priorities and role. And I have to spar about it with my supervisor. Over the years, I've learned more and more how important it is to slow down once in a while and to look at the job from a distance."

More information

Would you like to know more about Dealing with work pressure within EUR? Then take a look at MyEUR (employees).