Workplace Stress: Answering the Career Stress Question

Congratulations! The longed-for call has come in - you now have an appointment for a job interview. All your hard work - the searching, the networking, the exploring, the resume-writing and rewriting - has paid off. You are that much closer to your dream job.

You're prepared. You've researched the company. Reviewed your talents and successes. Rehearsed your answers to sample interview questions. Scoured your wardrobe for the winning outfit. You even got a haircut in honour of the occasion. But in the midst of all that preparation there's one area that you may have overlooked: the stress question!

Given that stress is such a major player in the workplace, employers are interested in learning about your emotional management and stress skills. Stress is costly, not only to the individual, but to the company and ultimately, to the country. In 2010, according to the General Social Survey, 1 in 4 Canadian workers considered their lives highly stressful. It is estimated that it costs the Canadian economy fifty-one billion dollars in lost productivity each year.

Stress can ooze into all areas of an organization, and unlike what happens in Vegas, it doesn't just stay at work - it will even chase the employee home. Without a lack of respite from the shadow that is stress, the employee comes back to work, often exhausted. Absenteeism and presenteeism will impact the amount and quality of work that is done. Teamwork suffers and low morale can quietly explode throughout the various departments of an organization, leaving behind the detritus of miscommunication, ineffective decision-making, safety violations and even violence.

Your abilities may be inchoate; undeveloped, simply because you didn't know what to do. You weren't aware that you could transform your stress right in-the-moment - that you didn't have to wait for the opportunity to have a bath or a drink. Nor did you have to wait for the weekend or your vacation to unwind. Without techniques that reset your nervous system, you may be accumulating cortisol, perhaps as surreptitiously as a squirrel storing nuts for the winter.

How empowering would it be if you could answer the following question - and all the other ones that are posed to you during the interview - with aplomb? When you address and undress your stress on a daily basis, you access your brain's CEO - the prefrontal cortex. You'll have a secret weapon when you stride confidently into your interview, all because you invested in yourself by learning how to corral your emotions.

How do you handle stress?

I have gone through a coaching program that has provided me with techniques and tools which allow me to transform my stress, right when it's happening. As a result, I am healthier. Did you know that stress dampens natural killer cell cytotoxic activity? (NK cells affect the immune system and provide protection from viral infections and cancer cells.) I am less likely to take sick days, or get injured on the job.

Through regular practice, I have become more patient, which means I am better-able to respond to the needs of customers, clients and my co-workers.

I am more creative. I am able to find workable solutions to problems, discover ways to streamline systems and breathe new life into tired routines.

My intuition has flourished, as well. I am able to seize opportunities when they arise. I also find the right words to appease a disgruntled customer, or to soothe a cantankerous colleague.

Is that how you would handle the stress question?

No, it's not?

If you are looking for an edge, contact me to learn about a short, targeted program. In five one-hour sessions you'll learn what stress is and how it impacts you and those around you. Your program includes tools and techniques, books and coaching. You'll have ample opportunity to ask questions. You'll spend time practicing and witnessing an improvement in how you feel, which is the basis of stress transformation.

You might be interested in Stressing the Job Market. This post outlines some of the repercussions of untreated stress and offers you ten suggestions to get you back into the job market saddle.

2 Replies to “Workplace Stress: Answering the Career Stress Question”

  1. Hello Marianna,

    I have to share with you that one of my ex-direct reports, a Vice President, asked your stress question in every interview he gave.

    He also asked: “How will I know that you are under stress?”. He wanted to understand the depth of the interviewee’s self-awareness — and if he brought you onto his team, he wanted to be able to help if he saw those signs pop up. IMHO, that’s a good boss!

    Enjoyed your post!
    Jackie Yun

    1. Hi Jackie,

      Thanks so much for sharing this anecdote, which emphasizes that the stress question does indeed come up in interviews.

      This VP certainly understands the ramifications of untamed stress in the workplace.

      When an interviewee is able to clearly demonstrate that they have undergone a coaching program which not only undresses stress, but also enhances performance, they become that much more marketable.

      Its a win-win-win – for the employer, the employee and the company.

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