I work in a team where everyone is under a lot of pressure due to workloads and deadlines.

Comments are made about members of staff (even in other teams) who aren't staying as late. People are looked down upon if they try to preserve any worklife balance.

Some of the more senior members of the team don't really show any composure during high pressure situations, often re-itterating how much work everyone's going to have to do in the coming weeks and how many late nights it's going to take.

I feel that this caused a highly stressful, negative and unmotivated team that have no real leaders to look to for inspiration.

How should this situation be dealt with?

  • Not enough information. High workloads due to deadlines bring stress, but this in itself is not harmful for occasional short periods of time (<1 month duration, <20% "duty cycle"). – MSalters Oct 21 '15 at 10:20
  • You've tagged this with "leadership," but it's not clear if you're in a leadership role to be able to do much about this. – Amy Blankenship Oct 21 '15 at 16:37

I think these people are just getting off on their claims of how hard/long they are working along with covering up for the project failures. Try to get some perspective from your direct supervisor and gauge how well you're doing along with understanding her expectations. That's really what counts.

At some point you need to determine how long this project is going to go on like this. HLGEM mentioned stress experienced by people getting close to a competition. Hopefully you can handle this for the time being.

The team is in a death march and someone needs to stop taking so much pride in this. I don't know who created the mess you're in, but you should find out and decide if things will get any better. I wouldn't count on it.


Don't let other people's stress impact on you is my policy. Concentrate on your tasks and stay outwardly cheerful, don't get involved in recriminations or anything negative. This will first of all stop you from losing motivation, and secondly the only brightly smiling face in the office will help others morale. Project a positive attitude to everyone.

The harder it gets the bigger my smile. Stress is unproductive and unhealthy, but you can only get stressed if you allow yourself to be.

  • 2
    I also have what I refer to as Horse show rules (because they evolved to handle the stress of showing horses with my friends who I wanted to remain my friends after the show ) That means during the last couple of weeks (days depending) before a deadline, everything people say or do that is upsetting falls under the rule of "That persons is stressed, he didn't mean it that way." Amazing how much easier it is to live with stuff when you give others the benefit of the doubt. – HLGEM Oct 21 '15 at 20:35
  • @HLGEM Thats a good way of dealing with it, I just ignore anything negative unless there is something I can actually do to help, and as long as no ones shooting at me I don't get stressed. – Kilisi Oct 21 '15 at 20:45
  • @HLGEM - That is so......a 1990's way of thinking. You really need to get with the times and become overly offended and head straight to HR if someone makes a remark that can be twisted in such a way that there's even a small possibility that the remark can be misconstrued to be offensive. Next thing you'll be saying is how when you were little you had to walk 7 miles to school uphill both ways...not being offended by someone's remarks is so old-school. – Dunk Oct 23 '15 at 22:10

I am going to tackle this from the leaderships standpoint since you put in that tag. If you are the leader of a team that is in a stressful period there are steps you can and should take.

First step is to send people home when they are tired. You are making the mess worse when you expect them to work to midnight, 2 am or what ever because tired people make huge mistakes that cost a lot of time to fix or worse don't get found because everyone is tired. As a leader, you have to model that while some extra time may be needed in the last week, it is not a way of life and when people start to get to the point where they can't think, it is OK to go home. You need to be monitoring the situation in real time (real leaders don't go home when their staff is working late!).

If some staff members are giving a hard time to others (especially about leaving before they do), you need to step in when you hear that and tell the person to knock it off. Projects do not benefit from this kind of interaction and as the leader it is up to you to stop it.

Next as a leader, you need to push back against unrealistic expectations and shield your team from them as much as possible. You need to have the courage to speak up and tell senior people that you sent the team home because they were exhausted and you need to tell people that you won;t work 80 hour weeks for months on end to meet a deadline that is artificial at best.

You need to monitor interactions between team members and step in to defuse the situation when tempers flare up. This often involves separating the people and talking to them individually and possibly sending one or more of them home to sleep. You need to let them take out their frustrations in talking to you (Which can be uncomfortable) rather than on their teammates. You also need to listen to their frustrations and do whatever is possible to reduce them. Even if you can't fix everything, knowing you will try to fix what can be fixed goes a long way towards reducing tensions. Sometimes, you may have to take someone aside and flat out tell them their behavior is unwarranted and must stop. Sometimes it might mean rearranging some tasks to separate team members who are not getting along under the deadline pressure.

You also need to make it clear why the stress is there and what the rewards will be to get through the stressful period. And you really need to think about rewards both in terms of money and other things that you can give them.

Most of all you need to make sure the team have some decompression time after the stressful project and doesn't jump into a new project the next day that is just as stressful from the start. This is especially true if some of the stress is coming from working too many hours. People are not machines, they need rest. You will finish the second project faster if you take a week where people can take time off or work at a less frantic pace before jumping into the fire again. You need to stand up for your team and make sure senior management understands this.

  • Thanks for this, i really enjoyed reading this. I'm not explicitly in a management role right now but it seems like i'm naturally transitioning into one so i think this will definitely help me in the future. I can also use this as a comparison to what is actually happening in my situation with my boss and team. – user1923975 Nov 3 '15 at 11:09

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