We’ve all experienced the immediate stress of an email subject title like “URGENT! URGENT! URGENT!” hitting our inbox at the very worst time. Usually when we are up to our eyes in work and the tension headache kicked in several hours before.
Tightness in the chest. Blood pressure going through the roof. Blood pounding through that vein in your temple. Don’t tell me you don’t recognise it – we’ve all had it. And that’s before you’ve even clicked on it and read the actual message.
You probably know the culprit before you properly look or, at the very least, could put together a rogue’s gallery of possible suspects for a line-up. Some people seem to live their working lives sailing as close as they possibly can to the wind of a fast approaching deadline. Mostly with no regard for the stress levels of the other people they will inadvertently pull along in their wake.
I like to think I’m generally a rather helpful sort of person. In my work-life, I take pride in being able to help recover seemingly unsalvageable situations. When colleagues have been let down by other parties, I can help pull them out of a data hole.
This does have the rather pleasant side effect of building genuine professional respect over time. Work at any organisation over a prolonged stretch of years and that is obviously a very good currency to store up.
It also brings the potential for certain parties to try and take advantage of that helpful nature from time to time. The result after several episodes gives us the symptoms I mentioned above. The tight chest. The BP shooting through the roof. All of the physical symptoms that a man approaching his fortieth birthday really doesn’t need to be experiencing on a regular basis.
I’ve got two young daughters. You think I need any additional stress in my life? Oh hell no.
First up, you need to confront the reaction within yourself. Recognise that this is not a one off. Bottling up the rage or taking it out on your poor unsuspecting mouse or keyboard is not a sustainable way for you to approach these situations.
We live in incredibly trying times on many levels. Our mental health is under increasing attack from all sides and we have to know when to draw the line on potentially harmful incidents that are continually triggering us.
The first step is admitting to ourselves the very negative effect certain situations are having on us.
If certain people are putting you under undue stress or pressure then you have to face that confrontation. This is not always easy for the stereotypically introverted tech worker.
A good start would be sending an appropriately worded email to the offender. Tell them that the pressure you are being put under is not conducive to good work product. (Please don’t fire off the first angry response that comes into your head. We’ve all been there and done that. Less said, soonest mended etc. etc.!)
Sometimes the people responsible aren’t even aware they are doing it. Sometimes they are which makes them a bit of a shit at one end of the spectrum and a bloody chancer at the other.
Finding out which it is would be helpful. Maybe it will nip it in the bud without further escalation (or heart attack inducing email requests).
Often the person asking is under pressure from their own management. As the shit keeps flowing downhill, you end up being the last resort recipient of said effluent. Welcome to working as a data analyst.
You hold the keys to the kingdom which is a great gift. It’s also a pain in the ass when someone else wants to get in and you are locking up for the evening.
Imagine yourself as the bouncer on the club door. You are checking names on the list for entry and, when you say no, sometimes it gets a bit physical. Sometimes it gets really out of hand and you need to call for backup and this is where your manager comes in.
Providing air cover for you as an analyst and making sure you have enough protection to allow you to do your actual job is a large portion of THEIR job. Don’t be afraid to pass the buck to them.
They need to take over the discussion and start to look for the reasons behind the constant last minute requests.
Sometimes they’ll have to kick it up a level themselves to get to the real root cause of the breakdown. (You do HAVE a formal work request process don’t you?) Sometimes it becomes more political than it needs to be.
Whichever way it goes, the only acceptable end game is for the formal process to be recognised and followed. Your role is to concentrate on wrangling that data into an acceptable form to help drive the success of the business.
Learning stakeholder management is a very important part of moving up through your career. You’ll find it everywhere from junior analyst to senior and then on to management.
It’s going to mean confrontation and conflict at times but that’s unavoidable at any level. Set your personal boundaries and when they get crossed then don’t be afraid to stand your ground.
Knowing your manager has your back is vital for the personal growth and overall success of the analysts on a data team.
I’ve been very lucky in my career to have had managers who would go into battle for me. And I hope I’ve carried that on as an analytics manager myself.
Bottom line is that you don’t have to accept being put under unacceptable stress to cover for someone else’s shoddy planning.
Speak up, try to get to the root of the problem and don’t be afraid to call for backup if the stakes get too high.
That’s part of the game and it has to be learned.
If after this you are still getting the same kind of requests, you really need to take a look at whether you want to be part of a company that continually treats it’s people in that way.
Your mental and physical health are intrinsically intertwined. No job is worth putting them both in danger over a long period of time. No exceptions, no matter what.
If you have experienced any of these situations in your day to day work or want advice on dealing with work-related mental health issues and stress, please drop me a note. I’m listening.