Whether you call it stress, tension, pressure, strain or something else, it isn’t a badge of honour or some mark of success. Although in Australia we think it is. We have for decades.

More Work Than Play

When we researched this in 2003 – yes, 20 years ago – the land of ‘Barbies’, lazy summer days and “she’ll be right mate” had some of the highest levels of accrued leave in the world. A survey completed by the Australia Institute published on 01 July 2003 showed that ’42 per cent of those who did not take all their leave failed to do so because they were too busy at work or could not get time off that suited them.’

On top of that, the typical response to ”How are you?” was something like “I’m so busy”“I’m really stressed right now”, or “I need to take a break, except I can’t afford to right now – there’s too much to do!”

How stressed we were compared to someone else became like a badge of honour. A mark of how well we were doing or how important we were. To say you were on top of things was a no-no, even if you were – a bit like a parent admitting, if asked, that their newborn had slept well from day one!

And little has changed.

Workload Still There

Not taking leave is one challenge. Another is the hours we’re working. According to an OECD survey, 13% of Australian employees work very long hours.

Long hours and not taking leave both contribute to increased stress. Compromising work quality, health, home and social time, and negatively impacting work-health-life wellness.

Another stressor has become more visible post-pandemic. The dilemma of how sick is too sick to go to work. Something less visible previously to employees and employers because we soldiered on.

Start With The Why

Whatever you do, the workload is still there. The stress too.

Stress isn’t always bad. You need a certain amount to perform at your best.1 The challenge is knowing your optimal stress level and how to manage it.

How do you stop wearing stress like a badge of honour? Or at least reduce how much you do it?

Uncovering why taking leave or working less is stressful is an excellent place to start. Some common perceptions are:

  • No one else can do my job – especially if I’m away.
  • It will take too long to explain the work to someone else, so why bother asking for help – or taking leave?
  • Someone else may come in and find errors with my work – or will do the work so well I won’t have a job to return to.
  • I will look weak or less competent if I ask for help because I’m overwhelmed or need more explanation, training or assistance.

What To Do?

Here are 7 tips to get you started.

  1. Engage fully:
    • Focus on the task, conversation or call – rather than on what’s waiting.
  2. Listen to what you’re saying to yourself and others:
    • Are you constantly telling yourself how bad you feel and how overworked you are, or talking about feeling on top of things?
    • Do your conversations with others focus on problems – or challenges, solutions and opportunities?
  3. Observe how you respond or react to others:
    • Are you thinking through what you’ll say or shooting from the hip?
    • Are you staying silent so you can return to what’s waiting?
  4. Find Your Voice:
    • Ask for support – for you, work tasks, or workload.
    • Ask questions to understand and manage expectations.
    • Clarify work priorities.
    • Get comfortable with saying no – or negotiating timings or support – where you can.
  5. Put Yourself First:
    • Get moving – especially if sitting or standing for a while, or feeling unproductive.
    • Eat lunch away from your desk.
    • Drink enough water.
    • Get enough sleep.
    • Take time out.
  6. Finish your work day with a clear workspace:
    • Use the last 10 or 15 minutes to tidy loose ends and start fresh the next day.
  7. Refocus and Re-frame:
    • The first half hour of the day is the most productive for setting your mindset. It helps manage stress levels and stressors.
    • Use the first few minutes at work to re-frame priorities, prepare for the day and set expectations around what you will achieve.
    • Use travel time between work and home to close off your work day and prepare for home, social and family time.


A Final Thought

Seeking support, including outsourcing tasks where viable, is a positive way to reduce stressors, feel in charge – and ditch the badge of honour. And when you think you ‘don’t have time to… (insert word or phrase) …’, remember, no matter how much pressure you feel is on you, you’ll always find time for a bathroom stop. Few will chase you there!

Until next time…


Reproduced with permission from the livepresent blog April 3, 2023 by Anne Whatley-Dale

Anne Whatley-Dale is the founder anddriving force behind livepresent. As awork-health-life specialist and strategist she works with individuals, teams and business-owners to cultivate a customer care, selling, management or life approach based on healthy communication and wellness. Anne can be contacted at:

[email protected] or on 1300 318 692.