Managing workplace guilt, stress and anxiety: Lessons from a discussion with Phillip McMullan


By Dexter Hutchings

The average person in the UK spends a third of their lives at work, making the connection between work and wellbeing significant. In fact, according to Business in the Community, 41% of employees have experienced mental health symptoms caused, or worsened, by work.

Apprentices have to work, study, and manage domestic responsibilities – which from experience most of us will agree can be extremely challenging.

We apprentices are often learning something new and are always keen to take on new challenges and ultimately sometimes more work. I myself, have been guilty of saying ‘yes’ to too much – can anyone else relate?

As an apprentice it’s easy to feel like we have to do more work and complete it immediately, but repeatedly trying to meet these constant demands as well as managing our apprentice coursework can quickly lead to work burnout, which in turn increases the risk of anxiety and depression.

As part of the Association of Apprentices mental health and well-being month they held a discussion with Master Practitioner in Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Phillip McMullan. The event description stated that Phil would share how we can reframe our beliefs to help our mental resilience, stress, and managing the pressure of different priorities without fear or guilt. Needless to say, I signed up straight away. Here’s what I learnt.

We are at cause

Ultimately, we have control and we always have decisions to make. Sometimes we have conflicting deadlines and have to ask ourselves some important questions. Where is the problem coming from? Is the problem genuine? How can we solve the problem?

Change comes from within. Take note of your current thoughts and feelings. Consider where you want to be and visualise how you may get there.

Great communication is key

How can we influence those around us to help us achieve our goals? Apprentices, our managers and others within our organisation are all trying to achieve the same thing, we may just be looking at the situation from different perspectives.

Philip used the great analogy of multiple people standing in a room looking up at a giant beach ball with different coloured panels. When asked what colour the beach ball is, everyone in the room will only be able to give the colour they can see. 

Our line managers perspective of our work may be very different to ours. How can you add value to their perspective to help you get to where you want to be? For example, asking your line manager for an extension on a deadline may help you work on your apprenticeship work and in turn helps you create better quality outcomes for your employer.

What is triggering your feelings?

Apprentices will always have a couple of deadlines approaching and this often means we have competing priorities.

We have all experienced competing priorities earlier in life and how we handled the situation previously will determine how we react to the situation now. 

When you have an intense feeling such as guilt or anxiety, try to figure out where that feeling comes from. Often our current behaviour and the way we react to situations comes from triggers from past experiences. 

You may have received bad grades in school in the past and been made to feel guilty by a parent. This may now cause a feeling of guilt whenever your work is questioned. This is often challenging, but we must acknowledge that our parents’ expectations were probably very high and our colleagues are just trying to help us achieve greater work.

Catch your feelings in the moment

Take the time to acknowledge your feelings and then begin to work out the outcomes you want. From here we can put together an action plan but also manage our workload. We may have a huge to do list (most of us do), let’s prioritise our lists but also consider the outcomes if work isn’t completed – in most cases the outcomes aren’t as detrimental as we believe. YES – the emails can probably wait in our inbox until tomorrow!

Be careful of labels

It’s easy for us to put labels on people. Our line managers may seem to not give us the credit we deserve or it may appear that they’re not helping us but be careful not to add a meaning to the situation. Labels tend to become beliefs and this unfortunately has consequences. Our line managers are also busy and probably feel very guilty they’re not giving us all their time but putting a label on them as ‘not caring’ for example may lead us to believe this and could lead us to speaking to them less as we believe they don’t care.

Have I wrongly labelled someone?

  1. What’s the evidence for your belief? I.e. Why do you think your line manager doesn’t want to help you?
  2. What’s the opposite to that belief? For the above, the opposite belief is that your line manager does want to help you.

  3. What’s the evidence to the opposite of your belief? What’s the evidence that actually your line manager does want to help you? Maybe they offered support when you asked for it.

Phillip, I don’t have enough time to complete all my work!

Sounds similar?

Philip suggested looking at our diaries and looking at what we have to do and managing our time.

Often when we feel like we don’t have enough time, we need to prioritise our tasks and choose how we spend our time. Only you can determine what is most important on your to-do list – this may involve asking people for the deadline and sometimes explaining that something else has come up that may have a tighter deadline. Get clarity on each project’s urgency to help you prioritise!

What’s the outcome you’re aiming for?

As an apprentice our main goal is to successfully complete our apprenticeship. We should consider how tasks help us complete our course work, evidence our skills, knowledge and behaviours; and ultimately become better at our jobs.

If I were training for a marathon, should I choose to go to the pub every weekend for 10 weeks or choose to train every weekend for 10 weeks? If you’re like me, it would probably be the pub…but that wouldn’t be helping me to achieve the outcome I’m aiming for.

If you think you could benefit from Phillips’ insight into Neuro-Linguistic Programming to help you manage anxiety and the feeling of guilt but also to achieve your outcomes, the recording will be available to view on AoA On Demand next week.

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