26 October 2016Last updated

Features | People

Don’t sweat the small stuff

With competition, expectations and uncertainty, the corporate world is considered a jungle where stress is inherent and survival is key. Here’s how to keep calm and game on

Rhymer Rigby
29 Apr 2016 | 12:00 am
  • No, they’re not going to steal your job while you’re on vacation – holidays are part of your contract, so stop worrying when you take them.


The self-help and life-hacking industries have us fretting about optimising every single facet of our working lives, but often this is a total waste of time. There are plenty of things, large and small, at work which aren’t really worth worrying about: we either can’t influence them or they won’t influence our careers. So what should you be letting go of in the workplace?

1 Giving 100 per cent

The trouble here is twofold.

First, when you deliver perfection, you’re focusing on what you’re doing, not on the impact it has. This is the basis of the Pareto Principle (or 80-20 rule), which states that 80 per cent of the effects come from 20 per cent of the causes.

Second is the law of diminishing returns. As you get closer to 100 per cent, you expend much more effort on the remaining work: the last 10 per cent could take as long as the first 90 per cent. So you could do 100 per cent on one job or 90 per cent on two jobs – and, what’s more, that 90 per cent may be more than enough to satisfy your client or boss.

So, instead of being an obsessive perfectionist, worry about what really matters and do a good enough job on that. People will love you for it.

2 Gossip about job moves

Many people devote enormous amounts of mental energy to finding out about internal moves and reorganisations, but there’s very little point. Unless you’re at the top of the heap, few of these will actually affect you.

And besides, you’ll only have the inside track for a day or two before a general announcement is made and you realise you’d got it half wrong anyway. That’s right: Brian from operations, the one you met at the Christmas party, is moving to be VP of operations, not strategy (and you work in marketing).

It’s a lot of energy to put into what is actually really dull gossip. So talk about football or Game of Thrones around the water cooler instead.

3 Taking sick days

Think about how you feel when a colleague is coughing constantly, chugging lozenges and sweating bullets. All you ever think is, ‘Please, go home’. That is exactly how everyone else feels about you when you come in sick. They don’t thank you for bravely struggling in; rather, they want you to leave before you infect them.

If you feel terrible, take the time off.

As long as you’re not sick for long periods or off every other week, people will have forgotten you were ill on Sunday by Tuesday.

4 Taking holidays

Exactly the same as taking sick days, except more so because your holidays are part of your contract and not taking them is like taking a pay cut. Here is what you need to tell yourself in order not to worry when you’re on holiday.

* No one will steal your job, nor will they discover that they can cope without you

* Your team will be fine – you can delegate

* You come back rested and more productive

* Interesting or adventurous holidays play well to your personal brand

* You should take your lunch hours too

5 Should you check your email?

Sure. Should you check it every two minutes? No. In fact, researchers at the University of British Columbia recently found that people who were allowed to check their email only three times a day had lower levels of stress compared to those who were allowed unlimited access to email.

Moreover, McKinsey says employees spend 28 per cent of their time on email and others put the figure as high as 40 per cent.

So, ask yourself: will anyone care – or even notice – if you take an hour to respond? No. But the person you’re talking to face-to-face might well care if you’re checking your phone constantly like you’ve got a nervous tic.

Finally, it’s worth remembering that if you do reply immediately, the sender might think you have nothing better to do.

6 Revenge

You work in a professional services firm, not the Mafia. When Justine got that job rather than you, she didn’t stab you in the back, she applied like you did and met the criteria marginally better.

There are two things to remember about work relationships. One is that, although people may appear to be your friends, they’ll climb over you if they have to. The second is that nobody ever loves or hates you as much as you think they do. You’re a colleague, not a friend, lover or relative. They don’t really care that much and neither should you.

Work is what you have in common, so when you leave there’s a good chance you’ll never see them again.

7 Home-ing from work

Do you check email in the evenings? Do you have to do conference calls with American colleagues at 9pm? Do you travel for work? If the answer to any of these is yes, why do you worry so much about your manager or colleagues seeing you doing a bit of online shopping or booking a flight? In fact, instead of frantically trying to close the Amazon window when your boss appears, own the window and leave it open. You’re not at school and it shouldn’t be a problem unless you spend half your day on Facebook or aren’t performing in your work.

8 Meetings

Like email and pointless gossip, meetings play horribly to your workplace FOMO (fear of missing out). It’s human nature to worry that if we do not go to a meeting, matters of great importance will be discussed and momentous decisions taken. But contrast this with any real meeting you’ve been in.

Nothing gets done and you spend half your time listening to that colleague who won’t shut up. So only go to meetings if they’re important or mandatory. You can afford to miss a few.

9 People who are doing better than you

This might seem like something you should worry about, but when you look at the real reasons people pass you on the career ladder, you soon realise it’s not worth getting worked up about. Some of your colleagues will simply be more talented, and chasing their tails will be a dispiriting waste of time. Others will be harder working – and here, you have to ask yourself, do you want to give your life over to the company? Others will be luckier and there’s not much you can do about that.

They say that there’s nothing like success in someone else’s life to put your own in perspective – and it’s OK to do this as long as you view success holistically. To take an obvious example, if Rajesh is a level above you but his marriage has broken down and his kids hate him, who is really doing better?

Try and think about what your own goals are – not your colleagues’.

10 Your boss hardly ever praises you

We’d all like to be slapped on the back and told what a great job we’re doing at the end of every little task. But not every manager is like this. Some bosses say nothing when you’ve done a good job and very little when you’ve done a brilliant job – and this drives many people crazy with worry. But you should chill out. Speak to colleagues. 
If your boss is like this with everyone, it’s just their style, even though it may not be yours. Instead tell yourself that when they do say ‘Well done’ it’s an amazing compliment and if they say nothing, they’re happy with you.

Rhymer Rigby

Rhymer Rigby

The Daily Telegraph / The Interview People