Keep your cool in a work crisis

Why a proactive strategy matters for your career
Opinion Piece by Samantha Crawford, Occupational Therapist at Netcare Akeso Alberton

Thursday, November 24 2022

While a shifting workplace environment in recent years may have altered your career trajectory, your experiences during this time could present an opportunity to reflect and update your professional development toolkit with a structured approach towards maintaining focus in a crisis.

Over the last two and a half years, the world adapted to living in crisis mode for extended periods of time. While it is in the nature of some to rise to the occasion in stressful situations, others find it overwhelming, often with negative impacts on their career and other areas of life.


Stress and work performance
A crisis or a period of increased pressure at work is inevitably a stressful experience and a proactive approach can help you to not only manage the situation better but also to take learnings from it which can be applied in future.  

The effects of unmanaged stress, on the other hand, are many and can include issues such as poor judgement, errors, procrastination, anxiety, issue avoidance, disengaging from colleagues and so on. Over time, stress can result in increased absenteeism due to physical or mental strain, or a combination of the two and can become a contributing factor towards presenteeism where you show up for work, but are not productive.

From a career development point of view, the ultimate result of unmanaged stress at work is a person who is not engaging in their roles and responsibilities as they should, and who is missing their full career potential. In reflecting on how the unforeseen affects your ability to maintain focus, you may well benefit from having a strategy in your back pocket for coping with a crisis at work.


Five steps for coping with a work crisis

  1. Take stock of what is going on around you. Try to observe the situation objectively by taking a step back and getting to know the facts before jumping to any conclusions.  
  2. Reach out to trusted colleagues. Talk through the situation together and share insights on a safe platform, as communication can help to put things into perspective. No one is an island – we are human and we need interaction and support to be at our best.
  3. Brainstorm solutions while running through realistic scenarios of how to manage the crisis rather than focusing your energy on the problem. Being solution focused will help you to move through the issue more effectively.
  4. Be open to learning from the experience, as it may present you with a valuable growth opportunity. Demonstrating humility and accountability indicates an ability to adapt and learn, but it is equally important not to take the blame for a situation when you are not at fault. Here again, taking a step back and reflecting on the order of events can be helpful in gathering your thoughts.  
  5. Set expectations by implementing boundaries. It is important to know your own limits and this is something to be mindful of at all times in the workplace so that when a crisis does occur, you have boundaries in place to help you to function effectively. In contrast, jumping into a crisis with the aim of trying to please others or to rescue the situation, no matter the cost to yourself, can do more harm than good as you may not have all the facts. Knowing your limits relates to your sense of self-awareness, which is foundational to career development.   

Trust in the workplace
“A problem shared is a problem halved”. The power of positive relationships in the workplace cannot be overestimated and clear communication with colleagues during a crisis can help to build further trust and respect. This also allows for greater learning opportunities in the team, while helping to think creatively and to stay motivated long term. By trying to contain a crisis on your own without calling on the perspective of colleagues, you are far less likely to achieve the best possible outcome.

Keeping the tank full
Self care is vital to managing stress and preventing burnout, not only in times of crisis but as a continuous practice. It can be helpful to break this down into manageable pockets of time, whether it is just ten or fifteen minutes to recalibrate and refocus. Feeling guilty is unhelpful and taking a moment to catch your breath is not an indulgence at the cost of others.

It would not be reasonable or responsible to expect to drive from Johannesburg to Cape Town on one tank of petrol and with no breaks. You need to stop, fill up, stretch your legs, have lunch and so on. As long as they are regular, work breaks can be short and they do help to recharge your batteries.

Efficient use of your time is another factor, so try to prioritise and delegate tasks, be proactive in your time management, and keep a realistic mindset of what is within your control and what is achievable. Again, don’t wait to reach out to others for help and guidance – make a strong and genuine support system part of every day.

On a personal note, get enough sleep, eat a balanced diet of regular meals and take time to do the things that you enjoy. Naturally, work is important but so are the basics of good health.

Warning: slow down
Stressful, pressurised experiences are part of work and life but there are also limits as to what a human can withstand. If you notice any mental health warning signs such as low mood, feeling empty, hopeless or worthless, and experiencing a lack of energy or constant fatigue, it’s time to slow down.

Check in with yourself and ask yourself these questions:

  • How often do you wake up feeling tired? Are you struggling to concentrate on an ongoing basis?
  • Are you forgetting to do important things that you normally manage?
  • Are you experiencing changes in your personality? For example, are you usually bubbly and outgoing but you are isolating yourself from others? Do you lash out at others when you are usually respectful?
  • Do you feel panicked or threatened? Do you feel like you are on the verge of losing control?
  • Are you struggling to look after yourself, such as not eating properly, and not bathing or dressing? Are you experiencing a change in sleep patterns?
  • Do you feel demotivated or dissatisfied with your work? Are you missing deadlines or taking more leave than usual? Do you experience a lack of confidence in tasks that you used to be able to do?

If you see changes such as these it may be time to seek professional advice. Your mental health is central to your ability to fulfil your professional and personal roles optimally and the sooner you address any concerns the better.  


About Netcare Akeso
Netcare Akeso operates a network of private inpatient mental health facilities and is part of the Netcare Group. Netcare Akeso provides individual, integrated and family oriented treatment in specialised inpatient treatment facilities, as well as certain outpatient services, for a range of psychiatric, psychological and substance use conditions. Please visit or contact [email protected] for further information.
In the event of a psychological crisis, call 0861 435 787, 24 hours a day for emergency support. Psychiatrist consultations can be made through Netcare appointmed™, online at or by calling 0861 555 565.

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Issued by:   MNA on behalf of Netcare Akeso Alberton
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