Working Under Pressure, a Skill or an Effect of Desensitization?

Working under pressure is considered a skill by most employers. However, this could be a mistake.
Working Under Pressure, a Skill or an Effect of Desensitization?

Last update: 23 October, 2021

Nowadays, if you’re good at working under pressure, you’re usually highly valued in the workplace. Furthermore, the labor market evolves at an alarming rate. It’s also highly likely that in a few years’ time, the jobs we know today will probably have completely changed or disappeared. This all adds to the stress of competing in today’s job market.

This poses a question. Is the ability to work under pressure a skill or rather an effect of desensitization? We might also ask if these kinds of perspectives are normalizing a situation that, despite being real and operational, is still harmful.

We’ve all had to work under pressure at one time or another. Furthermore, it’s obvious that those who respond best to this kind of pressure end up with an advantage. What isn’t clear is the extent to which long-term pressure affects people. In addition, how appropriate is a job is that exposes an employee to constant stress?

The most powerful force under whose pressure we are sometimes forced to work is our own conscience.”

-Lucian Blaga-

Stressed man at work

Working under pressure

To some extent, work always produces pressure. It demands the realization of efforts and the overcoming of obstacles and problems. It involves an expenditure of energy and hence will always cause a certain level of tension. It”s also clear that there are times or circumstances in which that tension rises. In the same way, there are times when it decreases.

Learning to work under pressure is important for anyone. It means learning to overcome the stress that arises from tiredness, specific difficulties, or dealing with the presence of many stimuli at the same time. However, these aspects should never be more than a person is able to deal with.

On the other hand, each person has a different tolerance for stress. Some deal with it extremely well. On the other hand, for others, it can be more problematic. In the same way, not all activities involve the same pressure. For example, an ER doctor faces considerably more daily stress than a hairdresser.

However, in all cases, there exists a tolerable level of stress. If this is exceeded, an imbalance appears that could have negative consequences. Stress levels may be exceeded due to specific circumstances. In these cases, working under pressure is no longer a skill, but a risk factor.

Crossing the boundary

The effects of enduring a level of pressure that exceeds a person’s tolerance range can be very negative. In the first instance, it causes destructive stress. This is a condition in which the demands of the environment exceed the individual’s resources to respond to them.

Stress has consequences that range from health conditions, such as migraine headaches or indigestion, to effects on mood. These might be expressed as irritability, sadness, or feelings of frustration. Furthermore, if the stress lasts for a long time, it’s extremely possible that these symptoms will worsen.  

Overexertion can lead to work fatigue. This constitutes a serious condition that compromises the physical and mental health of a person. The most worrying thing is, that once it starts, it’s irreversible. In fact, this state can block a person’s ability to work, permanently.

Exhausted woman working

Set healthy boundaries

Working under pressure is a skill if it takes place within reasonable limits. It usually involves performing demanding tasks in a short time and with good results. The pressure involves both the difficulty of the activity and the limited time there is to carry it out. If achieved, there’s usually a noticeable increase in productivity.

However, when the task results aren’t satisfactory, that’s when the person’s limits have been exceeded. Nevertheless, it doesn’t mean that they don’t have the ability to do the job. It probably simply means that it may take them more time and perhaps a new method of working in order to complete the task successfully.

It’s clear that working under pressure isn’t a good idea when it results in continuous stress, or physical ailments, even if the job is successfully completed. Indeed, when work affects physical or mental health, it must ultimately be reconsidered.

Finally, while it’s good to learn to work under pressure, the effect it may have on health and quality of life should never be forgotten. It’s particularly important not to become desensitized to experiences. Otherwise, actions may change from being skills to being problems.

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  • Gallegos Vargas, L., & Hurtado López, M. (2003). Psicología de la salud, ansiedad y trabajo bajo presión. Ajayu Órgano de Difusión Científica del Departamento de Psicología UCBSP, 1(2), 13-24.
  • Useche Mora, L. (1992). Fatiga laboral. Universidad Nacional de Colombia Sede Bogotá.