Managing workplace stress: interview with Kate Goldman-Toomey
Updated: Sep 19
Stress Awareness Month is recognised every April and aims to increase public awareness of the global stress epidemic we face today. According to the Mental Health Foundation, over 74 per cent of adults in the UK state that at some point over the last year they have felt overwhelmed by stress or unable to cope. Despite the increased media coverage and awareness campaigns surrounding mental health, there is still a long way to go to tackle one of the great public health challenges of our time. Many of us have our own ways of dealing with stress and this month, I’d like to share the experiences and stress-beating tips of 3 successful people, whose approaches I admire. First up is Kate Goldman-Toomey - Director of Partnerships & Philanthropy for Macmillan Cancer Support. Leading a team of 60 people, Kate builds meaningful, sustainable relationships with businesses and high-net worth individuals to generate income and positive impact for people living with cancer and their support networks.
Four questions to Kate
What makes your job important to you?
For the last 20 years I’ve been working across different organisations in the non-for-profit sector raising funds to support some of the world’s most vulnerable people to live their lives fully.
I believe that individuals and companies have a shared responsibility in supporting our Society and my role is about harnessing the power of the private sector to make a difference where it matters. Having a sense of purpose in what I do is a fundamental part of who I am – I want to spend my time and energy working to bring value to the world we live in.
Why do you believe it's so important to manage stress at work?
There’s a perception that working in the charity sector is somehow a bit fluffy and easy and in fact I’d say it’s the polar opposite! As a team we’re very commercially focussed – most of my colleagues have private sector backgrounds. The principal difference in our line of work is that we are very aware that if we don’t raise funds, it’ll have a very real impact on people’s lives.
My team is made up of very bright, very driven people who are passionate about their work. They work hard as it’s part of their nature and that’s amplified by the fact that they care deeply about what they do. When you combine that type of profile with today’s technology, the situation with COVID and remote working, it can be really tough. We live in a world where we’re always ‘on’ and as a people leader, it’s really important to recognise the different pressures your team members may be facing.
How do you manage stress at work?
As a team leader, I spend a lot of my time talking to people and checking in. I joined Macmillan during COVID, so everything we’ve been doing as a team has been remote. Across the organisation, we’ve had “reconnect conversations” during February where every manager spent at least an hour talking to direct reports to understand how they’re doing and what support they need. And since the pandemic set in, all staff members have access to a Wellbeing offer with online mindfulness, exercise classes, counselling.
With regards to my own team, I believe that a big part of managing stress is also about the climate you create as a leader. I want my team to have an open, trusting environment where they feel comfortable speaking up and sharing when things aren’t going well – and that starts with me. I try to be open about what’s going on for me in terms of challenges, and I’ve noticed that by sharing this, it creates a trusted space where others feel they can express themselves safely too.
What coping mechanisms do you use to better manage your own stress?
Take a break – in fresh air and in natural surroundings if you can. Working full-time from home I realised that I was getting very engrossed in work and not taking any breaks. I now plan times in my diary when I can go out and get fresh air.
Turn off notifications – I do this to increase my productivity when I need to concentrate fully on a particular project or document.
Embrace mindfulness – I’ve become an advocate of it and it means I can be much more in the present and able to tap into what’s going on in my mind. I can feel when my stress levels are rising, and by noticing it, I can choose what to do about it.
Take exercise – feeling out of control and overwhelmed is a big trigger for me so I think about what things I can control. I make time to do a 20 min High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workout every morning even if that means starting work later and finishing later. It transforms my mental health, boosts my creativity and makes me buzz!
Recognise thoughts are not facts – when you get lost inside your head and negative self-talk, notice it’s happening and focus on breathing.
Talk to other people – everyone is different, but sharing how I’m feeling and what I’m thinking with people I trust really enables me to process negative emotions.