What causes us to feel frustrated?

Find out what causes frustration at work.

Why we feel frustration

On the whole, human beings are goal-oriented, especially when in work mode. We feel happy when we achieve and frustrated when we don’t. We experience frustration when the outcome we are expecting don't feel like they fit the effort and action we put in.

This makes frustration a useful emotion because it can help us identify what’s in the gap between our efforts and our results. Think how frustration can propel us forward to find solutions to problems.

But when we are not able to make sense of our frustrations or find an appropriate response, we can get angry, lose our self-confidence and feel stressed. Ongoing frustrations can lead to depression and burnout. When really frustrated, we become despondent and want to give up.

Given the many things we strive for require a degree of frustration, it’s almost impossible to go to work and not experience it at some point. Levels of frustration capture the ‘friction’ and ‘flow’ in teams. Are we reaching our personal and collective goals easily? Or do we feel our efforts are being blocked in some way?

Learning how to respond effectively to frustration – within ourselves and our teams – helps to improve and sustain happiness at work.

Sources of frustration

There are different sources of frustration at work. They can be small and repetitive (e.g. a work process that isn’t fit for purpose) or large and one-off (e.g. not winning a big new client) and anything in between!

As a rule of thumb, the more important the goal the greater the potential for us to experience frustration.

Some sources of frustration are internal – for example, when we feel we lack ability or confidence, when we have competing goals that interfere with one another or when we have fears and anxieties holding us back.

Other sources of frustration are external – for example, when we come across processes, people and things that get in the way of realizing our goals.

The trick is to learn responses that harness your frustrations positively. It can be easier to work out a plan of action with colleagues than on your own. This is why Friday encourages you to share and discuss frustrations as they crop up from week to week.