Stress kills both people and productivity
As a number of you, particularly parents, will be on half-term breaks, two areas of thoughts come to mind. One is work-related stress. The other is holidays, which are supposed to be our way of winding down, enjoying ourselves and of course relieving pressure that results in stress. This entrepreneurial technology world we live in because of the speed of change, instability and pressure to succeed, often breeds stress.
It’s bizarre that many senior people in start-ups and global vendors still boast the fact that they haven’t had a holiday in years. They believe it is a statement of commitment and success. It strikes me as sad that talented people with the drive to succeed don’t have the time, both to gain a different perspective on what they are doing and also to have balance in their lives, to share that success with loved ones.
Stress shows itself at many levels in an organisation, a perfect example being in the holiday periods for the poor sales staff. How many of them are sweating to produce over target performances in a period when increasingly , the corporate decision makers have decided to leave the office? Some deal with it better than others, but all of us can learn to recognise the warning signs. The incidence of stress related illnesses is on the increase. Indeed it probably costs more to companies than industrial disputes these days.
So how do we recognise it? Well tell tale signs include headaches, tension in the neck, back pain, poor circulation, sleeplessness, lethargy, tiredness, extreme working, mistrust of others, fear of death, imagined illnesses. The classic symptoms of course are increased drinking, smoking, drug taking, irritability with colleagues or family, and lack of concentration.
There are a large number of environmental sources of work stress, the characteristics of the job itself, the role of the person in the organisation, interpersonal relationships at work, career development pressures, the climate and culture of an organisation and problems associated with the interface between the organisation and the outside world. Stress can be caused by too much or too little work, time pressures and deadlines, having to make too many decisions, fatigue from the physical strains of the work environment, excessive travel, long hours, having to cope with changes at work and the potential expense (monetary and career) of making mistakes.
Both qualitative and quantitative overload may produce at least eight different symptoms of psychological and physical strain. Job dissatisfaction, job tension, lower self esteem, threat, embarassment, high cholesterol, increased heart rate and more smoking. An aspect that is particularly pertinent in this decade is career development pressure, lack of job security, fear of redundancy, obsolescence or early retirement and status incongruity (under or over promotion), frustration at having reached one’s career ceiling. Career progression is of overriding importance, especially to managers and professional staff. By promotion they not only earn money but also enhanced status and the new job challenges for which they strive.
Unless individuals adapt their expectations to suit new circumstances, particularly the changing needs of globalisation, career development stress is likely to be prevalent on a massive scale. We all need a modicum of stress to drive the bodily systems (for example it eliminates over toxicity in our body’s chemical systems). However, we also need to be able to cope with the negative effects of stress. Some of the suggested strategies are to increase your exercise levels, to use meditation, mindfulness or relaxation techniques, talk to someone outside your immediate circle, reassess your lifestyle or aspirations, protect your space, set boundaries at home or in the workplace, take a holiday or weekend away, remember the positive pleasant times and allow yourself praise for minor successes.
Other areas readily available today are massage, manipulation, reflexology and aromatherapy. A number of more far sighted companies are now employing freelance therapists to come into the workplace to give what is known as seated, fully clothed massage, which only takes 20-25 minutes of an employee’s time, but gives a great return on the employee’s wellbeing and in company performance. The strategy adopted will vary. For example, if stress comes primarily from poor physical working conditions, we might consider ergonomic solutions. If on the other hand, problems originate from conflicting roles, we might want to utilise techniques such as role playing. If individuals are dissatisfied with the rate of career advancement, relaxation techniques would be of no help, far more useful to do some career planning or train managers in the methods of career development.
I can think of many people over the years who have been destroyed mentally and physically by the pressures of the modern working environment, at the end of the day some are just not able to cope with it. The increasing pace of technology change over the next ten years will only add to this. The fact that we are constantly bombarded with more data than it is possible to cope with may only be alleviated by AI, machine learning and robots taking over some of our roles.
To return to an earlier point, some of you will be on half-term holiday when you read this, the time thoughts turn to aspects of your life other than work. It’s interesting how difficult it is, though, to wash thoughts of work away from your mind in the first few days of a break, that too may be a sign of stress. Holidays can sometimes even add to the emotional stress. Some believe that a lot of short breaks throughout the year, rather than one long holiday, might be more beneficial. The bottom line is, you’ve only got one life, make the most of it, for your sake and the company’s.