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Stress – Why it’s so Worrying, and How to Beat it

 

 

“Stress is like an iceberg – one-tenth of it is visible.  It is the nine-tenths hidden below the surface that are the most dangerous.”    Anonymous

 

“Many companies have long contended that stress in the home causes productivity loss in the workplace... and it does.  But research now reveals that stress on the job causes stress at home.  In other words, they feed off each other.”    Zig Ziglar

 

Stress is not what happens to us – it is our response to what happens.  And we can choose how we respond.”     Maureen Killoran

 

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Business owners, company directors, and managers have been facing increased stress brought on by the global economic crisis and the pressure to tighten budgets, cut costs, and increase productivity, at a time when suppliers, competitors, and customers are all trying to do the same things.  We are still in a tough and uncertain economic climate, and it is only natural to view the problem primarily from our own perspective, whatever role we hold within our organisation.  But if our seat is at the boardroom table or on the management team, it is in our own best interest to recognise that the stress we feel as a result of the constant pressure to pull rabbits out of hats and do more with less, is most likely being mirrored by the stress of those employed by us to develop and manufacture those rabbits, and to produce that ‘more’.

 

Allowed to develop unchecked, a culture of heightened workplace stress can have detrimental effects on individuals and organisations, alike.  From the individual’s perspective, the consequences of increased stress (work-related, or otherwise) may include:

 

·         sleep disorders;

·         fatigue;

·         health issues, such as high blood pressure, headaches, muscle tension, ulcers, low resistance to illness and infection, etc;

·         increased reliance on caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, or drugs;

·         social disengagement, including a breakdown of relationships with family and friends; and

·         depression.

 

From the organisation’s perspective, work-related stress may result in:

 

·         increased absenteeism, due to both genuine illness and ‘sickies’;

·         increased ‘presenteeism’ (employee disengagement and productivity loss);

·         increased – and costly - WorkCover claims; and

·         the inability to attract and retain good staff, resulting in a loss of corporate knowledge and damage to future succession planning.

 

Common causes of work-related stress for employees, particularly in the current economic climate include:

 

·         fear of retrenchment, or ‘survivors’ syndrome’ (where others in the workplace have lost their jobs, and those remaining feel guilt over retaining theirs)

·         a reduction in terms and conditions, such as the loss of paid overtime, allowances, bonuses, etc;

·         pressure to work harder or longer hours, without any additional compensation or recognition; and

·         loss of superannuation due to turbulence in investment markets, especially for those planning retirement in the next few years.

 

So what can organisations do to reduce employee stress, and help their staff to cope better with the stress they face at work and at home?

 

Firstly, there are strategies that workplaces, managers and staff can implement together, including:

 

·         encouraging a balance of tasks that allows for variety, reasonable interaction with colleagues, and suitable breaks;

·         working together to prioritise projects and tasks;

·         encouraging delegation and/or teamwork, when appropriate;

·         negotiating reasonable expectations for what can accomplished, and at what level of performance – being open and transparent about these expectations, and creating an environment that supports their achievement;

·         recognising that we are all human, and all make mistakes – the important thing is to acknowledge and learn from them;

·         encouraging communication, consultation, and a social atmosphere in the workplace, to minimise the feelings of doom and gloom that might otherwise manifest when times are tough;

·         when budgets are tight, looking at non-financial rewards and incentives for performance – praise alone can be a great motivator and reward for going that extra mile, but there are plenty of other strategies – employee of the month programs, casual Fridays, staff morning teas, a letter or recognition (or a thank-you email) from the boss, etc.

 

Secondly, there are strategies that organisations can support their staff to implement in their own lives, including:

 

·         leading a balanced lifestyle, with time for family and friends, sport or recreation, hobbies/interests, as well as work and other professional activities;

·         getting enough sleep/rest (some find meditation or yoga helpful for ‘switching off’ from work);

·         eating a nutritionally balanced diet of small, frequent meals that don’t spike the blood sugar;

·         enjoying regular healthy exercise, even if this is just a daily 30 minute walk;

·         minimising the use of caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine, and discouraging the use of drugs, except as prescribed by a medical practitioner to treat a diagnosed illness;

·         being kind to oneself by resisting bad habits such as perfectionism, procrastination, and negative self-talk – these are the ‘Big Three’ causes of stress, both at work and away from it!

 

 

As Zig Ziglar’s quote in the preface to this article identifies, work-related stress and stress at home feed off each other.  It is therefore in an organisation’s best interest to support its staff in reducing stress at work, but also in developing effective coping strategies to beat stress at home.  We are not robots, and with today’s fast-paced lifestyles and technological advances, there is a greater blurring of boundaries between work and home than ever before.  But the great news is that the same sort of strategies that will help a staff member combat stress at work, will work just as effectively in helping them reduce stress at home. Now that’s a win-win situation!

 

 

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By Trevor Neville, Principal, and Kirsten Ferguson (Human Resource Management Consultant, Life and Business Coach), TranZition Professional and Executive Recruitment, Level 3 Waterfront Place, 1 Eagle Street, Brisbane Qld 4000. Email: trevor@tranzition.com.au  Web: www.tranzition.com.au

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