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Manage stress from the top

On Wednesday, November 2, it was National Stress Awareness Day in London

Gulf News

On Wednesday, November 2, it was National Stress Awareness Day in London, which I am very proud to have created on behalf of the International Stress Management Association 13 years ago when I was chair of that organisation. Early in the morning my team and I went into the city of London to interview a cross-section of commuters outside one of the main railway stations.

After conducting a simple stress test during the interview, the results showed that, from the sample taken, senior management, city workers and office administrators all showed the highest levels of stress.

The main stressors they quoted were: high work demands, low personal control, poor time management and job insecurity.

We also spoke to several unemployed people who were on their way to job interviews, many of whom said they would be willing to take lower paid jobs to ensure the pattern of working and income were maintained.

Burnout

Most people overall, were happy to speak to us and were very interested to know what they could do about reducing their own levels of stress. It was also interesting to speak to our London taxi drivers who seem to have a culture all of their own. I asked Peter, who had been a ‘cabbie' for years, if he experienced stress while driving in the frequent city traffic jams.

"No!" "It goes with the job!" The fact is that although traffic is certainly a stressor for most people, it is not for a taxi driver who accepts it as part of the job and feels in control and therefore, not stressed.

Observing city workers having lunch, I noted they were still talking and reading on their cellphones, even while eating, so even during lunchtime, they did not switch off from work.

Alan, a marketing director, was sitting in a coffee shop opposite the railway station, reading his e-mail.

Waiting until he had finished, I asked him for a couple of minutes of his time which I think he was happy to give as it took him away from his own problems for a while. Testing his stress levels, I found them to be very high. He asked me to sit down and we talked for ten minutes. Here was a man who was finding it hard to concentrate and was experiencing extreme mental fatigue which indicated he might be heading for "burnout".

He displayed all the signs of stress due to the high demands of his job which he felt had become beyond his ability to control. He was, in fact, returning to his office from an appointment with his doctor who told him that he would have to take a month off work!

The survey was informative and even though this was only a small sample of people to whom we spoke, the trends were very obvious. Stress in the city of London is endemic, and rising, owing to high pressure and increasing demands in a fraught economic climate.

Coincidentally, on the same day, the media reported the recently appointed CEO of Lloyds Banking Group had been signed off work for medical reasons, reportedly with stress and extreme fatigue. With people working in the financial sector for more than 60 hours per week and often at the weekend as well, it is not surprising dealers and other city workers are suffering from stress-related illness leading to work absence.

Unfortunately, the macho culture of the city stops people from seeking outside support when they need it and they ignore the warning signs, low concentration, poor decision making, disturbed sleep, and often, depression.

The working culture needs to be a healthy working culture. It is dictated by the company executive and it is they who have a responsibility to set an example and lead from the top!

The author is CEO of an international work stress consultancy based in London. She is a BBC guest broadcaster, motivational speaker and author of ‘Show Stress Who's Boss!'

Symptoms: what to watch for

  • Low concentration
  • Poor decision-making
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Depression
  • High demand + low control = stress

Stress is endemic in our society if you experience the signs of stress, seek help!

The author is CEO of an international work stress consultancy based in London. She is a BBC guest broadcaster, motivational speaker and author of ‘Show Stress Who's Boss!'

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