I was interested to read the other day that research carried out by Mind, a UK mental health charity, found that one in three people say their work life was either very, or quite, stressful, more so than debt, financial problems or even health.
The survey of over 2,000 people found that workplace stress has resulted in 7 per cent [rising to 10 per cent among 18–24-year-olds] having suicidal thoughts and 18 per cent [one in five people ] developing anxiety.
After these results reached the press, I was contacted by LBC Radio London and asked to comment on the research.
‘Why were the figures so high? Was I surprised? Are there greater pressures in today’s working world than there were years ago? Are managers doing enough to help their employees?’
So, I thought we would have a quick look at some of my responses today.
We know that high levels of stress negatively impact both physical and mental health and through the medium of this column, I frequently discuss ways of creating a healthy corporate culture i.e. building resilience, enhancing well-being and reducing stress.
Unfortunately, there are still too few employers that recognise the importance of good interaction between managers and teams, and the minimisation of stressors in the workplace.
Stress in the education sector
Last week, I was with a colleague called Alexander in his mid 20s who works in the UK education sector. I asked him how the job was going and his response was ‘Not good. It’s not the job, it’s the people!’ By enquiring a little more, I found that he was a committed IT manager who apparently does his best to manage his team in what he describes as a ‘toxic culture’. The style of management is reactive, which means that every action has to be done immediately which has a huge pressure on both him and his team. Furthermore, he is expected to answer email during the evening at home, so he is never able to switch off completely.
He complains that he doesn’t feel appreciated or valued for what he does and that the work environment is a blame culture where there is never any consultation about working practices or changes in schedules, targets and deadlines. When things go wrong, which is frequently, blame is just apportioned without proper investigation, with the inevitable consequence that Alexander has now decided to find a better employer. Who can blame him?
However, he highlighted many factors relating to work-life balance that are important to recognise — no accountability, minimum or no consultation and a lack of recognition and reward for the individual worker or manager.
Although part of Alexander’s management role is to identify and manage undue stress in any member of his team, he, in fact, cannot manage the stress within himself, let alone his team.
This raises the question: Are there greater pressures in industry today than there were years ago?
Well, many of the stressors are the same and yet, today brings the additional challenge of having to be available 24/7 and the management’s expectation of long working hours and unrealistic deadlines.
Such companies have little understanding of work-life balance or of taking any action to support the mental and physical well-being of their staff. If they did, staff would feel more loyal, motivated, committed, and are likely to not only want to stay in the organisation but also recommend it to others.
That would be a win-win situation, but many companies seem to be unaware of the benefits.
Many of you know that I often deliver presentations about ‘personal resilience’ and ‘reducing stress’. I say things like ‘If you can’t change the stress inherent in the organisation, then you need to be resilient enough to manage it’. And I hope that you agree. However, it doesn’t take responsibility away from the top team to ensure that they are offering a healthy workplace in the first instance.
So, here is a reminder:
Look out for signs and symptoms of stress and take action.
Talk: Make time to communicate regularly with your team.
Lead: Ensure you lead by example and demonstrate a healthy work-life balance.
Every one of us needs a work-life balance that gives us equilibrium but sometimes we have to work very hard to achieve it.
— The author is a BBC Guest Broadcaster and motivational speaker. She is CEO of an international stress management consultancy and her new book, ‘Show Stress Who’s Boss!’ is available in all good bookshops.