There are some jobs that I have truly adored, the people, products, customers and banter combined have often made it a pleasure to step through the door.
But it hasn’t always been that way, I can remember times such as in the 1990’s when a sales team I was part of felt bullied, pressured and stressed by the management team. I was shocked, when during a heart to heart, one of my male colleagues confided he had been crying and not sleeping over work. The stress led to him becoming ill. Myself and several others left. At other companies I have witnessed aggression, sexual harassment, bullying and manipulation. Sadly watching colleagues who couldn’t take the pressure, resorting to visits to the doctor with stress and other illnesses and resigning, leaving us with a big hole in our resources.
Many of us underestimate what the stress and pressure at work can cause to us individually, our work colleagues and our wider family.
With a shrinking economy many organisations are understandably try to do more with less and that means as colleagues leave the work burden is shared amongst those that remain.
Not only that, with the threat of redundancy looming comes added pressure and stress.
Pressure and stress for some people is positive, they love the challenge, but for others it can be the beginning of a nightmare.
Having been made redundant twice, I know from first hand experience, that how you handle it will vary depending on what else is going on in your life, who is there to support and what your financial situation is like, amongst other things.
I consider myself lucky, many people in a situation where they can see themselves and friends being side lined or played for a fool would have become ill, not sleep, angry, stressed, potentially turn to drink or worse.
But what cost to a business with stressed employees?
According to the CBI and Pfizer annual absence survey[i] employee absence cost the UK nearly £17bn in 2009, with the average direct cost of absence at £595 per employee. The mental Health charity Mind[ii] puts the figure even higher at £26 billion per year and an enormous 70 million working days.
Many people put on brave faces when their world is crumbling and to quote Mind.
Stress has forced one in five workers (19 per cent) to call in sick, yet the vast majority of these (93 per cent) say they have lied to their boss about the real reason for not turning up, citing everything from stomach upsets, housing problems and the illness of a loved one as reasons for their absence[iii]
Who is responsible? Should employers be doing more, they are people too, they must be feeling the pressure. Has it become a never ending vicious circle?
Is it our fault? We the consumer expect lower prices, companies have to find ways to make or supply things at a lower profit margin, this puts pressure on employees, employees go sick or leave, they are not replaced, as the extra responsibilities build up so does the stress.
I wonder where will it all end?
For organisational culture to change, it must cascade from the top. If the top put mental health and effective communications on the top of the agenda and consider how to positively impact the lives of their employees could we achieve more balance?
First, of course we need to remove the stigma attached to anxiety, stress and behaviour attributable to pressure and not penalise the careers of those who put family and self before work. It is surely not unreasonable to want your employees to be happy and healthy?
Is there an effective proven way to map business demands to resources, capabilities and employee needs, therefore reducing the cost of employee churn and follow on recruitment costs?
We don’t live in Nirvana and no matter what employers and employees do to reduce stress, it will still occur because of a variety of reasons, including those outside the control of the organisation and the employee.
If it can’t be prevented and it can’t be cured, shouldn’t there be regular focus on solutions to enable people to recognise the signs and skill them up to manage and control them?
What I know is that I have to take responsibility for my life and my health.
I can take regular breaks in the day, walk the dog to clear my head or slip into a yoga class in the morning and write in my journal daily.
As a long term journaler I get lots of my stuff out each night before I go to bed. I reflect on my writing often and write short stories which cover off a range of conflicts and emotions. Writing might not be for everyone, but there is research which proves its effectiveness and cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) amongst other interventions uses writing to focus reflection and enable change.
I know writing works. Cathartic, entertaining, sometimes embarrassing writing has certainly been my saviour.
Try it for yourself, you may be amazed.