We spend a huge percentage of our lives at work and if it is not a happy time or at the very least a good place to be on the whole, our health can suffer. Long term stress is a killer.
Even in the short term, a stressful work environment can contribute to problems including headache, stomach ache, poor sleep, a short temper and greater difficulty concentrating (ever walked into another room and forgotten why you went there?). Chronic long term stress can result in anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system.
There are a whole host of other illnesses that we find in an unhappy environment such as depression, obesity and heart disease. On top of all that, anybody suffering from stress is likely to look for ways of coping, usually in a very unhealthy way; overeating, eating unhealthy foods, smoking cigarettes or abusing drugs and alcohol.
It can increase turnover in staff, increasing training costs, loss of in-house knowledge, low staff morale, poor team performance,
It also usually spills over into home life. Irritability, snapping at the family over the silliest of things, waking early at weekends, no drive to do anything, just wanting to stay under the duvet all day.
Of course there is also good stress, the drive to do something worthwhile, creative, being part of something bigger, completing a deadline, making a customer happy, learning new skills, meeting great people, doing something you are passionate about and believe in.
But the world is changing, not only are things being more automated and taken over by robots and processes, but there is a greater pressure to be ever more efficient and productive all the while doing the work of colleagues that have left and not been replaced and not even having the required skill set. There is not even the added bonus of getting a raise. Productivity is expected without anything in return, apart from the implicit message that there is the possibility of being sacked if you don’t comply.
This means that everyone is under pressure, people snap, fight, struggle not to be the next one on the list of leavers. It has become a dog eat dog world.
The pressure is on
What can be done?
Many companies are bringing in Yoga teachers or holding Mindfulness workshops and Meditation classes. Personally I think they should be reducing the stress instead of increasing profits for the shareholders again and again and again. It has to stop somewhere.
There is so much money stashed away in off-shore bank accounts that if it were to be shared out and work/life could be re-organised, we would all have enough money to only have to work 10% of what we do now, have a Minicome (Minimum basic income) and health benefits. We would be a much happier balanced society instead of the money grabbing capitalist environment we currently live in.
But, we have to live in the here and now, make the best out of what we have.
So how do we do that when we have a serious problem at work, or at home.
There is almost no family that I know of in my immediate circle that is not struggling with something or other at the moment. We all do?
How can companies help?
Companies need to understand what the in-company benefits are to having a happier workforce. It cannot just be about the bottom line. “Times they are a changin’”
Greater happiness levels has been shown scientifically to:
- Boost productivity
- Boost creativity
- Improve communication and team working
- Reduce sick leave
- Reduce percentage of staff with anxiety and depression.
When employees are happy at work, a company gets:
- Higher productivity – happy people achieve better results
- Higher quality – because happy employees care about quality
- Lower absenteeism – people actually want to go to work
- Less stress and burnout – happy people are less prone to stress
- The best people – people want to work for you and with you
- Higher sales – happy people are the best sales people
- Higher customer satisfaction – happy employees are the best basis for good service
- More creativity and innovation – happy people are more creative
- More adaptability – happy people are much more adaptive and open to change
- Better stock performance – for all of the above reasons
- Higher profits – for all of the above reasons
How is this achieved?
There are a series of things that companies can introduce:
For the unscrupulous companies out there, there is little hope and the best thing to do is leave, but whilst easy to say, not at all easy to do sometimes.
For the companies that do want to help or see that something needs to be done, there are many wellness initiatives they can introduce:
- Ensure proper training and support
- Give clear and unambiguous instructions and communications
- Proper breaks with healthy food options
- Show appreciation for work delivered.
- Arrange a good, clean safe work environment
- Give challenging and meaningful tasks.
- Proper holidays and respect of breaks during day
- Reward teams and individuals in the form of spa days, neck massages, team building events (proper ones, not just the usual horrible having to go karting with the moaners from the finance dept).
- Actually connect with the employees, eat in their canteen, get to know their names.
- Invite random employees to lunch outside the company one a month or three months (all levels, totally at random)
- Random treats – bring an ice cream van to the office or a burger van at lunchtime
- Random acts of kindness – Give tickets to a show or concert at random to people that work hard/stay late.
- Order Pizzas for people that do overtime.
- Encourage truth / bad news. Sometimes people are too afraid of reprisals if bad news is given. Train people to fail forward.
- Have a suggestion box or a very visible suggestion board (more transparent) and ask for problems to be highlighted with possible solutions given, act on them. Give a budget for this.
- Respect family times. Sick kids, funerals, moving house, all stressy times.
- Smile and acknowledge people as you pass by in the corridor
- Be visible, not stuck in the corner office or looking down on people.
- Don’t belittle or admonish in front of others
- Be consistent and genuine in all of the above
What can you do yourself to be happier and improve things for yourself and others?
Step 1 might be to think about it differently, if you can. If a colleague is driving you bananas or is just toxic, just think that they will wake up like that every day and you will be waking up as you, not them. They are obviously unhappy and may never be happy and want everyone else to be unhappy (it seems). Sometimes all it can take is to tell them the effect they are having on you, then they may calm down or back off a little.
If it is your boss that is the bully (up to 75% of people leave their job because of their boss, not more money) then try to not take it personally, pressure might be coming down from above. They may not realise that their behaviour is unacceptable and that is all they know. Power is a crazy thing. You could try to take them aside and explain that they way they behave is having a negative effect on you and suggest ways to alter both behaviours. Then praise them if they get it right. (be prepared to walk, if they really are a %$*?.
Start being healthier, stop with the sweets and unhealthy lunches, go for walks at lunchtime, invite colleagues along, you may be surprised who will join in. Cut out the coffee or at least limit it to mornings only.
It can also be handy to work out and list exactly what it is that stresses you and if you can work out why they trigger you so much. It can be obvious if someone is shouting at you, but if someone just walks into the room or you have a meeting set up you are dreading, it can help to work out just what it is that sets you off and work out a way to change that ,maybe even with professional help.
It can help to foresee stressful times, being healthier can help you to be stress resistant, Yoga and mindfulness can help to centre yourself and recognise emotions and negative self talk and getting enough sleep is a must.
Establish boundaries, learn to say no, and keep repeating it if others are offloading stressy jobs onto you. If you are the type of person who wants to help but that is affecting your own work, learn to deflect these requests. It also means not working evenings and weekends, just to keep up. You cannot pour wine from an empty bottle, so make sure you look after number one. Turn off your work phone in the evening and don’t answer any mails. Some companies and even countries are even making that illegal, there is a reason for that….
Learn some relaxation techniques, deep breathing exercises, mindful walking etc. find things that relax you or that you enjoy and that help stop you thinking of work.
Talk to your HR dept or your boss, let them know that things are getting to you before it all gets too much. They are often under pressure too, but if they are aware that you are at breaking point it might just be the trigger they need to do something about it for everyone.
This obviously has to be handled in such a way that doesn’t come across as you having a moan or not being capable or unable to cope. Maybe it could be phrased in such as way as giving ideas of what could be done to everyone’s advantage. Make suggestions, ask other friends what their companies offer.
Get your family and friends on board, tell them you are suffering or not having the best of times. If you need professional support, get some, even the top managers, sportsmen, use coaches and a few counselling sessions may make all the difference.