From: The Wall Street Journal
Do you bounce out of bed every morning bubbling with enthusiasm about going to work? Or do you groan your way to the office?
Too many people have fallen into the latter category in recent years – and it’s no surprise. Workplace stress is making people sick. This leads us to two questions: why is this happening? And what can we do about it?
In my new book, “Is Work Killing You?” I identify three causes of workplace stress. I call them the “Big Three”: Volume, Velocity and Abuse. Largely because of downsizing, the volume of work has increased to the point of overload. People are working longer hours and under more pressure. Velocity relates to the speed of today’s workplace, largely driven by technology but also fuelled by higher expectations and impatience for things to be done ever faster. Abuse relates to everything from office politics to outright harassment and bullying.
Compounding all of this is high unemployment and job insecurity. Employees feel they have no choice but to keep their heads down, suck it up and peddle harder and faster. Workplace stress is hurting workers and costing employers billions of dollars in lost productivity. If there are no winners here, what are the solutions?
1. Match head count to workload. The downsizing pendulum has swung too far. It’s time to reduce the tasks to be done or hire more people to share the load. This would make a huge difference but might be a hard sell to the decision makers and bean counters who think of employee salaries as expenses rather than investments.
2. Acknowledge the Fallacy of Face Time. Flextime and flexplace make more sense. They reduce commute time, let folks coordinate work with their family situations and allow them to match work hours to their individual body rhythms and energy cycles.
3. Tame the Technology. Overuse of email, texting, BBM and IM have people drowning in an ocean of electronic messages and technostress. Policies to restrict after hours use are already being implemented by some companies. Use functions like “cc” and “reply all” more mindfully so they stop silting up everyone’s inbox. Avoid multiple messaging (phone plus email plus text within minutes of one another.) And don’t use email for complex or emotional issues that require subtle nuance and careful communication.
4. Avoid Long Hours. Research shows that productivity declines after about 40 hours a week. People who work long hours are not only less productive but are more likely to get less sleep, exercise and down time. The net result is that they are chronically tired and less efficient, thus forcing them to work long hours to get their work done. I call this “The Inefficiency Cycle,” a vicious cycle of futility and self-neglect.
5. Identify Problem People and Deal With Them. Abusive people wreak havoc in the workplace, keeping coworkers on edge and distracted. They kill engagement, morale and productivity. Of all the skills employees bring to work, “coping with creeps” should not have to be on the list. Employers need to identify problem people and put them on notice that their behavior will not be tolerated. Give them help if they need it (e.g. management training, anger management, sensitivity training.) If they don’t shape up, show them the door. In other words, Fix Them or Fire Them.
Workplace stress is a huge and costly problem but it’s also eminently fixable. Many of the solutions aren’t complicated.
The final question is who is responsible for fixing the problem, employees or employers? The answer isboth. This issue is affecting everyone up and down the hierarchy: workers, managers, executives and owners. It’s not only a health issue for individuals, it’s also a performance/productivity issue for employers. It not only hurts the bottom line, it hammers it!
Everyone in an organization is a stakeholder and everyone can contribute to the solutions. Similarly, everyone will reap the benefits of a healthier, safer workplace. It’s time for everyone to step up, admit that workplace stress is real and damaging and take steps to address it.
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