We live in an overworked society–and increasingly, it seems, in an
overworked world. That’s the gist of several recent news reports that
explore the link between high-stress jobs and poor mental health.
According to a BusinessWeek story:
In a highly competitive, globalized world, psychological health is
increasingly taking a back seat to moon-shot target-setting and a
relentless focus on making the numbers. Jeffrey Pfeffer, who teaches
organizational behavior at Stanford Business School, sums up the
prevailing attitude at many companies: "First we’re going to scare you
to death and, now, give you some psychological counseling to try to
make you feel better." Much more effective, says Pfeffer, is getting
"rid of the source of the problem and not Band-Aiding it."
Meanwhile, a recent study by New Zealand’s Otago University and King’s
College, London found that 14 percent of women and 10 percent of men
with work-stress experienced anxiety or depression by age 32.
How can we get a hold on job-stress before it gets a hold on us?
Managing Stress Benefits Everyone–and the Bottom Line
The BusinessWeek story highlights what several companies are doing to help employees ward off extreme stress and achieve work-life balance. General Mills offers personalized services at work, such as hair stylists and car mechanics, to give employees more time to spend with their families. Draper Laboratory in Massachusetts refuses to purchase BlackBerrys for its engineers: the HR director suggests creativity is sapped by the constant din of information exchange.
These employers are taking innovative steps in the right direction. Everyone handles stress differently, and some do better than others. But it’s nice to know that employers are aware stress may be detrimental for workers, and that they’re willing to do something about it.
It can also be bad for business. According to the WHO European Ministerial Conference on Mental Health:
Stress can affect organizations by causing high rates of absenteeism and staff turnover, disciplinary problems and unsafe working practices, as well as low commitment to work, poor performance, tension and conflicts between colleagues.
Workers also must help themselves manage anxiety and stress at work. A recent blog-post by Elana Centor draws attention to an MSNBC story that suggests the lunch break is endangered. “About 55 percent of workers take a half hour or less for their lunch breaks, according to a survey by Steelcase, an office equipment maker,” says the MSNBC story, which explains that in some cases, workers have chosen to do away with their lunch hours.
A self-imposed no-lunch rule is a mistake; breaking for lunch is good for workers’ mental and physical health. Workers who are healthy in body and mind are more productive–they’re in a better place to advance their careers, work well with others and boost the bottom line.
Statistics of Job Stress
The BusinessWeek article examines a French company that’s addressing stress due to recent employee suicides:
Earlier this year, the French automaker, Renault, found itself doing some soul-searching following a rash of suicides at a design complex outside Paris. In the course of about five months, three engineers killed themselves. In suicide notes and conversations with their families before taking their lives, the three men voiced anxiety about unreasonable workloads, high-pressure management tactics, exhaustion, and humiliating criticism in front of colleagues during performance reviews. CEO Carlos Ghosn, famous for setting lofty targets at Nissan Motor Co. (NSANY ) (where he remains CEO), brought the same results-oriented ethos to Renault upon taking the helm in 2005. Ghosn doubled the number of models under development through 2009 to 26, in a bid to boost global sales by 800,000 and make Renault Europe’s most profitable mass-market automaker.
The company acknowledges the engineers were under pressure but insists there is no direct correlation between their deaths and their working environment. Still, in March, Ghosn ordered up a plan and committed $10 million to combat workplace stress.
Renault is smart to make that investment, given the impact of work-related stress on the bottom line. According to the WHO:
In the 15 Member States of the pre-2004 EU, the cost of stress at work and the related mental health problems is estimated to be on average between 3% and 4% of gross national product, amounting to ?265 billion annually. Studies estimate that work-related stress alone costs the businesses and governments of those countries about ?20 billion in absenteeism and related health costs, in addition to the price of lower productivity, higher staff turnover and reduced ability to innovate.
- Dispatches From The War On Stress (BusinessWeek)
- Mental health and working life (Briefing by the WHO European Ministerial Conference on Mental Health)
- Now the proof: Work stress does make people mentally ill (The New Zealand Herald)
- Bullying bosses ‘drive people to mental illness’ (Telegraph.co.uk)
- Do You Take A Lunch Break? (Blog-post by Elana Centor at BlogHer.com)
- Why the lunch break is going extinct (MSNBC.com)
- Stress at Work (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health)