Writer and campaigner Ben Simmons says the effects of stress in the workplace should be taken more seriously
YOU see it a lot in job advertisements – "Do you enjoy working in a high-pressure environment?"
It would be interview suicide to say: "No, actually, I hate feeling stressed. It makes me spend all my time thinking about how stressed I am instead of actually doing anything and it makes me want to finish the task rather than do the task well."
But that is the reality, isn’t it? None of us have been halfway through a piece of work and thought, "I wish this was due in five minutes so I could do a better job".
Let’s do away with the idea that all this stress is somehow beneficial, necessary, increases productivity, or separates the 'weak' from the 'strong'.
This isn’t a call to action to end high-pressure environments, that just isn’t going to happen. In office work it’s often driven by the idea that to work hard you need to be exhausted.
It manifests in 'presentism', where your colleagues are there before the boss gets in and stay until after they have gone home. It’s the late-night emails that make you feel like your colleagues are working harder than you while you have been 'slacking' at home with your family.
Hurry! You’re already hours behind in your work!
But let’s do away with the idea that all this stress is somehow beneficial, necessary, increases productivity, or separates the 'weak' from the 'strong'. Frankly, a stressful workplace is a failed workplace and a symptom of failed management. If a business cannot generate revenue to pay for its work then that is a failed business, and the same can be said for a business that cannot find time to do the work it is paid to do.
The difference is that while we wouldn’t countenance employees subsidising an employer that makes a loss, we see no problem in employees working unpaid overtime, or compressing 60 hours of work into 40 to get the job done.
Frankly, a stressful workplace is a failed workplace and a symptom of failed management.
This isn’t just an argument about fairness and work-life balance. Being stressed literally diminishes your ability to perform to a high standard.
We are all familiar with the idea of 'fight-or-flight' as a response to danger, but as far as your body is concerned, stress is danger. Have you ever paled at the realisation that you’re screwed? That is the blood flowing from your skin to your muscles so you can run away faster.
Adrenaline burst? That’s going to help you if your problem needs wrestling to the ground but it isn’t going to help those pivot tables or make you type and click fast enough to meet that deadline.
Have you ever felt like crying because you’re stressed out? That’s because your body is so full of stress hormones that the best way to calm down is to expel them in your tears.
We are all familiar with the idea of 'fight-or-flight' as a response to danger, but as far as your body is concerned, stress is danger.
Stress can make you heal slower, and once the adrenaline has worn off, the other stress hormone, cortisol, urges you to eat so you can replace all the calories you were supposed to burn away fighting or fleeing, leading to weight gain. Stressful environments also diminish creativity, which makes sense because fight-or-flight is no time for reflective contemplation.
The effects were highlighted quite recently as part of Stress Awareness Day, and there are some great resources that can help you understand its hold over you.
You might find some techniques to manage it, you might find techniques to reduce it.
Just don’t pretend that it's good for you.
Picture courtesy of Sodanie Chea
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