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Wednesday, 18 October, 2000, 13:15 GMT 14:15 UK
Are you stressed at work?
The phone won't stop ringing, the paperwork's piling up, and the boss is breathing down your neck - you're stressed, but is it damaging your health?
Up to one in ten people suffer from workplace stress, leading in some cases to unemployment or hospitalisation, according to the International Labour Organisation.
In another survey the UK Mental health charity Mind report that 27% of people questioned said they would rather lie to their boss than say they had to take time off work because of mental stress.
What is it about work that leaves you a bag of nerves? Would you be scared to tell the boss you're suffering? What can be done to make the workplace less of a nightmare?
Here are your views and experiences:
While the totally overriding "raison d'etre" for modern business is profit profit and more profit, with little concern to those affected, stress can only increase hugely. The prevalence of a macho culture where to leave at a reasonable hour is frowned upon, is both self defeating and ultimately inefficient.
Whatever happened to the early 60s prediction of what we would be doing now with all our leisure time?
I love the way we all are forced to take stress for granted when we all know what sort of daunting damage it does to our lives. Funny that we aren't encouraged to quit work despite the obvious health damage when we're so vehemently advised against evils like sugar, sex, fat, cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, etc. I know work is a social necessity but so is fun. So why aren't governments tackling the stress issue the way they deal with all the rest of the harm that we supposedly do to ourselves in this day and age?
I understand work-related stress being applied to members of the armed, emergency, or health services.
The idea that people can get stressed over money, time, or power makes me smile in disbelief.
In reply to Matt UK:
Please impart your wisdom to us all about stress management? You obviously do not live in the same world as the rest of us so another perspective on it would be most welcome!
My mum suffers terrible stress at work everyday as she gets bullied - verbally. It has been going on for a while now and I'm worried that she will suffer from a nervous break down. I think that there should be some sort of supervision in the workplace to help prevent this sort of thing from happening.
Overbearing managers, increasing workloads, impossible deadlines, I work in sales and have always had to juggle the above with crazy annual driving mileage's that would make a lorry driver sweat. So I did what others have suggested here and re-evaluated my life. I quit my job for something more locally based and less pressurised and I've never been so stressed and miserable in my life. No management structure, no workload, no targets, no training or expectations can actually be hell on earth.
While I love the content of my work and the overall job, people really bug me. Procrastinators, those in authority making promises re deadlines then telling staff at the 11th hour, that sort of thing. Driving to and fro work doesn't help either because everyone else out there is so stressed out, they take it out on the population at large when behind the wheel. I'm not anti social, I just resent others in my organisation making my job more stressful than it needs to be.
The important point is that we all react differently to the stimulus of stress - sweeping generalisations on how to fix it won't help. A person feeling stressed at work needs to think about the source of the stress, seek measures to stop it from happening if possible, and discover some relaxation or calming techniques that will work for them, be it exercise, meditation, or a good healthy argument with someone!
Stress is not the employee's inability to cope with excessive demands and the bad management of bullying bosses; stress is a consequence of the employer's failure to provide a safe system of work as required by the UK Health and Safety at Work Act (1974).
My biggest source of work stress stems from the fact that I am distracted by too many non-work related things, which leaves me very little time to recharge myself to improve my work-related knowledge and skills.
Jane Birkby, UK
Stress can also be caused by one's more 'laid-back' colleagues who obviously aren't working themselves to death, and think that everyone else in the office is also interested in their children, love-life, marital problems, hobbies, new video card etc.
Oh for a bit of peace and quiet, so that I can concentrate on my job!
To Ben Powell;
You are assuming everyone looking at this page is doing so from work - don't you realise how many people use the internet from home in their own time for their own leisure.
Living in today's modern society, one could be forgiven for experiencing stress in the workplace. Belonging to a rather stressful occupation one knows that the slightest mistake will bring question upon ones ability to perform what's expected. Living in such a competitive society enforces the saying of "dog eat dog", and when one considers the unavailability of suitable employment, it truly is "survival of the fittest".
My own bitter experiences with stress have led me to resort to a variety of methods to lift, what I describe as the grey cloud stress brings over me. Some have brought temporary relief, others were no more than a waste of time. The one and only thing that I have found that can reduce work stress is simply less work. Much of the stress I have encountered, and witnessed in others, is simply due to the overly high expectations placed on them in terms of workload. I have worked in local government for over 17 years and I have seen far too many times the situation where very talented and capable people are pushed to extremes simply because they are talented and capable. Unreasonable workloads, I feel, is the real problem with most work stress
When I worked in the lab in the East Midlands, it was my own work and for my future, so I didn't mind 2-4 late nights a week. Now I've left academia for slightly better money in industry, I remember why a) I left London in the first place and b) in such a client focused industry (in which we are no.3 in the world) is hellish. As it all depends on contracts and repeat business, one is forever trying to meet deadlines you never set. I am seriously considering my position. I'm 5 months into my career change and tempted to go back to a life I enjoyed and could handle (but far less money). Managers need to ensure that resources are made available to meet the targets, crisis management is not the way to run a business.
I run a company called Positive under pressure. We work with many organisations to help them reduce stress in the workplace. It is surprising that "I am unhappy at work" is often translated as "I am stressed at work" One of our largest client bases is doctors. They like many other high achieving, compulsive, perfectionists, seek out and add to their own pressures without realising it. I would love to hear from others who have experienced similar effects. You can visit our website at www.positiveunderpressure.com
The problem resides with the Protestant
Work Ethic, which 'glorifies' work:
The more the better, and you're supposed
to show how much and how well
you work. The reward of hard work
is a promotion, which implies yet more
work. And less time for living.
Every company rewards those who
show how keen they are to 'contribute'
to what in reality is a complex ritual
A more human society would
be one where work is seen as a
necessary evil, and where there is
no stigma attached to leisure.
IMHO workplace stress is really the result of the lack of sensible organisation and training endemic in UK business. Usually the larger the business, the worse it becomes. My belief is that this is primarily the fault of over-management especially those who continually tinker with systems/structures in the name of 'progress'. The end product is continual confusion among both their staff and customers, which inevitably leads to frustration and the consequences of this
I work in a boring dead-end warehouse job. It is also the least stressful job I have ever done. I do wish it was a little (but not too!) stressful
like my previous jobs just to make time pass more quickly. I found in the past that stress was caused by demanding jobs with low wages.
Stress? We have a ball here! Go and work for a huge company and wallow in the incompetence all around you. We all get over £30k and my boss doesn't even know when I take holiday!
Isn't stress a very subjective thing? I think we all worry so much about being stressed that it in turn increases our levels of anxiety. I think the only answer is to keep searching for the thing that it is you really want to do in life and not just do something because change is perceived to be difficult (or stressful!). Life is too short to worry continuously and is self-defeating, the more you worry, the more worried you are. I'm currently deciding whether to take up a job in the private sector (from the public sector) as a WAP portal co-ordinator . I feel stressed just thinking about the possible stress that it may result in.
You have to learn to recognise stress, then develop a coping strategy. That's all.
During my last job in the City my boss could be a bit overbearing at times. After one particular session I told him, quite literally, to f*** off and leave me to get on with what he had tasked me. After that, rather than being handed my P45, his respect for me grew and he was a lot less demanding. It can work for you too!
I would like to respond to Pauline Phillips comment, "All the people who complain of stress in the office should put in 12 hours at the coalface". I don't think that anyone here would disagree that working under such hard and dangerous conditions for long periods of time wouldn't be stressful but please don't belittle those who have to endure endless deadlines, demanding unreasonable bosses as well as aggressive employees and co-workers day after day after day. A warm dry office can also be a "hell on earth" sometimes.
Greed is one of the major contributors to stress today. Years ago our expectations were simple - food, warmth, shelter, life revolved around the family. We've become so obsessed in having to have the latest car,
biggest TV, most up-to-date computer that we put ourselves under incredible pressure to earn the money to pay for these unnecessary luxuries. Trouble is, no matter how much we analyse it not many of us are brave enough
to get off the conveyor belt and say enough is enough!
To anyone who has contributed to this page and says they feel stressed: perhaps if you didn't spend so much time surfing the net you might get some work done and not get stressed about it.
Sue C, Australia
I feel I must take issue with David, USA's comments. I am also an IT consultant and have also worked in the US on an H1-B for one of the most conservative and demanding companies in the country.
I appreciate the privileged position my profession affords with demand outstripping supply and have always used that as an excuse to lay down, at any client site, MY working conditions and guidelines. David - you are in one the few areas of endeavour that allows you to do this, many do not have this luxury. Stand up for yourself, man.
Try to use different techniques of relaxation at least twice a day, don't sacrifice lunchtime and leave all work problems at work - don't bring them home to the family. If this doesn't help, changing the job might be the only solution.
I used to work in London for about 2 and half years
as a temp secretary. In that time I worked
for around 7 major companies in the City. I can only
name one decent boss that I had during that time. Stress
and its consequences are to be blamed on the bullying, vindictive,
nasty and badly organised bosses who seem to infiltrate the
workplace on every level. Work is hard enough
without someone constantly bearing down on you.
I feel that Human Resources have to become more
humane (forgive the pun) and address the major problem
of bullying and harassment of workers by bosses.
I'm afraid the UK has a real problem here. I'm working in Zurich now, where the corporate environment is stable and management is open and clear. As a result, staff are happier. Last year I worked for a big company in London, where stress was endemic. Not so much because of volume of work but because of stupid Dilbert-style corporate initiatives, re-orgs, buzzwords and endless tinkering with systems and structures, so that nobody really knew where they stood.
I too recommend Albert's
(Devakaram) view of spending at
least an hour a day doing physical
exercise. I go to the local gym to
sweat out properly and leave all my
problems behind once entering the
gym. My personal policy has always
been "Health is Wealth".
Phil Saum, UK
Work would be a pleasure if we didn't have the stress of having to commute using ineffective transport networks.
Long working hours, leaving just enough time to recuperate before falling asleep = no life.
All the people who complain of stress in the office should put in 12 hours at the coalface. This would put their "stress" perspective.
Peter Westa, UK
With all these articles about stress coinciding with the recent calls for the decriminalisation of cannabis, it looks to me like we might have the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak...!
A project I'm currently working on allows me to work from home one day a week. Not only do I seem to get more done away from the office, I am also much more relaxed for the rest of the week. Not everyone can do this, but for me it is a godsend.
I am not impressed by the "work smart" message from Matt in this discussion. I tried it and it worked for a while, then my employers noticed I was on top of my workload so they handed me more. Work culture these days is flawed, I honestly believe that a less loaded and stressed employee will yield better results than a tired one. The real work smart message should be aimed at the employers.
Chris Hann, USA (Brit)
Stress is self-imposed. Try making real time for yourself and even meditating. Twenty minutes meditation morning and night has certainly played a big part in helping me control my 'stress levels' inside and outside work.
Lack of training, impossible management demands and hostile clients and co-workers contribute the most to a person's work related stress. I applaud those that have found ways to cope!
Technology is (usually) designed to make our lives easier and shouldn't be blamed for stress at work.
However, I feel that it is a lack of understanding of these technologies, through poor design by manufacturers and ineffective training of employees by big business that is causing many of these problems.
I'm an expat working in the USA on a H1-B visa as an electronic systems engineer. I work twelve hours a day, seven days a week. My workday starts at 7.00am after a 45-minute commute. I rarely get to stop for lunch and usually don't get out of the office before 7.30pm. The building/ bunker I work in is explosion-proof and has no windows. Personal items are prohibited due to security concerns. I haven't seen daylight in almost a month now. I think I'm stressed out and in desperate need of a holiday (fat chance, though).
John Stevens, UK
I often do contract work as well as having permanent positions, and I quite often find the assignments with the lower work loads more stressful than the busier ones. Other factors, such as office politics, environment, location and colleagues play just as large a part as working hours.
Thanks to the technology revolution "what used to take several days now takes only several seconds", yet we tend to work more not fewer hours! Go figure that one.
Surely the most stressed-out workers won't have enough time on their hands to send in their comments!
I work constantly with the public. Many clients seem to see the employees as automatons and not as people. Also I believe that many of our clients have a magical view of technology and cannot believe that their order doesn't just magically appear. Of course they take their frustration out on the first person they see - the employee.
Stress in the workplace is now as common as the computer. An understanding manager can help, but stress is caused by having too much to do, in too little time and without the training or resources to do tasks properly. In the UK, we still have an ethos of working unpaid overtime "just to get the job done", and that involves working all hours, not taking appropriate holidays etc. We need to recognise people as an asset, and look after their mental welfare and not just their Share Options and Salary package.
I try to reduce workplace stress in several ways. I learn to get along with everyone, despite the pressure and enjoy the work at all times. This has been possible mainly because I do physical exercises, including jogging, for about one hour daily before coming to the office. I also take Steffi, my dog, for a long walk daily. Whenever I face difficulties, the love and loyalty Steffi and I enjoy (the very thought of it) renew my energy and they give me enough strength to overcome the problems in my workplace.
Work can be very stressful. My primary stresses are the people calling constantly on the phone!
"It is not stress that kills us, but it is effective adaptation to stress that permits us to live".
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