As workplace stress levels rise, so do costs


EUSTRESS AND DISTRESS: Positive and negative levels have different effects

“EMPLOYEES need to manage their own stress level. That’s what they are paid for. If they cannot do this, maybe they should just stay at home or find work elsewhere. What counts here is that KPIs key performance indicators (KPIs) are met and teams managed productively.”

These statements are made mainly by those who somehow learned how to manage their stress level, ignore the impact of stress on their health or are addicted to the level of stress in their life.   But also by those that haven't realised the true cost caused by ever increasing stress levels in organisations. And the impact that stress has on exactly what they wish employees would accomplish -- a negative impact on KPI, teamwork and corporate profitability.

 Yes, there is a positive level of stress called Eustress.  Eustress is defined as the amount of positive energy that excites, motivates and moves a person to achieve a goal and to get things done.

 But another level of stress called distress causes major harm to health.

 The costs of distress are astonishing and while data for Malaysia are hard to come by, they have been documented for other parts of the world.

   IN 2006, more than half of executives worldwide stated that they felt under greater stress than in earlier years.  Asian executives felt the greatest pressure of all. Taiwan topped the list with nearly 90 per cent of executives reporting rising stress levels followed by China, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia;

   ALMOST  six in every 10 corporate employees in India and China report they have experienced stress at their workplace;

   THE American Institute of Stress estimates that job stress costs the United States industry more than RM920 billion annually;

   FORTY per cent of job turnover in the US is due to stress. The Wall Street Journal reported that one third of people considered quitting their jobs because of stress and 14 per cent actually did; and,

   IN the US, 60 to 80 per cent of accidents on the job are stress-related and 51 per cent of employees report that job stress reduces their productivity.

  "EMPLOYEES need to manage their own stress level. That's what they are paid for. If they cannot do this, maybe they should just stay at home or find work elsewhere. What counts here is that key performance indicators (KPIs) are met and teams managed productively."

The physical effects of excessive stress have long been recognised -- from heart attacks and strokes to ulcers and other gastrointestinal disorders. Ongoing stress also takes a toll on the body's immune system, causing frequent colds and other illnesses. Psychologically, stress can lead to depression, anxiety and panic attacks.

 Stress also causes a narrowing of attention and overall fatigue, which can result in increasing accident rates and serious mistakes made by employees who start taking shortcuts at work to cope with the overall pressure.

 Many reasons are cited for rising level of stress in the society but one contributor is that we simply work much more than we did years ago.  In Malaysia, employees spend 10 or more hours at work daily -- possibly resulting in a 13th month of work in a year. Additionally, the workload for the individual employee has increased together with the pressure to deliver high quality work, often with reduced resources.

 Malaysians also cope with the stress of traffic jams before and after work and time spent in traffic simply means reduced family time, and shorter periods of relaxation and winding down.

 Stress is a major issue for companies and for individuals. Most companies haven't yet developed strategies to combat stress in the workplace. But employees have the choice to develop their own coping strategies.

 Many tips are available online on how to cope with stress, but let me share a technique that works dramatically well for me.

 First, whenever you feel relaxed, close your eyes, inhale and while exhaling say in your mind: "I am relaxed and I feel good."  This processes teaches your body and mind to strengthen the memories of calmness.

 Then, at a time when you feel stressed, just close your eyes, and take a deep breath in. Imagine yourself back to time and situation when you felt relaxed and calm. Let out the breath, slowly, and say, in your mind, "I am relaxed and I feel good".  Spread the feeling of relaxation through your body.  If you have practised earlier, the feeling of stress should now dissipate more easily.

Writer is a trainer in Neuro-Linguistic Programming with Asia Mind Dynamics

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