Wednesday, May 8, 2013

STRESS AND WELLBEING


Stress on the job is an unfortunate fact of life and probably something that is here to stay until the inevitable robot uprising (probably another cause for stress to be honest) but controlling our reactions to the stress we experience on the job is a crucial component of work–life satisfaction. Some common strategies for reducing stress are as follows:
  1. Exercise - notwithstanding the obvious weight loss and health implications, moderate, regular exercise is strongly correlated with personal well-being (peace of mind), rising levels of ‘good’ cholesterol and falling levels of bad cholesterol and reduction in other health risk factors.  Exercise also helps to reduce stress and can mitigate intermittent explosive disorder (IED) symptoms as discussed in further detail here.
  2. Relaxation - while exercise gets the heart pumping, relaxation in contrast does the exact opposite, but it too has a positive effect on stress reduction and overall well being.  There have been many studies conducted that positively demonstrate this behavior - in Western culture, the relaxation response is triggered through prayer, whereas in Eastern culture it is activated by meditation.  One fact to be considered though - one easy way of reducing stress is through the avoidance of and distancing of stressful situations in the first place - while not the easiest thing to do at work, its definitely something to be considered!
  3. Diet - A simple but basic concept that is popular with computer programmers is called GIGO.  This acronym stands for Garbage In, Garbage Out and it really speaks to the role of diet in stress management.  We are what we eat. Diet plays a significant, indirect role in stress management. While you might only correlate fatty foods with weight gain, the body too has stress symptoms that are triggered when "bad" foods are introduced.  These symptoms are shown by elevating bad cholesterol, lowering good cholesterol and dumping large quantities of glycogen (basic sugar) and sodium into the blood stream.  Unfortunately like everything else in life, the best strategy with diet is moderation.
  4. Guilt & shame. The key thing to establish here is that they are NOT the same thing!  Everyone makes mistakes in their life and guilt is a useful emotion when we resolve to make amends, however you are who you are and should never feel ashamed of that fact.  People who experience guilt will alleviate it by becoming more empathetic and working harder to resolve conflicts. Individuals who feel shame isolate themselves (I’m a bad person), become depressed (I’m worthless) and alienate others (It’s their fault).
  5. Build up your stress resistance. Like most things in life, "practice makes perfect" and while continuous and ongoing stress is not good for you - small doses can actually make you a better and more effective employee.The key principle is learning to handle more stress while you resolve to experience less of it. 

Wellness and Job Stress Management

Corporate stress-management programmes have two main goals and while an employee might think their objectives are 100% benevolent  the fact is that both goals are focused on getting the most that they possibly can from their employee. 
  1. Improve overall job satisfaction and employee performance
  2. Improve the overall effectiveness of the company

Some common features of stress management programs are:

  • Theory and information about stress, its physical effects and the psychological and behavioral problems caused.
  • Tools and resources to allow an employee to determine their level of stress and have an ongoing way of measuring it.
  • Details of some relaxation and coping techniques as discussed earlier and  if a specific stressor has been identified - more specific information on how to deal with that also.

Theory Y organizations (as discussed in further detail here and here) tend to make these commitments for more positive reasons - namely the knowledge that investing in their employees pays significant future dividends from a loyalty and commitment perspective in the future.  Theory Y organizations generally exhibit 3 key preconditions for success:

  1. Rewarding performance vs. "facetime"
  2. Focusing on living and working by values
  3. Respect for the individual

A Fact of Life

One of the biggest stressors in today's world is the threat of redundancy and job loss.  Unfortunately a significant driving factor in job loss, is the trend to outsource jobs (service and manufacturing) to developing countries.  Dealing with employees - the survivors - in industries experiencing downsizing is never easy or fun. Some of the facts of life now are:
  • Domestic competition isn't - with access to the Internet and global markets, its now extremely easy for even the smallest entrepreneur to offer their products or services in any size market.  Larger organizations are also taking advantage of these trends.
  • Big companies are getting bigger - mergers and acquisitions are a continuous and ongoing trend and most often, the managers and employees who work for the loser become the next ones to be unemployed: ‘To the winner go the spoils!’ Unfortunately while not an ideal growth choice, it is often the only way for some companies to grow in saturated markets.
  • Contractors and Temporary staff - Theory X companies especially practice this strategy and employee many contract and temporary staff due to the lower costs to the business.  Loyalty in temporary staff is not a driving factor and unfortunately due to the economic situations, there is never a lack of resources to fill the role!  Additional pressure is applied in public companies for this very same reason as the outsourcing of non-core business functions (even through the loss of skilled staff) raises profits by lowering costs.


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