LONDON — Why does W.H Smith have this new category of books in all it’s bigger stores? (See photo above.) Why are we obsessed with misery?
I was talking to someone who works in occupational health and safety last week. And I was surprised to hear that, even in heavily manufacturing businesses, the big issues are no longer “dead finger” or Legionnaire’s disease. Right around the world the hardest issue businesses have to deal with is: Stress.
Here’s a sampling of the statistics:
- In 2008/9 almost 500,000 people in the UK were under so much stress at work that they think it was making them ill,
- According to the 2009 Labour Force Survey in 2008/9there were 11.4 million self-reported lost working days in the UK,
- Work-related stress costs society about £3.7 billion every year in the UK (at 1995/6 prices),
- Workplace stress is costing Australian businesses $10.11 billion a year,
- Stress accounts for the highest percentage of health care costs in the USA — $6.2 billion,
These statistics are easy to find. The answers are more troubling to most businesses. Companies spend a lot of time looking for answers, with little success.
I believe there are two reasons why stress is killing your business:
1) People have decided that their lives are true-life tragedies.
Like the W.H. Smith sign says. We are becoming more and more obsessed with living in the middle of our own melodramas. Everything is so dramatic and we are always the victims. I feel it myself. It’s like we adults have never stopped being teenagers. We need to get over ourselves sometimes.
2) Employers increase people’s stress — when they should reduce it
This one worries me the most. Because organisations like yours can do something about it. And if you don’t do something about it, you can be held responsible.
HR often knows that employees are stressed and they’ll introduce “work-life balance programmes” to try to fix it. But they don’t work. They don’t work because they address the effects, not the cause.
So, bringing your dog to work, or meeting for pilates sessions in the lunch room might soothe you on one level (even briefly) but they won’t eliminate the cause of your stress.
The cause of your stress at work might be:
- you’ve got too much work
- you can’t do what you need to
- you’re being bullied or mistreated somehow
- you expect to be sacked
- and many more
These are all system and process issues within the business. They might be cultural, managerial, or they could be imposed by the market or the economic cimate. But none of those are good enough excuses. If a good day’s work is causing your employees too much stress, then you have to address the root causes.
We know how to do that.
What do you think?