Dealing with workplace stress

19 Nov

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Feeling exhausted? Getting out of bed, feeling like a thoroughly pummeled punching bag instead of well rested? Groaning at the thought of going to work? Chances are, you are dealing with a massive case of workplace stress.

Scrap the ‘chances’. You definitely are dealing with workplace stress. The question is what are you going to do about it? Workplace stress affects an unsustainable number of people worldwide, making them unproductive and thus directly affecting the economy of the countries they work in. A number of countries have acknowledged this problem and are taking steps to study, identify and manage the sources of workplace stress. As can be expected, these are several and affect different people differently.
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Nevertheless, acknowledging the problem and trying to make employees as comfortable as possible instead of as disoriented as possible, will go a long way towards reducing the problem, which a number of developed countries are working on. A surefire way of identifying a ‘developed’ country from a ‘developing’ country is the way they treat their workers. Most developed countries have rules and regulations in place for minimum wages, overtime compensation, ability of the employee to say no to overtime, mechanisms for employees to question superiors and complain about them if necessary, and the understanding that an employee to be fully productive needs a ‘work-life balance.’
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Which of these boxes does Sri Lanka tick? Many people would be justified in thinking, very little. We do have certain strong labour laws in place, but most of them are just ignored, especially in the private sector. Unemployment levels and job insecurity in general make many people reluctant to question the policies of their company management – and most of those policies are downright exploitative.
There are cases of having to work overtime without pay and shaming those who seek to leave on the dot at five, cases of having to be on-call via mobile phone or internet to one’s boss 24 /7, cases of having to work on weekends and statutory holidays with little or no pay, cases of not being compensated adequately for the work done, cases of having to work without a contract and of being cheated of not only EPF/ETF but also the last month’s salary when leaving…

These are common complaints one hears across the board from workers in the country but many either do not know their rights or seek to keep a low profile in order to maintain their jobs at whatever cost. Meanwhile, even in developed countries, workplace stress is still a common phenomenon and as such several methods have been developed or put forward to reduce the problem.

The first step is to identify the source of the stress. In many cases the change that is causing the stress such as too much work, might be due to the work building up slowly but steadily so that many might not have noticed. And when they eventually feel the effects of the stress such as exhaustion, anxiety or irritability, they often do not understand why.
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Every generation has its cross to bear and the prevalent problem of the current working generation is workplace stress. Don’t adopt a defeatist attitude of thinking that there is nothing you can do about it and that job security at the cost of everything else is paramount. First identify the cause.

Is it:

1) Exploitative company policies?

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Do you work for a company that will put you on half-day if you are a few minutes late yet seeks to guilt-trip you into believing that it is wrong to leave at five? You are entitled to leave at the time specified by your contract which should ideally be no more than for forty hours a week. If there are practices in place where you are expected to work late or even stay late without work, just because there is a workplace ‘culture’ of not leaving at five, question the ethos and demand your rights. Don’t simply give in to it.

2) A demanding or bullying boss?
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Take up any management related book these days and there will be reams devoted to how the employees ought to be treated right and with the due respect they deserve. Most Sri Lankan managers however seem to either not have studied this very relevant management material or used it only for passing their exams.
No, just the designation ‘Manager’ does not give anyone the right to lord it over others unnecessarily. They are being paid to ‘manage’ the employees in the best manner possible in order to get the best productivity out of them. If instead, they are just making your lives difficult and reducing your productivity, make sure to let people above them know what they are doing. The ‘bottle-neck’ in most companies are the middle-level managers who are inefficient and unable to handle their own power, but who then turn around and blame the employees for their lack of productivity. It can become a vicious cycle unless addressed properly.

3) Lack of trust, co-operation or co-ordination among colleagues?
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This is another common problem in sectors with a high rate of unemployment. The extreme job insecurity can make many people mean and vicious, in order to hold on to their own jobs as well as get rid of potential ‘threats’ in the form of competent colleagues or juniors. If your colleagues are intent on running a ‘rat-race’ that you don’t want to be a part of, take stock of the situation and view the various ways in which you can address it. Perhaps you can even enlist the management’s help in letting people know that it is not necessary to continually under-cut each other and make the working environment poisonous for everybody. If all else fails, look into different ways of developing yourself so that you can get out of that field or company and work in self-employment or some other field.

4) Too much work and responsibilities?
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Sometimes the work and responsibilities might have built up over time. If suddenly, you feel as if you are unable to cope with it, it might be time to re-evaluate the situation with your boss. Ask for an assistant or the reduction of some of the work-load. Delegate if you can and make sure you develop the necessary skills to delegate and supervise effectively, otherwise you’ll end up being one of those terrible managers you once moaned about. Management and supervising of others is a skill and it has to be learned. Simply working 10 years at an organization and being promoted to the next stage will not make you a ‘manager’ in the true sense of the word.

How to reduce the effects of stress on the body

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If you are at or nearing middle age, chances are that you are portly, developed or developing high blood pressure, diabetes or cardiovascular diseases and are considered a terror by your children due to your short temper. All that is not a sign of age. They are signs of your having unsustainable workloads and related work-place stress. Here are some tips to handle them so that they don’t affect your body and emotional / mental health too adversely:

1) Exercise: Every morning, make sure you fit in at least half an hour (but ideally an hour) of exercise before you go to work. Choose what suits you best, whether it be yoga, aerobics, jogging or the gym. Getting your blood to flow properly and working out the kinks in your body is all important to having not only the physical health but also the mental/emotional health to deal with your demanding job.

2) Meditate/ listen to music / have a hobby: make absolutely sure you have some essential ‘Me’ time every week dedicated to yourself and your own rejuvenation, whether it be hitting the spa or watching a movie with friends. And do it as regularly as possible. Allocate time for it, instead of doing it only when you find the time occasionally.

3) Time for family: Make sure you switch off from work once you are home, no matter how committed you are to your job. In order to remain committed, you’ll need to learn to switch off or you’ll develop burn-out eventually. Learning to balance your professional and personal lives is a must.

4) Be strong: in order to manage bullying / unfair policies at work, you’ll have to build yourself up adequately; in your professional strengths, in your communicating capabilities as well as your abilities to address the issues confronting you with intelligence.
All of that wouldn’t happen overnight, assess yourself and your environment and develop the required skills to combat the problems you face.

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