Stress in the workplace: are companies losing the plot?
It has been my experience, as a psychologist seeing many workplace clients in the course of a thirty year practice, that a large number of companies have a mistaken attitude towards their employees that have time off work due to stress. While some companies have an enlightened response to the problems that stress causes at work, there are still a number of others that perceive sufferers of this condition as weak, unreliable and a liability.
As a consequence, the situation becomes self destructive for both the employee and the employer. The employee, fearful of admitting their condition, attempts to carry on and hide how they are feeling until their health begins to suffer and more serious medical conditions begin to arise which cannot be ignored. The effects on the employer are often more discrete and subtle.
Most significantly there will be disconnect between the beliefs of senior management and those they employ. While the former may have a benign, positive view of how their workers feel about the organisation they work for, in reality the employees are likely to feel detached and disengaged from the company, its goals and ethos. Ultimately, this kind of situation leads to problems that soon begin to register with customers and clients, whose confidence in the company begins to erode resulting in less orders and lower profits.
Of course it does not have to be like this. But for the situation to change, those in charge must start to question their views and beliefs about those employees who experience workplace stress. In particular they need to view such workers not as weak and unreliable, but instead as conscientious and very motivated.
I say this from experience, many clients have come to see me due to this condition. They are often the very people who voluntarily do more than is necessary: who get in early and stay late, who are keen to ensure their work is more than just adequate and that act very responsibly in all aspects of their life. As a result, it is not that such people have been under-performing but instead maybe they have been doing too much and become overwhelmed. Such employees are the bedrock of successful businesses if they cared for and not exploited, but unfortunately not all employers understand this logic.
My final thoughts on this matter are about the need to change perceptions. Businesses need to see stress, illness and mental health conditions not as an inconvenience, but as a signal that requires attention, caring interventions, support and treatment.
If you are experiencing workplace stress and are concerned about your health, you may benefit from discussing your concerns with a professional. A counsellor will help you learn to cope and manage stress, as well as recognising when you need to take a step back.
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