Stress isn’t good – that much has been clear to health professionals, employers, and psychologists for a long time now. It affects health, efficiency, productivity, and can cause a long-term impact on the body and mind. Naturally, the best way out is not to take the undue stress, but that is seldom an option for the overworked mind of today. As a result, in the age of shortcuts, we resort to quick stress-busters, which range from caffeine, sugar, alcohol, and cigarettes to even watching online videos. How much these measures work effectively to relieve stress and anxiety might need further research, but what is clear is that resorting to such practices does more harm than good in the long run.
A recent study drives an important point home – the goal at the workplace should not be to simply manage stress but to manage it in a healthy and effective manner. Instructure, a leading software firm, conducted a survey of 1,000 office employees in the US, and found that employees turn to unhealthy practices to deal with pressure and stress as much as they choose the good ones. The survey, conducted in September 2017, was conducted with US-based companies with more than 250 employees and collected responses on workplace habits, workplace culture and overall employee engagement. Here are some of the key insights from the same:
- Nearly 26% admitted to being unproductive for more than a quarter of the day when they feel stressed. An average of 77 minutes a day was spent watching non-work-related TV or videos to deal with stress.
- The above time wasted results in companies losing $8,800 per employee per year. For a company with 500 employees, this means $44 million every year.
- Caffeine (34%), sugar (9%), alcohol, anti-anxiety medication (7%) and even sleeping pills were some of the most problematic coping mechanisms to deal with workplace pressure and anxiety listed in the study.
- An alarming 78% of the respondents said that they felt the need to work more, which seemed like the only way to progress in the careers. 53% said workplace politics was important, 50% admitted that socialising outside of work, and 43% admitted to acting interested in a boss’ ‘dumb story’ in order to be able progress professionally.
- In accordance with the above results, 45% of the respondents were only ‘somewhat satisfied’ with their current job in comparison to their overall career aspirations. Similarly, 44% were only ‘somewhat satisfied’ in accordance to the opportunities available at their own companies.
- Only 25% of the respondents said that they have 1:1 meetings with their manager bi-annually or less. 16% admitted to “have made something up or embellished facts on performance reviews because they knew their boss wouldn't know the difference.”
- Employers are reportedly missing out on important opportunities to reduce stress at workplaces, as only 1/3rd of the employees said that they were encouraged to take paid time off, and only 11% were encouraged take mental health days as a way to use sick time.
- On the brighter side, a smaller minority did turn to alternatives like yoga, exercise or meditation (30%), music (15%), going for a walk (15%), tackling difficult projects first (14%) and refusing to take on more work (13%).
- 44% admitted to leaving their computers at work during non-work hours, and 21% reported to leave their work devices in a different room to cope with stress.
Matt Bingham, VP of product for Bridge by Instructure says, "Because of today's workplace atmosphere, many employees aren't able to fully disconnect after traditional work hours and feel they need to work more in order to advance. Our survey finds this type of culture can decrease workforce productivity and significantly impact profitability... The study underscores an opportunity for employers to promote greater work-life balance and establish a more frequent feedback loop with employees to help them reach their career aspirations."
The study shows that coping with stress in workplaces is as important as understanding how to do the same. If short-term ‘quick-fix’ measures are undertaken routinely, they are likely to cause damage in the long run. Our lifestyles allow for us to be dependent on coffee, sugar or medication to push through even when our physical or mental capacity doesn’t allow for it. These findings should come as a timely reminder to many who cannot get through the day without a large cup of coffee, frequent smoke breaks, or an extra large glazed donut. This advent of large servings, sugar overload and fast-food is unique to the last decade or so, and might pave way for an unhealthy workforce if left unchecked. If the employers are not proactively dealing with stress in a positive manner, employees need to look out for themselves, and take care of their own well-being. You can look at some of the suggestions suggested by the study to cope with stress in a healthy manner here.