Living in the 21st century requires people to be much more adaptable to the changes of the technological innovations and development that makes our daily living moving faster, more intense and to the point of feeling breathless. For this reason, many people are feeling worn-out, stressed and overwhelmed.
For example, many people are constantly checking emails, text-messages and keeping abreast with information or news flooding down from the social media pipelines.
Many of today’s employees are easily feeling physically and mentally tired as well as emotionally off-beat. Such a phenomenon may be reflecting demands that fall upon their shoulders are beyond their ability to manage or control. Having this feeling is often time called ‘stressed-out’ or ‘burn-out’.
Risks to employees’ health
On the basis of (WHO) World Health Organization’s report on ‘stress at the work place’ study, stress related hazards at work can be examined as follows:
* job is monotonous and lack of variety,
* unreasonable work-load and is under time-pressure,
* badly and unfairly designed shift system,
* lack of control over work processes,
* lack of participation in decision-making.
* lack of job security and promotion opportunities,
* low-paying job and of low social value,
* unfair performance evaluation system,
* over-qualified for the job,
* jobs do not match employees’ knowledge and ability,
* inconsiderate or unsupportive employee-supervisor relationship,
* bullying and harassment exit in work environment,
* poor leadership and lack of clarity about organizational goals,
* lack of support or inflexible eg. expectation of a last minute call for working over-time.
Risks to employer to succeed organizational goals
All of the aforementioned risks to employees’ health have a ripple effect on an organization.
* higher rate of absenteeism,
* higher employee turn-over rate,
* lower loyalty and commitment from employees
* poorer service delivery
* less competitive in the market
* higher rate of employee-labour disputes
Stress management and mental health
It has been well documented from scientific findings that stress (an environmental factor) has an impact on how our genes are expressed themselves.
When people are feeling stressed that they perceived as beyond their control, their body and the brain will react by raising the heart rate, increase the blood pressure and the rate of breathing to prepare them for a flight or fight mode. Once the perceived danger your body and mind sensed is over, the body will return to its normal state of equilibrium.
To understand this phenomenon by applying it to how a smoke detector works. Every time smoke is detected, the smoke-detector is turned on to signal a potential danger. It will be turned off when it is removed from where smoke is detected. Imagine when employees are constantly feeling stressed at work but feel having no alternative to escape from it or to manage it, it is as if having a smoke detector being turned on and off consistently.
“The brain is particularly responsive to experiences and environmental influences. External experiences spark signals between neurons, which respond by producing proteins. These gene regulatory proteins head to the nucleus of the neural cell, where they either attract or repel enzymes that can attach them to the genes. Negative influences, such as malnutrition or environmental stressors, can change the chemistry that encodes genes in brain cells — a change that can be temporary or permanent. This process is called epigenetic modification”.
“Genes are vulnerable to modification in response to excessive or prolonged activation of stress response systems in the body and brain. The prolonged release of stress hormones within the brain and body can have damaging effects on learning, behavior, and health across the lifespan”.
(National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2010).
Stress and performance
In the 2010 survey on ‘stress in America’, conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA) indicated that 70% of those respondents to the survey stating that work was a significant stressor in their life; and work-load is rated the highest cause of work-related stress. It has a direct effect on work performance. Employees who are able to perform must have a good physical and mental capacity to meet their employer’s expectations.
To understand how employees perform at their peak level, psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and John Dodson in 1908 developed the Yerkes–Dodson law. It is an empirical relationship between arousal and performance. The law dictates that performance increases with physiological or mental arousal, but only up to a point. When such a theory is further expanded by scientists in Harvard, it discovered that when performance continues without a break, it will come down near the 80% level. If an employee continues working without any breaks, the performance will turn into an inverted ‘U’.
Antidote for Employers
There is a saying that “good management is stress management”.
For an organization to compete successfully in this rapidly changing market, it is wise for employers to be proactive to address potential employee-burn-out by investing as much resources on providing continuous assessment of risks to employees’ health, offering them appropriate information and training on health issues, and creating an organizational structure that promotes employees’ mental health.