Guest blog by Dana Zelicha, OBWA
Take a moment to reflect on how you woke up this morning. Were you excited to start your day, or did you feel overwhelmed, anxious, or even physically ill by the amount of tasks that awaited you? On a daily basis do you chronically multitask, trying to tackle many different tasks at once but not getting much done or feeling fulfilled? If this scenario sounds familiar, you are not alone. What you are experiencing is stress, and this rote routine has become a common side-effect for many employees as the result of the UK’s growing workplace stress epidemic. In a work environment that has become increasingly disconnected and perpetuates robotic routines, it is time to bring the humanity back to human resources.
Is the daily chaos masking stress?
While caught up in daily chaos, it may be difficult to even recognise that you are feeling stressed, as it may manifest in a variety of different ways. There are many sensations we experience during the day that we do not even realise are attributed to stress, and in order to combat stress, it is important to first identify when we are feeling it. Stress is not always bad; low levels of stress can cause boredom and low motivation, while the right amount of stress can be a helpful sign from our bodies to keep us motivated and performing well. Yet, when we have too much of it, it can have negative effects on our cognitive, emotional, habitual, and physical states. Excessive stress impairs our cognition through memory problems and an inability to concentrate, induces physical symptoms such as back pain and frequent colds, creates unhealthy habits such as overeating and social media addiction, and negatively affects our emotions in the form of moodiness, depression, and lack of motivation. These side-effects of stress spillover into the workplace in the form of absenteeism, presenteeism, and high turnover, and the increasing prevalence of these symptoms point to one unfortunate truth: we are facing a workplace stress epidemic.
488,000 cases of workplace stress in 2015-16
The mounting pressure and demands placed on employees in the fast-paced corporate environment has resulted in increased stress, depression, and anxiety, according to the UK Health and Safety Executive. The Labour Force Survey (LFS) most recently reported that there were 488,000 cases of work-related stress in 2015-16, or roughly 1,510 stressed-out workers for every 100,000 employees. Furthermore, 11.7 million working days were lost in the past year due to this epidemic. These staggering numbers indicate a dire need to address the stress, depression, and anxiety that have become rampant in the modern workplace. But what exactly is contributing to this widespread feeling of mental and emotional hardship among employees? According to the LFS, workload pressures, mounting responsibilities, tight deadlines, and insufficient support from managers are the main factors that are contributing to this epidemic.
While these issues may appear to be par for the course in any workplace, the truth is that this does not have to be the case. What if there was a way to relieve the psychological pressure of high expectations and demands, to find balance, to enhance productivity and time management, and to improve working relationships and communication, all while increasing employee engagement and fulfillment? While this may sound too good to be true, it is actually possible to achieve all of these outcomes with one simple tool: Mindfulness.
Mindfulness training addresses the main source of stress
Much more than meditation only, Mindfulness in an organisational setting is a powerful and transformative tool to change workplace culture and to cultivate an environment of compassion, resilience, and engagement. By practicing truly being present we can find clarity and connection, be more aware and attentive, and re-discover true purpose and meaning in our work. Mindfulness training can help to address the main sources of stress such as high expectations, time pressure, and lack of managerial support because it does much more than cultivate present-moment awareness: it allows us to rewire our thought patterns and change the way we interpret what is going on around us. It allows us to respond rather than react.
Not only can we change the way we respond to the stressors around us, Mindfulness can also help us to change the way we think about stress. While our first instinct is to avoid and get rid of stress completely and view it in a negative light, the truth is that we can actually utilize stress to our benefit. Stanford health psychologist Kelly McGonigal discusses how changing the way you think about stress can change the way your body handles stress on a hormonal level. When it comes to stress, it is about how you interpret it, and finding the right balance. By helping us to be present and to change our perspectives, Mindfulness training is just what the doctor ordered to cure the UK’s workplace stress epidemic.
About the author
Dana Zelicha is an Organizational Psychologist, LSE graduate and a Lecturer for Mindful Leadership at the IDC Herzliya. Zelicha is a former corporate high-flyer who’s first-hand experience with the mounting stress and pressure of the modern workforce inspired her to launch OWBA—The Well Being Agency . Zelicha has worked with global clients such as Citibank, McKinsey, Zara, and Teva Pharmaceuticals, and her goal is simple: to help the organisational world become more mindful. To arrange an informal conversation, email Dana at firstname.lastname@example.org