Managing Stress in the Workplace

The stresses and type of change experienced by employees today are totally different to anything encountered before. Change in the workplace was previously characterised by innovations that moved in a linear direction. In other words the company goals and the roles of the employees remained fairly constant while the means of attaining the desirable goals changed. Employees, while clear of their own roles, had to deal with increasingly fast-paced changes that were directed at improving familiar targets or goals. While this was stressful in itself, it was nothing in comparison to the changes that characterise today’s business.

The changes are no longer moving in the old familiar linear directions. Take for instance a digital-switching telecommunications manufacturer that suddenly discovers that it has saturated the market. It is then faced with one of two options: either it closes down or rapidly reinvents itself. In this example it could possibly change from a manufacturing to a service-based industry supplying appropriate software for the very equipment it has already sold. This sort of survivalist change requires radical restructuring, retraining and usually retrenchment. There will also be a fundamental change in the company goals and the roles of the remaining employees.

The word hyperchange has crept into usage to try to encapsulate the unique stresses now facing most business employees. Hyperchange is characterised mostly by unpredictability, novelty and total loss of long-term job security. This is often compounded by the surfeit of frequently contradictory information that is now available, which makes quick and confident decision-making difficult. The resulting paralysis of action and sense of impotency has led to the recognised disorder ‘Information Fatigue Syndrome.’

While occasional change may be stimulating and creative, hyperchange is associated with chronically high stress levels and low job satisfaction and productivity. This, in turn, is directly associated with increased levels of worker disability and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Professor Ian Angell of the London School of Economics succinctly sums up the new situation facing employees.

“Job losses are not the result of some temporary downturn in the economic cycle but are the result of structural change. The lights are going out for whole categories of employment. We are entering an age of hopelessness, and age of resentment, an age of rage.”

Employees who have survived downsizing, restructuring or retrenchment often exhibit classic signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, a syndrome first noted in survivors of concentration camps and major wars. These symptoms include:

  • A devalued self-esteem, characterised by recurrent feelings (or dreams) of vulnerability and helpless rage
  • Emotional numbness with a resulting decrease in the number of social contacts and relationships
  • Mood swings, fatigue, sleep disturbances and an increased susceptibility to infection

Other symptoms which are indicative of a chronic stress overload, and which may be affecting performance and health, include:

  • Depression, panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorders (e.g. constantly washing hands, checking light switches or counting items) irritability, irrational outbursts, indecision and memory loss
  • Increased deviant behaviour (this can include anything from physical aggression to eating binges, gambling and promiscuity), increased smoking and drinking, nail- and lip-biting, teeth grinding and constant finger- or foot-tapping
  • High blood pressure, headaches, insomnia, diarrhoea, chronic muscle pain and depressed immune function

One of the most effective and proven ways of dealing with the high physiological and psychological toll associated with hyperchange is to ensure that each person is not deficient in the stress-protective nutrients. Studies have shown that regardless of whether the stress is acute or chronic, the ratio of depleted nutrients remains the same and the severity of the depletion is directly correlated to the degree and duration of the stress.

Biological protection should, in fact, form a cornerstone of business practice to protect the mental and physical health of the workforce as well as maximise their work productivity and job satisfaction. It is one of the most simple yet cost-effective solutions to a growing and pervasive problem.

The McNab’s SuperChill formulation is weighted in favour of the stress-protective vitamins and minerals. These particular nutrients have been shown to increase an individual’s ability to cope with all types of stress and alleviate the diverse symptoms that characterise the stress-overload syndrome.