I started looking into workplace stress recently, after attending a networking breakfast after some talk by the Australian Government about efficiency at work. They seem to have invested a lot of money in technology to improve efficiency. Unfortunately, they do not seem to feel there is a need to invest in people more than machines.
Let me tell you, this breakfast meeting made me stressed. Unemployment is stressful for people and creating machines to do the jobs of human beings is going to have some negative consequences. I realized that the hope that fewer people will need help managing their feelings through therapy and coaching is disappearing.
In Australia, the number of people who take “sick leave” (or as they call it, “sickie”) is quite extreme. I have to admit that this really surprised me because I have never missed work because of sickness in my life.
Australia – the land of no worries … and workplace stress
When we first moved to Australia (about 13 years ago), about 20% of the people at Gal’s workplace were “sick”. We used to joke that the Australians call their workplace to say they are sick even if they simply sneeze. Today, we know that is not the case. The truth is that they need this time away from work. As time goes on, they need it more and more in order to recover from the stress of work and daily life. In the land of “no worries” the Australians are a very stressed society.
Look at this poster from the USA talking about statistics regarding workplace stress related issues. Workplace stress related healthcare expenses and missed work costs companies 300 billions dollars! Lets look at that in numbers: $300, 300,000,000,000. That is a lot!
Do you know how much good we could do with that much money? How much we could boost our education system? Invest in sustainability? In science? Find cures for illnesses? Help eliminate world hunger?
I am sad to say that here in Australia, “sick” employees are a big issue. People here are granted “stress leave” for up to 6 month from work.
And you know what? We cannot even blame people if they were never given the tools to manage workplace stress.
We have an education system that invests billions of dollars into literacy and numeracy, but nothing on stress management and wellbeing. Kids grow up to be adults who cannot manage stress. And then they turn into parents of kids who have no skills in managing stress (at work and at home). It is a never ending cycle that gives people the message that they need to study hard and work hard, and then collapse, rather than managing the stress of their daily life. Then we complain they are not productive.
We cannot really complain. A stressed society cannot be productive. Stress is the most expensive expense!
My view might seem a little harsh. You might be thinking, “OK. Ronit, take a deep breath! Be positive!”. This is good advice. A positive outlook helps combat stress. Or I could take up singing. I have heard it has been found to be a good strategy for stress relief.
I am adopting your suggestion straight away, so imagine me singing the next paragraphs.
I hope that one day, the government will wake up and understand that we must invest in children and the wellbeing of citizens. Productivity can only be achieved by investing in people and not in technology and machinery.
I hope that one day, the government will understand that human resources are the most important resource in our society. We have to cater for and ensure that people can do their jobs without having to be sick or take time off to recover from stress.
I hope that one day, the government will invest in teaching people (young and old) how to manage stress and emotions. People’s ability to manage their own feelings is much more important than their ability to read or do trigonometry at school. Do not get me wrong, I am a math teacher and I love trigonometry, but it is minor compared to allowing people to manage themselves emotionally.
Until that day, I can only do what I know is best for stress relief. I will leave work at work (which is funny, because I work at home). When I walk through the door from my office to my home kitchen, I will say goodbye to my computer. I will take breaks every 12 minutes, make friends with the people I work with, and cherish my chair (and sit on it properly). I will be positive (fortunately for me, that comes with the job), take a vacation or two… or four every year, try to sleep enough (or at least meditate), organize my desk and be efficient with paper work. I will keep listening to music and have singing sessions with my kids (they are the singers in our house and they encourage me to sing).
I hope it will help me with the stress I have about having so much workplace stress in our society.
Happy and relaxed workplace!