Is Work Killing You? A Doctor’s Prescription for Treating Workplace Stress

Is Work Killing YouStress in the workplace has been rising steadily for the past twenty years.  Corporate downsizing increases the workload of remaining employees.  Technological advances  increase management’s  expectation that employees do more work – faster.

As a medical doctor, Dr. David Posen has been in a position to see the effects of workplace stress on workers. In his book, Is Work Killing You?  A Doctor’s Prescription for Treating Workplace Stress, he outlines the most frequent causes of employees’ stress and argues that the current level of stress in the workforce is unsustainable.  From his viewpoint as a doctor and business consultant, he believes stress in the workplace is tearing people apart and decreasing productivity.

Dr. Posen provides a litany of reasons for the increase in workplace stress.  But he summarizes all the sources of stress into what he calls The Big Three:

Work Volume:  There is too much work for too few people.  Fueled by management’s desire to run “lean and mean”, excessive volume results in too many projects, meetings, emails and deadlines for the workforce to handle efficiently.

Work Velocity:  The pace at which people are expected to work is unrealistic.  Due to technological advances, everything is moving faster and people are impatient.  “I sent you an email ten minutes ago.  Why haven’t you responded yet?” is a typical question in today’s workplace.

And finally, what I call the Really Big Number Three:

Abuse:  Perhaps related to increasing levels of stress, unchecked difficult people, interpersonal conflict, harassment and bullying continue to take a terrible toll on employees and productivity.

The author offers many suggestions, for managers and employees, to ease the pressure under which employees work. No Bullying Unfortunately, many of his ideas are unlikely to be executed because of low levels of employee job security.  Several of his recommendations, however, are realistic, sensible and should be adopted immediately.  Among them:

  • Create a “no-tolerance” policy against bullying in the workplace.  It would enhance corporate culture and improve  productivity.
  • Manage the deluge of email communication.  Protocol for using Reply All, cc and bcc should be clear and the need seldom.

Huffington Post (Infographic) How Your Job is Slowly Killing You

Read Is Work Killing You?  A Doctor’s Prescription for Treating Workplace Stress, by Dr. David Posen – available at Amazon.com

Mental Health Lacks Strong Employer Support in the U.S.

Banker in DistressMental illness affects 1 in 4 people in the U.S. every year.  Are you working with a colleague who has dealt with a mental health issue – involving them or a family member?

If you answered yes, you join 45% of American workers who responded affirmatively to the same question in a recent Public Policy Poll.  That is a staggering number.  Almost half of Americans work with someone who has had to deal with a mental health issue.

More than a third (37%) of the survey respondents indicated that, at some point over the course of their careers, they had to deal with a mental health  issue involving them or a family member.  Of those of who had personally dealt with mental illness, 40% said they had missed work for several days,  a week or more as a result.  Forty-five percent (45%) said they had changed their work schedule to deal with the issue.

Sadly, less than half (47%) said their employers offered support structures or benefits to help employees dealing with stress, anxiety and other forms of mental illness.

When employees are dealing with stress, anxiety, depression, and other forms of mental illness, it’s difficult for them to do their job effectively.  These issues impact people, profits, and operations. When 45 percent of employees that deal with mental health problems have to change their work schedule because of what they’re going through, it’s a sign to the business community that this issue is worthy of some serious attention.

Dean Debnam, CEO of Workplace Options

Five Dirty Little Secrets Every HR Professional Knows About Performance Reviews

The traditional performance appraisal is long past its “use by” date.  Like a bad carton of milk, it should be washed down the drain.  Why?

  1. Performance reviews, with their rating scales and distribution curves, destroy teamwork.  Employees are forced to compete against each other for the highest ratings.Now Or Later Signpost Showing Delay Deadlines And Urgency
  2. Employees’ focus during performance appraisal meetings is on listening for the final rating; because the rating is tied to the salary increase the employee thinks he/she will receive.  As a result, the employee doesn’t hear the performance feedback.
  3. Managers manipulate the performance reviews and ratings to justify the salary increase they want to give the employee.
  4. Performance reviews hurt companies in lawsuits as often as they help because the reviews are inaccurate.
  5. Employee performance reviews don’t improve a company’s performance. Destruction of teamwork and employee stress caused by maintaining the performance appraisal process is a distraction and drain on productivity.

There is a better way.  The performance appraisal meeting between manager and employee can be centered on the employee’s development and improving performance in the workplace.  Separate discussions about salary adjustments can be tied to the performance of the company, economy and market rate of the job.

A few companies are taking the lead in eliminating the traditional performance appraisal or modifying the process significantly, among them Adobe and Expedia.

Jacob Shriar, at Officevibe, posted a summary of companies that are leading by example in destroying the performance appraisal process as it has been known.  Read Jacob’s post, “It’s Time to Get Rid of Performance Appraisals”.

How A Suicide Affects the Workforce

Business People Working in an officeA total of 29,199 Americans died by suicide in 1999. I know how one of those suicides affected a company’s workforce because I worked closely with the employee who killed herself. As a member of the Human Resources Department, I knew the employee well, both personally and professionally. She was my manager. From my viewpoint in Human Resources, I saw the impact to both employees and the business.

Carolyn* was one of the first female executives of a major U.S. company. She had started her career in Texas and successfully climbed through the ranks of a male-dominated industry during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Carolyn was smart, attractive and tough. At the time of her suicide, she had recently been promoted to lead a major division of the company and had relocated with her husband.  She was perceived by most to be at the top of her game.

Her sudden death by suicide hit both employees and the company hard.

Every employee death is tragic and can impact the workforce. But a death by suicide is unique in its ramifications to the workplace. The causes of suicide are complex. While an accidental death, such as with an automobile, will cause sadness and disruption within the workforce, a suicide can also cause confusion and feelings of guilt. Employees who wouldn’t think of holding themselves accountable for a co-workers’ accidental automobile death, will torture themselves with guilt over not having done enough to prevent a suicidal death.

Workplaces are communities.   Whether it is large or small, tight-knit or hostile, a place of work has a culture about it. In many of today’s businesses, employees spend more time with co-workers than with family or friends. And due to the competitive nature of the business environment, employees depend upon each other to carry out shared business goals. As a result, deep and meaningful friendships are forged in the workplace among co-workers. Indeed, some businesses go so far as to promote their company culture as a “we are family” environment.

Whatever the dynamics of the workplace, the death by suicide of a co-worker creates shock, confusion, guilt and grief in varying degrees among employees. To make matters worse, employees’ emotional reactions are often hidden. An employee who feels extreme guilt believing he/she should have noticed a co-worker’s struggles before a suicide may be too ashamed to discuss their feelings or ask for help. The employee suffers and grieves alone and in silence.

Confusion reigns after the suicide of an employee. People have a basic need to understand a traumatic event and, more often than not, there is no clear explanation for a suicidal death. So there is no way to fill this human need to understand. That won’t prevent employees from attempting to find a reason for what has happened. Talk, speculation, rumor and gossip can run rampant throughout the organization immediately following a suicide. This is a painful phase of the healing process and it disrupts productivity.

Companies previously known to show tremendous compassion at the time of an employee’s death will suddenly retreat from engaging with employees after a suicide because they either don’t know what to do or they become defensive and fearful of possible legal repercussions.

In a business environment, livelihoods are at stake. Employees can’t help wondering, “What does this mean for me?” The sudden tragic loss of a key employee can put a major project in danger, threatening others’ jobs. Or an employee called upon to fill the vacancy created by a co-worker’s suicide may feel guilty or unworthy as a result of benefiting from a colleague’s tragic death. Pressure to “get back to work” so as to preserve job security can short-circuit employees’ need to process the event and grieve.

Carolyn’s suicide affected employees deeply and widely across the company. Shock and confusion were the immediate reactions to the news that she had taken her life. Because she was highly respected and perceived as successful within the company, employees couldn’t understand her death by suicide. Speculation about the cause of her suicide lasted for a very long time following her death – years in fact. The loss of Carolyn from a key role in the company during a critical business acquisition caused a loss of confidence among some employees. Others worried about the impact to their careers. The amount of guilt and grief suffered by those who had worked closely with her for years was immeasurable.

Resource for employers:

A Manager’s Guide to Suicide Postvention in the Workplace:  10 Action Steps for Dealing with the Aftermath of a Suicide

WorkingMinds.org – Website provides tools and networks to workplaces to aid with suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention.

*The name has been changed.

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