I put a Miles Davis record on, make my second cup of coffee, and look at a handwritten To Do list peeping at me from our home work desk.
There is an absence of movement and noise other than the slight hum of the A/C and jazz music filling the entire apartment.
A rare realization hit me: I am not stressed.
From an ultra-worrier, over-thinker, multi-tasker since school days, I-can-do-it-all believer, and run-myself-to-the-ground corporate executive, this statement is like that Pranayama breath and sigh of relief that is a long time coming.
It is a weird feeling, as much as it is extremely liberating.
I know it is temporary. But even knowing that, I am almost staggered by the idea that on a Tuesday work day, I’m rid of thoughts that had jolted me awake, made me high-strung, and kept me on my toes for years.
Despite still habitually looking at my calendar, being attached to my emails, and working as a freelancer and volunteer, I am discovering a luxury that is so new I need to process it.
I am mindfully sitting back and feeling grateful for this detachment from a world I knew, at least for now.
For all the highs I’ve ridden in my corporate life, the stresses were countless and inevitable.
Just at this moment, I am enjoying some of the simplest and newest luxuries to me. I am not reading sensitive or angry emails and putting out corporate fires, either big or small. I am not chasing people every day to respond, or meet a deadline. I can afford to read and write for myself so much more than I used to. I don’t get called for meetings where the dynamics of corporate politics many times rear its nasty head. The phone is not ringing off the hook every five minutes. And oh, I am not tolerating things that I wish to fight against, but know better to.
I define the things that I need and want to do, and allocate as much time as necessary for each of them.
This is a short-term liberty as I prepare the transition into a different life overseas. And this has led me to reflect on corporate stress today, and why so many people want out of it.
Corporate ambition, survival, and success create a sequence that is chock-full of conflicts.
For a young go-getter, or a senior executive fighting to get promoted or to keep an important role, the truth has become ugly: working harder than everyone else puts priority over a potential heart attack.
A Huffington Post article by Ajarat Bada says it well, “I question the “fad” among young employees that to get an edge in the corporate world, they must work harder than their peers — to exhaustion. What happened to the ethics of efficiency? Working “well” and not necessarily “more.””
It is written that stress is a highly personalized phenomenon. An article on workplace stress states that “…job stress is far and away the major source of stress for American adults and that it has escalated progressively over the past few decades. Increased levels of job stress as assessed by the perception of having little control but lots of demands have been demonstrated to be associated with increased rates of heart attack, hypertension and other disorders.”
Among teens and adults, mental illness is on the rise.
Unfortunately, for most people I know, getting help for anxiety, stress, and depression is out of the question. Just get a drink and you’ll be fine.
True, stress is a fact of life. But reaching the point of being stressed out is many times taken personally against an individual. I echo an external voice that gags: you should be mature, resilient, and wise enough to handle things when the tough gets going.
Google can give a lot of resources for people who are stressed to better manage it. Working out, doing yoga, breathing deeply, drinking water, taking a walk, etc.
While these work to momentarily calm a person, I personally think that companies should take workplace stress seriously and give importance to mental health.
While Human Resources and all executives know about the reality of worsening work stress, what is being done about it? The employee engagement activities don’t necessarily address a burgeoning issue of employees’ mental health.
Is counselling available for employees to professionally seek help about stress management and anxiety without the stigma, the judgment, and the just-stop-being-a-kid-and-get-back-to-work reprimand? Is there a process to advocate employees’ health when workload and added pressures are reaching an unhealthy threshold?
Or, there are times when an employee goes through a personal struggle that is affecting work. We can’t just tell employees to shake it off, or worse, watch him fail.
The Harvard Business Review published an article entitled Positive Work Cultures are more Productive, stating that: “Too many companies bet on having a cut-throat, high-pressure, take-no-prisoners culture to drive their financial success.
But a large and growing body of research on positive organizational psychology demonstrates that not only is a cut-throat environment harmful to productivity over time, but that a positive environment will lead to dramatic benefits for employers, employees, and the bottom line.”
Right now, people are leaving and choosing work environments not necessarily for pay but for life-work balance and the sense of meaning they derive from their work.
I believe this is not a short-term trend. The number of freelancers is increasing fast. Company loyalty is rarely (if not never) greater than the tolerance for a stressful boss and culture.
This is an interesting conversation that executives and CEOs need to give more time to, and I am interested to see HR practitioners drive a stronger focus on employee mental health with clear and sustainable stress management efforts.
These will keep employees engaged, happy, and yes, alive.