Organizations, like individuals, differ greatly in their attitudes to
stress. Some take a hard-line approach, expecting their employees to be tough
enough to handle stress. Others are more caring and helpful in their responses
to such problems.
Knowing the culture
Take note of the predominant attitudes and behaviour at work to
assess your organization’s approach to stress. If stress is an intrinsic part
of a job, it is often easier to glamorize it than to change working practices.
In certain work cultures, some stress is unavoidable. Oil and mining companies
expect employees to spend time away from home. Management consultancies and
investment banks ask their staff to work long hours. It is important to be able
to identify unacceptable levels of stress in the workplace. Disguising stress
can make it harder to deal with the long-term effects.
This case reflects a common problem. Many high-powered employees
accept the heavy workload imposed by their companies and brag about their
responsibilities to disguise stress and fears of failure. This company acted
well by admitting that it had contributed to an unacceptably high stress
The managing director of a large commercial company often boasted
that he spent more time out of the office on business trips than at his
When asked to develop a new product line, he worked day and night
to co-ordinate the efforts of different departments. He flew across the world
in search of information and contacts to ensure that the new line would be a
success. His free time shrank, his home life suffered, he was constantly tired,
and he ate poorly, but because he knew that his company was depending on him,
he continued. He began to experience severe stomach pains and was diagnosed
with a peptic ulcer.
The company accepted that his condition was due to the stress of
his workload. On his doctor’s orders, he took a long holiday. A stress
counsellor was appointed by the company to help prevent future problems.
If your organization ignores stress in the workplace, try persuading
its decision-makers to take stress seriously by making them aware of the
benefits of a new attitude. For example, point out how much money stress can
cost in absenteeism, and explain how much other companies have saved –
several American companies claim to have reduced absenteeism by up to 60 per
cent by introducing counselling for staff. Remind employers that productivity
usually increases when employees are happy.
Assessing commitment to staff
Some indication of a company’s commitment to minimizing stress among
its employees can be gleaned from its expenditure on the following:
Training and development
Companies sometimes give a figure for this in their annual
accounts. If there is no figure, ask why.
Rewards and promotion
A company that appreciates good work may give financial or other
incentives, or reward by promotion.
Recruitment and selection
The company that spends little time on recruitment does not mind
if it loses its recruits. Candidates applying for jobs may find that a slow
selection procedure or careful checking of references means that the company
cares about its staff.
A company with a generous staff pension scheme is probably serious
about keeping its employees and looking after their general welfare (including
their working conditions) over a long period of time.
Set up a suggestion box so employees can leave ideas for reducing
Relieve pressure by discussing work problems openly.
Go for a jog or swim at lunchtime to alleviate stress.
Challenge racism or sexism within your company.