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.

Glamorizing stress

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 level.

Case study

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 desk.

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.

Changing attitudes

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.

Pension funds

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 stress.


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.

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