Members of the London HR Connection meet once a month to lunch, network with their peers
The guest speaker was Helen Whitten, an internationally recognised Executive Coach and the Managing Director of Positiveworks, and her contention was that ‘Managing Stress is a Strategic Issue’.
Stress is often perceived as a ‘soft’ topic in business, but absence through sickness and
Helen made three main points:
The increase in stress is due to three main issues – changes in lifestyle, economy and technology. Lifestyle pressures can be attributed to social change such as both partners working and increased problems of daily transport; economic pressures, for instance, can be due to globalisation increasing demand and competition, while technological pressures can come from mobile technology transforming working practices with expectations of 24/7 availability and response. Insecurity drives addictive behaviour – witness the success of the Blackberry - as the human need for significance and inclusion leads people to stay in touch. Habit such as this builds from a desire to be ‘part of the pack’.
The stress response is powerful - designed to provide physical strength or speed in a survival situation - but negatively impacts complex thinking in a working environment. Irregular breathing results in insufficient blood and oxygen in the brain to think clearly or make a good decision, while stress hormones reduce the immune system leading to absence through sickness and burnout. Burnout, the unspoken business saboteur, is a huge business cost and also a personal tragedy with a long-term impact on both health and self-confidence.
HR and managers can provide the skills and support that enhance a person’s resilience to stress. People have become disconnected from their basic needs and are often treated like machines. A car in the fleet is serviced when going on a long journey; no-one thinks twice about servicing a machine. Equally, the time a longdistance driver can spend at the wheel is limited by H&S regulations because it is understood that the human mind requires a break. These facts are ignored in the workplace. 95% of people get their best ideas away from the desk so give them time out without making them feel guilty.
There are simple things that HR can do. It can ensure availability of daylight, exercise, water, nutrition and emotional support. It can help people gain perspective, moving away from negative generalisations to positive specifics – what is working, who is supporting you, what can you do. It can also check that expectations are realistic and achievable, and that a person’s role reflects their work preferences to boost motivation and reduce stress. It can watch for physical symptoms such as colds, flu, skin problems, breathlessness and behavioural signs such as lack of self-care, memory loss, overwork, impatience, tears or fatigue, and take action before burnout occurs.
Small steps such as coaching or stressmanagement training based on CBT and NLP is a small investment and can have measurable results in terms of health and performance. It is time to take this matter seriously for all concerned.
The London HR Connection is a professional network providing regular informal lunches – away from the daily grind – for anyone with a vested interest in HR, to network with their peers and hear from experts on challenging and stimulating topics. For membership information and details on our forthcoming events, please visit us at www.londonhr.org
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