Stress and the City  – Complinet News article

On reading that 40,000 city jobs were to go due to the credit crunch, my first reaction was concern for those people facing redundancy. (Whatever way we dress it up, the job might be redundant, and yet the employees who stay behind are the ones left feeling redundant).

Most self-respecting organisations will have an Outplacement provider. The staff being affected by the corporate restructure will receive CV support, career counselling, assistance with cover letters, research, interview skills training, possibly psychometrics, along with assistance finding head hunters – agencies – as well as negotiating salaries and packages.

And there is a good chance that more often than not, the individual leaving the business will end up securing a better position than the one they left behind.

Our thoughts often go out to the people leaving the company, and yet, those staying can find themselves experiencing anxiety – a ‘survivor guilt’ – with mixed feelings and wondering whether life might have been better if they left along with their former colleagues. As the departures get underway, companies could consider paying attention to what will be required by those still with jobs who are being expected to look after the business in what is most likely a highly demoralised work environment.

The new smaller workforce, having arrived on the other side of the change process, will no doubt be looking to incorporate several new email accounts which have been given over by their former colleagues, alongside a well documented or not so well documented handover.

Prior to the recent downturn in the markets, ACAS Chief Executive, John Taylor reported that the overall cost of stress to the economy each year had already reached just under the £4bn mark, with a loss of 13 million work days across the UK. It could be argued this is of epidemic proportions. As we consider both the cost and the health implications to the workforce some immediate solutions may be needed in order to keep us in good mental health. There is nothing quite like the talk of redundancy to raise stress levels, which can of course have a negative impact on teams, departments and the organization as a whole.

As people are becoming more stressed at work, this will cause an unhealthy atmosphere, which will ripple across the business, affecting morale and the way people interact with one another. I have witnessed an increased demand within my own business for support with stress and conflict resolution. We are not quite at the point where we need Jerry Springer; however I do believe we need to recognise the signs of stress within our colleagues, and within ourselves.

Having awareness of the fall-out or collateral damage within the business, which will have an impact on productivity and morale, means paying attention to those around us and how they are managing their stress.

Signs of stress

Stress will look different from person to person; however there are common signs:

Physical signs may include: headaches, back or neck tension, digestive problems, bladder irregularity, sweating, feeling cold a lot of the time, palpitations, speech difficulties, and either weight gain or loss due to poor eating habits including consuming high energy junk food.

Emotionally someone may: feel irritable and anxious, have symptoms of low-grade depression, be tearful, or have low energy, resulting in a possible loss of confidence and self esteem.

Other signs people may notice in a colleague are: uncommonly short temper with occasional outbursts of anger, withdrawal from social activities, or feeling too tired to have fun. They may seem hypersensitive, moody; overreact to the smallest mistakes or to start to display immature behaviour.

If each person takes responsibility for staying stress-aware, it will have a positive influence on the rest of the team. Personal STRESS BUSTER tips: 

Set realistic targets for yourself.
Try to keep your thinking in the here-and-now.
Relaxation is crucial for de-stressing – tranquil music CDs can help with this.
Everyone needs someone to talk to – share your thoughts with someone you trust.
Solution focused thinking – don’t dwell on problems; rather train your mind to look for solutions.
Shakespeare said, ‘To thine own self be true’ – be clear on your personal values, they are linked to your self-esteem.

Be sure to get a regular health check from your doctor.
Understand that too much stress will have an impact on your personal relationships.
Set aside some time for a walk with a friend. It will help you to change your thinking.
Treat yourself with the same level of respect you would treat a friend.
Eat a well-balanced diet. If you are short of time use a smoothie maker for health drinks.
Remember 95% of the things we worry about tend NOT to happen. Save you energy for the other 5%.

Relaxation techniques

Relaxation is not unlike meditation – the more you practise, the better you become.

Deep muscle relaxation techniques are becoming commonly used as a way to reduce overall levels of tension.

Here are some simple techniques that can be practised at your desk.

1. Close your eyes and press your feet gently onto the floor, take a deep breath and hold for approximately 10 seconds. You will start to notice the where the tension is within your body. Relax your muscles and allow your breathing return to normal.

2. Now clench your left hand to make a fist, and then the right hand. Slowly work your way up each forearm, moving up thorough your arms, into your shoulders, and then relax for a few moments. Repeat the same with your shoulders – shrug your shoulders up – then relax them.

3. Repeat this exercise and move your energy from your shoulders into your chest, then work slowly towards your stomach area. Gradually move your energy down to your legs and towards your feet. This exercise should take less than five minutes.

Try to practise this on a regular basis; to gain the quickest results find time for relaxation every day. When you feel stressed, repeat your breathing techniques in order to centre your mind. Even on your daily commute, there are moments when these can easily be done.

In addition, you may find it helpful to set up a regular informal co-coaching arrangement with a colleague who you feel you can trust and empathise with. Simply agree to have ten or fifteen minutes each of uninterrupted listening time, perhaps once a week. This can provide an outlet for some of the pressure you may be experiencing.

Ian Claffey is an International Executive Coach and is an accredited member of the Association for Professional Executive Coaches/Supervision (APECS) and the Association for Coaching. He is involved in team development programmes, including 1-2-1 coaching and facilitation of cross-cultural and difficult team issues and works in the UK, Switzerland, Tokyo, Singapore, Thailand, South Africa and Nigeria.

-Ian Claffey