Have you ever searched for a hashtag that seems poignant, relevant, and generalizable to a lot of people, only to find that a remarkably small number of people follow it? Have you also noticed how many people – often multiple exponents more – follow other hashtags which are closely related but more macro than the said poignant hashtag? Here’s an exceptional example of this with work stress as it relates to the broader fields of management and human resources. As of today, #Management on LinkedIn has 36,230,930 followers (that’s second in all the world only to #Innovation, at 37.6 million). #HumanResources has 33.4 million – another hugely popular subject, and understandably so.
#workstress has 73. Not seventy-three million, and even 73,000…., but 73. Globally. A play on words? Let’s try a few more. #stressatwork has 149, #jobstress has 15, whereas #stressfulwork has none. Zero. Have you ever felt career stress? I have, and so did my clients when I was in executive recruitment. That’s mostly why they moved. Well, #careerstress also has zero. #Stress has more, at 13,626, as does #stressmanagement, at 19,982; but that’s stress on a wider scale – stress about potentially anything. Even if that hashtag on LinkedIn implies professional/career/ work stress, that’s still a pretty marginal number given how common work related stress really is.
Sure, there’s more to working life than stress; but here’s the thing. How much of management, and human resources, has nothing to do with the relationship people have with their work, or the organization? And how much does the relationship people have with their work, or the organization have nothing to do with stress of some sort? Awareness and management of work stress as it relates to performance, retention vs turnover, goal setting, and matching the right people to the right positions is undoubtedly fundamental to both Management and Human Resources. And yet, I remain amazed by the disparity between macro hashtags numbers, and what seem to be at least central subjects within them.
So, why is this happening?
Embracing certain subjects can make us feel like we are a loser. Work stress can be such an awkward subject. In my experience, nearly everyone thinks they are a loser when it comes to discussing it. Employees often fear that mentioning it to their supervisors (or even all-but their closest colleagues) will do their career more harm than good. Managers and organizational leaders may be tempted to sweep all-but the most pressing cases under the rug. After all, work stress in the organization may be a problem, but “that’s just life”, or “it’s like that everywhere”. Some may encourage out-of-work days for retreats, or go-carting. Some may turn to organizational consultants to talk about related topics, such as creating a strong team environment (very useful, in its proper place). However, leaders may feel that by directly addressing work stress they are admitting so something which may not be true at all – that they are a bad company to work for.
But no-one has to feel like a loser when it comes to work stress.
For me, this subject has never been about propaganda against corporations, but creating awareness of the benefits to leaders and their employees about making often small, but highly effective changes. Results of these changes can be measured through increased performance, motivation, job satisfaction, commitment, engagement, and retention; and through lower absenteeism, an unwanted turnover. This is a rare situation where everyone can win. Employees are more likely to stay and prosper, and companies will both save enormous sums on lost productivity and turnover, and gain from higher performing employees, as well as being known as an employer of choice.
So What do We Need to Begin?
Two things. First, a mindset that work stress is not to be avoided, but something to be worked on together with your employer/employees. If you’re a manager, or leader, the right employees won’t take you for a ride if you address it - on the contrary, their respect for you will skyrocket. Equally, if you are an employee, ask yourself whether your manager would listen to a few points of feedback, or concern? If done correctly, and in the right spirit, they should be grateful, especially if they value you and your work. Raising concerns in the right way could also have a positive effect far beyond yourself. If they would castigate you for it, what does that tell you?
Second, find a starting point to help cut through the complexity. If you are a leader, or manager, try a department, or group of positions with poor outcomes or higher than expected turnover. If you prefer, start with a single employee who with whom you can have an honest conversation. If you are an employee, write down what your points of stress are, and what the organization could do to help you succeed in your position. That’s a mark of honesty and dedication, not whining.
Whether you’re a leader or employee, I encourage you to face work stress head-on, and reap the benefits. To help get started, you can sign-up here for my newsletter on identifying, understanding, and dealing with work stress for healthy, high performing organizations. You can also download my free Work Stress Self-Assessment Tool, which will help identify the root causes of your work stress, and what to do about them. Carpe Diem!
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Marcus Fila, Ph.D., is an organizational analyst and industrial/organizational psychologist. He is an associate professor of management at Hope College; and a researcher, speaker, and consultant on work stress. Download his free Work Stress Self-Assessment Tool.