Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited
The stress epidemic
Keywords Stress, Empowerment, Absenteeism
The Health and Safety Executive report that 67 million days are lost per year due to absenteeism. Of these days, 60 per cent are thought to be stress related. This makes stress the market leader in lost production and employee suffering and legal moves to acknowledge this phenomenon are becoming more likely.
There has been a considerable amount of research into the twentieth (and now twenty-first) century disease called stress. The number of stress management courses is mushrooming while the past two decades have produced the stress (or Prozac) generation. This is, at least in part, due to the major changes in working patterns, working methods, work regimes, etc. The creation of leaner, fitter organisations with the associated loss of job security has created a culture of fear and instability. At the same time, delayered, fragmented, and virtual organisations have not been matched with appropriate communications channels and processes - employees often feel disempowered and undervalued.
Of course many organisations see the signs - but they too often see only the symptoms, the high levels of absenteeism, the lower levels of participation, etc. They then attempt to bandage the wounds - but this is simply trying to manage the problem, not cure or prevent it. There are specialist stress management companies that will assist in this sticking plaster exercise but no stress management company formula has managed to eradicate the problem.
There are inherent challenges with any legislation that forces companies to deal with the stress problem. Undoubtedly the government-enforced solution will fit a collective norm or be a generic solution, which will take little of the individual. To ensure that such a uniform solution is applicable to a particular disempowered staff member, it is necessary to work with the employee in the context of their position within the organisation.
Mindwork Ltd, an Aberdeenshire-based company that specialises in empowerment training to give power back to organisations and re-energise them, claims to have developed a solution to the global stress epidemic.
A typical approach to dealing with stress is to attempt to identify what is work-related stress or home-based stress. However, Mindwork's Empowerment Director Irene Speirs-Caskie says: "In reality it doesn't matter where the stress originates because our work and private lives both interact with each other - they do not exist in isolation. The important point is to attack the sources of stress by using good research diagnostics to discover the underlying causes and address them."
Such diagnostic research often uncovers a company's disjointed vision of the future; this lack of, or imprecise and confused vision results in confused actions, distrust and a feeling of change impotence amongst individuals and groups. This, in turn, leads to a widening of the understanding gap between employers and employees. Not surprisingly the longer an employee is dissatisfied, the lower productivity, service, quality and even a company's reputation falls.
The "M-Power Approach" developed by Mindwork utilises a system which looks at the bigger picture and the long-term cohesiveness of the workforce. It recognises that there is no easy answer to heal a dysfunctional workforce and that by sending people on quick fix courses can be futile: it cannot heal the root cause of the organisation's discord.
M-Power brings awareness to the individual (employer or employee) within the teams, and helps to build a culture of mutual benefit to the company and its staff by looking at the experience of being human. With this approach decision making comes from the heart as well as the head, making the demands of the ego on the process of communication redundant. M-Power training programs are dedicated to the advancement of potential through self-awareness, allowing growth to occur by recognising weaknesses and learning from them as well as capitalising on individual talents that may have been overlooked.
In an age when information technology and sophisticated manufacturing processes are becoming predominate, there is a growing need for people who can think for themselves, learn new skills quickly, initiate action and adapt to any changing environment and circumstances - empowered employees. Mindwork's customised training and coaching programs aim to create such individuals - helping them achieve their peak performance and helping the organisation achieve its optimum results.
There is a great interest in the M-Power empowerment programs in the USA and Europe and especially among companies that have been through the painful process of massive change and cutbacks in manpower. Empowerment training can benefit staff and management who have had to adjust attitude and direction due to these changes.
Speirs-Caskie added: "Stress does not have to be the consequence of change. Empowerment training helps you access your own talents and skills to the benefit of yourself and the company. Team work and internal/external relationships take on a higher quality."
The approach is claimed to produce cohesive teams working towards the long-term security of the company. Low stress results in a satisfied, flexible workforce and long-term financial benefits arise from the associated reduction in absenteeism.