It seems a life-time ago when stress management courses were de rigueur and people, including me, were making a living from them. (Now it’s either resilience training or mindfulness but that’s another story).
There was plenty of research about to back up what we were doing. The famous Whitehall studies which showed that the more senior you were the less likely you were to die early. In industry after industry it was the same story. Employees at the bottom of the hierarchy suffered more ill-health than more senior ones.
One of the factors contributing to this was the amount of control people had – over decision-making and the way they spent their working day. The more control or autonomy people felt they had, the less stressed they tended to be.
Now a recent study in the US has confirmed once again that people in stressful jobs with little control at work were more likely to die.
The research followed more than 2,000 Americans in their sixties over a seven-year period.
Those in low demand jobs reduced their death risk by 15% and those who were able to set their own goals and had flexibility at work were 34% less likely to die.
They also found that the people in the higher risk jobs were heavier. Comfort eating? Less time for exercise?
26% of those who dies were in front-line service jobs and 32% worked in manufacturing – both sectors with high demand and low autonomy.
55% of the deaths were from cancer (linked this week with high levels of anxiety and depression), and 22% from circulatory system diseases.
Erik Gonzales-Mulé at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University said employers didn’t need to reduce demand on their workers but should allow them more flexibility in how jobs were done. “You can avoid the negative health consequences if you allow them to set their own goals. set their own schedules, prioritise their decision-making and the like”.
I’m having deja vu here.This is like re-inventing the wheel. We knew all this decades ago. Remember autonomous working groups? Have American businesses forgotten about US contributions to organisational psychology and research on motivation? In America most workers still don’t get sick pay or maternity pay and have minimal holidays.
Japan has its own problems with employees working too hard (see recent post)
And we aren’t much better in some respects in the UK with the worst sick pay in the EU!
Recently experts and members of parliament have expressed concern about working conditions in call centres and on-line distribution centres. Sports Direct and Asos have been criticised for having Victorian working conditions. Some of these places are like “warehouses” on the edge of towns with no windows for natural light, just like giant container units.
Perhaps I should brush off my old notes and get back on the road again. Why do businesses never learn how to get the best out of people?
Researchers from Northwestern University studied around 300 rural African-American teenagers. Those from low-income families who exhibited high levels of self-control, and were thus more likely to achieve their goals, had immune cells that were biologically much oder than their actual age.
Rapid ageing of these cells has been linked to premature death and its thought to be due to long-term high levels of stress hormone.
“To achieve upward mobility these youths must overcome multiple obstacles and often do so with limited support from their schools, peers, and families. Even if they succeed, these youths may go on to experience alienation in university and work-place settings and discrimination if they are African-American”
“Collectively these experiences seem likely to cause persistent activation of stress response systems”
Professor Greg Miller went on to say “For low-income youths, self-control may act as a double-edged sword facilitating academic success and psychological adjustment while at the same time undermining physical health”
In the research those with high self-control were able to focus better on long-term rather than short-term goals. were less depressed, used substances less frequently, and were less aggressive – regardless of their gender, family income or education
In addition those from low-income families were more likely to have the ageing immune cells.
Previous studies have shown that poorer children with better self-control were also at greater risk of heart disease because of their obesity, high blood pressure and levels of stress hormones in their blood.
The researchers add “These patterns suggest that for low-income youth resilience is a skin deep phenomenon wherein outward indicators of success can mask emerging problems with health”
They also think that providers of “character-building programmes” should include health education to help the youth mitigate health problems that stop them achieving their full potential. Low-income youths who do well in school and stay out of trouble are thought to have overcome disadvantage but it’s only half the full story it seems.
It would be interesting to know if these findings translate into other cultures and countries or whether they are only applicable to African-Americans from poor backgrounds.
Alas the fear of losing your job makes people attend work more diligently (even when they shouldn’t) and the resulting “presenteeism” masks rising levels of mental health problems.
The Engineering Employers Federation (which I used to know well as at one time I was their stress management expert in the North West) surveyed 350 companies involving 90,000 workers. They found that only 1 in 10 companies provided training for managers on mental health issues. So they found a market for it – if companies were really interested.
Two fifths of the companies said long-term absence rates were increasing even though absence overall was low at 2.2% i.e. 5 days per employee a year on average. In fact half of the workers never took any time off sick.
Back problems (musculo-skeletal) are still the main cause of long-term absence overall but for a quarter of the companies stress and mental health disorders were the main cause.
These are still considered the most difficult to deal with in adjusting work to meet the employees’ needs.
The EEF’s Chief Medical Adviser says GPs should be given the tools to deal with stress and mental health issues in the same way they deal with other medical problems.
What about companies taking more interest in their employees’ wellbeing and making an effort to combat the causes of work-based stress?
We don’t want to go the way of America where stress is considered the norm and work-life balance is now work-life merge (thanks largely to high flying female executives).
See other posts
Recent research suggests that whilst high levels of work engagement ie high levels of energy and involvement in work, are good for the organisation – this might be at the expense of other areas of an employee’s life.
Engaged employees create their own resources, perform better, have a positive impact on colleagues, and have happier clients.
But “over engagement” can have negative consequences creating workaholic behaviour in employees so that they regularly take work home. In a Dutch study work engagement was positively correlated with working overtime. This in turn disrupts work-life balance leading to poor health outcomes.
In some cases the inner drive to work hard, even when the person doesn’t enjoy working overtime, can lead to burnout. People forget to rest or maintain their personal relationships.
So there is definitely a dark side to employee engagement. Research shows that more engaged employees are more likely to experience work-family conflict.
High levels of engagement might also have negative consequences at work over time. Highly engaged employees who are enthusiastic about their jobs may take on additional tasks and it’s well-known that supervisors would rather assign tasks to keen employees.
The end result is that the engaged employee becomes over-loaded and begins to suffer ill-health and job performance declines along with the level of engagement.
Leaders are key influencers in employee engagement and because it is contagious engagement can spread across work teams. So leaders have a responsibility to be considerate and use a more transformational leadership style whilst providing social support and coaching.
Source: European Journal of Work and Organisational Psychology V 20 No 1 Feb 2011
Over the years there have been many approaches to leadership with trait theories, style theories, functional models, situational/contingency models, transactional/transformational theories, ideas about biological and personality characteristics, and more recently emotional intelligence competencies
So do leaders need to be more intelligent than their followers? Well probably a bit, because that inspires confidence, but not too much more intelligent.
Do they need to be empathetic? It’s probably better if they have tough empathy ie “grow or go” but they do need social skills.
Do they need to be liked? No, but they need to be respected. And since the last recession integrity has become important again.
Difficult times require people to perform better than normal and people need exceptional leaders to help them do that. By exceptional I don’t mean charismatic or heroic leaders – although some people respond to that style of leadership which “encourages the heart” – but leaders who do what they say they will do ie are conscientious, and also act as role models.
And to do that they need to be both self-confident and emotionally stable.
Research among elite performers found that they had a number of characteristics in common. As well as being intelligent, disciplined and bold, with strong practical and interpersonal skills, they bounced back from adversity.
Jim Collins describes in his book “How the mighty fall” people who are exasperatingly persistent and never give up. They are not necessarily the brightest, most talented, or best looking, but they are successful because they know that not giving up is the most important thing they do. He says; “success is falling down and getting up one more time, without end”.
This resilience (from the latin to leap back) is linked to personal attributes such as calmness in stressful situations, reflection on performance through feedback, and learning systematically from both success and failure.
Resilient people generally:
Recognise what they can control and influence and do something about it, rather than worry about what they can’t
Stay involved rather than becoming cynical or detached or simply walking away
Work with others to shape the environment and influence things that affect them most
Act as a source of inspiration to others to counter self-destructive behaviour
Aren’t these the sort of behaviours you would expect from good leaders? So it’s not just about “bouncing back” and carrying on where you left off before. It’s about reflecting and learning from what has happened and then getting back to business.
Resilience seems to be an innate ability for most people and is increasingly found in leadership competency frameworks where it is linked with confidence, authenticity and ethical leadership ideas.
Modern leaders need not just brains and emotional intelligence but also resilience.
Acting as a role model is an essential part of being an effective leader hence the need for them to be hardy and emotionally stable. Research shows that resilient leaders can have a positive effect on the well-being of organisations and their employees so it’s well worth organisations developing such capabilities.
First posted on SGANDA in 2011
This has been known about and reported on for several years.
For example back in 2010 The Times reported (6 July) that UK undergraduates were resorting more and more to “smart drugs” to boost exam performance and to enable them to cram better. Prescription drugs such as modafinil and Ritalin were being used by about 10% of students, mostly obtained via the internet with the risks that students were buying counterfeit drugs.
Modafinil is used in Britain to treat serious sleep disorders and in the USA for shift workers with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It’s also used by the military to enhance alertness. (There were suggestions during the first gulf war that American pilots involved in friendly fire incidents might have been using amphetamine-related drugs at the time to prolong time in combat).
And 1 in 5 academics surveyed internationally by the journal Nature admitted taking cognitive enhancing drugs, some to combat jet lag. Nice to see the professors setting a good example!
A year after that news report the release of the film “Limitless” – “One pill. Anything is possible”, re-opened a discussion about the use of smart drugs.
Modafinil and Ritalin are particularly mentioned as cognitive enhancers favoured by students, lecturers, combat troops and shift-workers. Pretty much a rehash of last July’s Times story on the BBC News web-site.
The late Richard Carlson, author of the best-selling “Don’t sweat the small stuff“, also wrote “Slowing down to the speed of life”with Joseph Bailey in 1997.
Carlson was a Californian psychotherapist who specialised in stress and what would now be called positive psychology – learning to be happy and not worrying about the small stuff – “because it’s all small stuff“.
Even then he was encouraging us to slow down and live more in the moment. In the introduction to “Slowing down ….” Carlson talks about the use of computers as time savers (in the days of fax and before Facebook and Google) and multi-tasking, but argued that we don’t then enjoy the time we have saved but fill it with even more tasks in an effort to be more productive and squeeze even more into our lives.
Now only 15 years on, some Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) experts believe that constantly changing attention and distractions caused by modern technology in all its forms can lead to mild forms of ADD: impulsivity, irritability, ineffectiveness, being disorganised – at the expense of creativity and productivity. All in an attempt to keep up with the flood of information, some of which is self-generated.
It’s no surprise then to read that sales of a drug used to treat ADD are soaring as increasing numbers of American adults report the condition. In 2011 Shire Pharmaceuticals reported Q1 sales up a third with the market expanding at 10% a year mainly because of an 18% annual increase in adults being diagnosed for what many thought to be a childhood condition (10 million adults and 4.5 million children have been diagnosed with this condition in the USA). The latest research shows that children treated for ADHD are three times more likely to misuse drugs as teenagers. No surprise really if they’ve been brought up on medication and believe that’s the answer to everything
And what happens in America … Britain got its first support group for adults with the condition in 2010.
A full-page story in the business section of the Sunday Times (30/5/10) elaborates on the success of Shire pharma currently outselling Ritalin with their medications for ADHD and. who made news paying their US Chairman $10 million in salary and shares.
The CEO expects ADHD to be increasingly acknowledged as a source of adult problems here as in America including in the prison population. He says that in Europe if your child has ADHD it is considered a failure of parenting; in America; “they just want the best for their kids” so have doctors and psychiatrists prescribe them amphetamines.
I met Richard Carlson and his wife when they did a book tour of the UK in 1998. He looked the epitome of a laid back Californian. He signed my book with; “Keep a sane pace”. Sadly he died in 2006 of cardiac arrest on a plane in the middle of a tour to promote his latest book. It seems not even the experts are immune from the pace of modern life.
Original post 3 June 2010 with updates
GQ is based on John Gray’s best-selling books comparing men and women to Mars and Venus.
Recent research suggests that men and women aren’t actually that much different after all (although men tend to have bigger brains than women).
But the test/quiz purports to tell you how much you know about gender differences so that you can be more effective when working with men and women, especially when selling to them.
Of course it’s a pitch for their sales training but it makes you think so it’s worth having a go by clicking here.
Research among elite performers found that they had a number of characteristics in common. As well as being intelligent, disciplined and bold, with strong practical and interpersonal skills, they bounced back from adversity.
Jim Collins describes in his new book “How the mighty fall” people who are exasperatingly persistent and never give up. They are not necessarily the brightest, most talented, or best looking, but they are successful because they know that not giving up is the most important thing they do. He says; “success is falling down and getting up one more time, without end”.
Early research on resilience focussed on survival in extreme situations (and we still see examples in the recent events in Japan). However resilience is now seen as a more regular phenomenon and the evidence is mounting that most people recover from traumatic events and regain their emotional equilibrium fairly quickly.
In doing so they may use seemingly dysfunctional coping strategies, for example boosting their egos almost to the point of narcissistic behaviour. Or they may choose to repress negative thoughts or emotions – what some psychologists might see as denial. George A Bonanno calls this “coping ugly”.
In his research after 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the SARS epidemic, he found that up to 2/3 of survivors experienced few if any symptoms and after 6 months there were only about 10% who needed help.
Until recently disaster sites would be inundated with counsellors offering critical incident stress debriefing, something now considered unnecessary and possible harmful. And after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami the World Health Organisation actually warned against using this technique. It only takes one person in a group to react badly to re-living the trauma for the whole group to be affected.
Linked theoretically with positive psychology and CBT resilience is partly about filtering negative messages, to enable you to take a more realistic perspective, and partly about being single-minded about what you can and cannot control.
It is also linked to personal attributes such as calmness in stressful situations, reflection on performance through feedback, and learning systematically from both success and failure. Resilient people generally:
- Recognise what they can control and influence and do something about it, rather than worry about what they can’t
- Stay involved rather than becoming cynical or detached or simply walking away
- Work with others to shape the environment and influence things that affect them most
- Act as a source of inspiration to others to counter self-destructive behaviour
So it’s not just about “bouncing back” and carrying on where you left off before. It’s about reflecting and learning from what has happened and then getting back to business.
So can you learn to be more resilient? Clarke & Nicholson, authors of “Bounce back from whatever life throws at you”, think so and set out a 10-point plan.
- Visualise success
- Boost your self-esteem
- Enhance your efficacy – take control
- Become more optimistic
- Manage your stress
- Improve your decision-making
- Ask for help
- Deal with conflict
- Be yourself
And the US Army certainly thinks so as well. Martin Seligman, father of positive psychology, is currently delivering a multi-million dollar contract to teach over 1 million soldiers how to be more resilient and using a “train the trainer” approach to train NCOs how to cascade the programme.
Based partly on the Penn University resilience programme the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Programme incorporates large chunks of positive psychology eg looking at character strengths, emotional intelligence elements such as empathy, self-awareness and impulse control, and CBT techniques such as Ellis’s ABC model.
Because it also incorporates elements about family and spirituality it may appear to have more in common with life-coaching than executive coaching but it is designed to reinforce the warrior ethic and to make better leaders.
Research shows that resilient people can have a positive effect on the well-being of organisations and their employees so it’s well worth organisations developing such capabilities.
If you want a free report on character strengths go to: http://www.viacharacter.org/
It’s not just women who are putting their health at risk (see “Stress can be a killer for women ..“).
Unfit men who work long hours are doubling their risk of dying from heart disease. And it doesn’t matter whether or not the work is physically demanding. Work itself increases your heart rate and blood pressure.
According to Denmark’s National Research Centre for the Working Environment if you work longer than 45 hours and don’t take exercise you run twice the risk of dying than fit men who also work long hours but exercise.
Their study, published in the journal Heart, looked at 5,000 men aged 40 to 59 and tracked their working hours and fitness levels over 30 years. One in five of the men worked longer than 45 hours a week and if they were unfit these were the ones who were at most risk. Even working between 40 and 45 hours increased the risk by almost 60% compared with men who worked less than 40 hours.
Physically fit men were least at risk no matter how many hours they worked – not just of dying from heart disease but from other causes as well. High levels of fitness counter the negative effects on the body and speed up recovery time allowing you to sleep better and leaving you less tired and irritable.
The Daily Mail reported that full-timer workers in the UK work 1.5 hours a week longer than the EU average of 39.9 hours. Of course our government opted out of the Working Time Directive despite earlier warnings of the ill effects of working over 50 hours (See “Taking work to extremes“).
Apparently only workers in Romania and Bulgaria work longer hours and the UK has one of the highest heart attack rates in the world – someone having a heart attack every two minutes.
According to MIND, the mental health charity, half a million people are so stressed by their jobs that they believe it is making them ill and 5 million feel very or extremely stressed by their work. 2/3 of workers report feeling the “Sunday Blues” ie feeling anxious the day before they return to work.
MIND says both employers and employees should stop seeing mental health problems as a sign of weakness and that companies should promote a culture where problems can be discussed openly with supportive well-being policies.
An employee resource pack is available on the Time to Change website.
And you know things are getting bad when accountants are taking up therapy. Grant Thornton have rolled out a well-being programme based on cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT). First introduced on intervention courses it is reportedly now being used continuously to “proactively support partners’ health”. The course looks at psychological well-being, identifying and managing stress, fitness and nutrition, and provides 1:1 sessions.
If you can’t afford that kind of support do try de-stressing daily wherever you are.
See also earlier post on stress and women