Stress has been described as the ‘Health Epidemic of the 21st Century’ by the World Health Organization and its effect on our emotional and physical health can be devastating. In a recent USA study, over 50% of individuals felt that stress negatively impacted work productivity. According to a CIPD survey in the UK, 38% of employees are under excessive pressure at least once a week and almost a third say they come home exhausted either often or always. Increased levels of job stress have been demonstrated to be associated with increased rates of heart attack, hypertension, obesity, addiction, anxiety, depression and other disorders.
What is going on? What happened to the life of leisure we were promised as Digital Technology took over the routine tasks and we were left with the fun things to do? Instead of reducing our work time we find the smartphone following us around and interrupting our personal lives. We are now living in an ‘always-on’ work culture and find it difficult to turn off.
Can we blame the technology and tell people to switch it off? Some organizations have tried this, with limited success, but this is just putting a sticking-plaster over the problem. The solution lies deeper within the business and it’s something that has to be addressed at senior management levels. We have created organizational cultures that encourage stressful work patterns. Someone seen to be working extended hours is described as ‘dedicated’ and ‘loyal’. The ‘hard-working’ employee is praised. Consequently, we have cultures that subtly reward long hours. Replying to emails within a few hours, regardless of the time of day, is seen to be good behaviour. Staying in touch over the weekend or on vacation is good for promotion.
This is a leadership issue. The example has to be set from the top. This was the motivation behind the book “Conquering Digital Overload” which provides advice for leaders on how to create a work culture appropriate for the digital age. It’s now out in Kindle format and will be available in a hardback version at the end of December.