Stress and burnout increasingly common in brave new world of changing workplace
Companies are responding by establishing “wellbeing ambassadors” and employee assistance programmes for those suffering from stress. Lyons notes that his main business during the boom was advising companies about “performance enhancement. Now it’s about resilience training” – a more upbeat term, he admits, for stress management.
Some of the problems he deals with are unrelated to the recession, he says, one of them being the notion of work-life balance. “There is no ‘two different people’. You are the same person. In work, you have to bring a sense of yourself to the work. The stress comes from a feeling that you are acting because if you start acting, you start to lose your identity. Then, one day you look at your name tag and say, ‘how in the name of God did I end up here?’”
Another challenge is technology. “There is definite evidence to show it’s adding to stress,” says Freeney, but intriguingly it has “more of a negative impact” on stress in men than women.
Freeney puts this down to women’s greater comfort with the “social dimension” of communications. “They like to be connected to others . . . something they do very naturally.”
Her colleague at DCU Dr Melrona Kirrane also warns of the dark side of technology, citing people who “protect themselves by email. People will cover their tracks by copying everyone in. They will say, ‘I sent you an email about it’ as though that is the word of God nearly”.
Such workers “must feel quite vulnerable”, she argues, saying it was indicative of a workplace with very little trust.
Kirrane also cites “the bizarre situation” of sending emails to someone sitting at a nearby desk. “There is nearly a protectionist vibe” to such practices,
The sundering of organisations through outsourcing and downsizing also affects trust and worker sense of identity.
“Within the sphere of work, there has been something of a corrosion of the collective sense,” says Prof Bill Roche of UCD School of Business.
‘Flexibility at work’
Traditional occupational distinctions – which once created a sense of camaraderie but were also a “focal point for unions” – are disappearing. In manufacturing, “you were once defined as a fitter, or a maintenance mechanic or some other specialty. All that’s gone, partly because of greater flexibility at work.”
People are increasingly being asked to fall back on their own resources and Kirrane believes they need guidance to deal with this, including training in emotional intelligence.
“To question what is meaningful is something we don’t think early enough about.”
She never fails to be uplifted by people returning to education to reskill or reinvent themselves. “It’s a brave person to do that and render their employment meaningful.”