11th November 2021
According to some analysts, as many as three out of every four Americans define their work as stressful, while others argue that occupational stress is becoming a “global pandemic”, especially as the economic crisis rumbles on.
Of course, stress is a factor in everyone’s life – be it during major personal events such as marriage, divorce, death or buying a home. Subsequently, it becomes difficult for even the most professional employee to not let stress spill over into their work-life.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says that a healthy job is most likely one where the pressures on employees are appropriate in relation to their abilities and resources, to the amount of control they have over their workload, and the support they receive from management. WHO argues that “health” is not just confined to the absence of disease or infirmity, but a positive state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, too.
In other words, a healthy working environment is most easily defined as one in which there is not only an absence of harmful conditions, but also an abundance of health-promoting ones. A job that is stressful, then, is ultimately not a healthy one.
According to a 2008 Survey from the American Psychological Association, nearly half of Americans report that their stress level has increased between 2007 and 2008, when the economic crisis hit. As many as 30 percent of Americans claim that their stress levels are “extreme” and nearly 50 percent of Americans say they are increasingly stressed about their ability to provide for their family’s basic needs.
Currently, one company at the forefront of the stressful work environment debate is France Telecom. The telecommunications giant, which recently saw 24 of its employees commit suicide in just 18 months, is now being embroiled in a legal debate about workplace stress. According to reports, a recent “modernisation” of the firm, which has seen workers move into high-pressure call centres where they compete for monthly result-based bonuses, is behind the atrocities. As the restructuring took hold, as many as 22,000 employees have resigned from the firm in the last four years.
Now, in an exclusive interview with Meet The Boss TV, marking his first media appearance since resigning from the France Telecom in October last year, Louis Pierre Wenes, the organization’s former deputy CEO, has spoken out about the issue.
“All I asked from my people was do the best you can, I can’t expect more than your best,” he said. “I do not want to underestimate the issue, but it’s a biased view of the situation, if we look at the facts, the suicide rate at France Telecom did not increase during that period [the 18 months], it was more in the year 2000 and similar to the overall French corresponding population.”
Of course, pressure at the workplace is largely unavoidable – thanks to the demands of the contemporary work environment, stress is bound to impact employees across the globe. However, WHO believes that “acceptable” levels of workplace pressure may help keep workers alert, motivated, able to work and learn, depending on the available resources and personal characteristics. But, it is when that pressure becomes excessive or otherwise unmanageable that it leads to stress. Ultimately, stress can damage an employees’ health and the business’ performance. Just ask France Telecom.
But there is hope. Past evidence has shown how that stress is not always a bad thing and according to findings from Robert Ostermann, professor of psychology at FDU’s Teaneck-Hackensack Campus, stress can actually stimulate creativity and productivity. In a study conducted by Ostermann in 1999, he wrote: “No one reaches peak performance without being stressed, whether an athlete, an office worker or a manager.”
Two things are clear: stress is an unavoidable factor of daily life, and it also intrinsically linked to workplace productivity. However, if leveraged to a worker’s advantage, or, at least, managed correctly, stress could be the key to dealing with the afflictions of the modern workplace. Couldn’t it?