Work Stress and the Recession

Stress in the work place is not a new phenomenon. There has always been stress arising from, for example, meeting deadlines, people conflict and demanding bosses but since the recession, surveys carried out in Ireland and research from the U.K. and U.S.A. show that there has been a significant rise in stress in the workplace. The main factor contributing to this stress is fear. Fear for one’s job which in turn causes feelings of insecurity and vulnerability which in turn causes stress and anxiety. Other major factors are a decrease in salary and an increase in workload as employers cut costs and / or staff numbers. If there is poor communication between management and staff stress levels may increase as staff will not be fully aware of what is happening within the company. This fear of the unknown can lead to increased levels of stress and anxiety as the feeling of control is gone. Lack of control, be it conscious or subconscious, can feed fear and anxiety. Also, fear of saying “no” or “enough” to the boss or discussing the pressure experienced from increased work load can also lead to stress. This in turn can cause worry, fatigue and stress related symptoms to build up which can have a detrimental effect one’s health in general.
In 2011 two Irish Health Care Providers published the following results from research carried out:
VHI Corporate Solutions saw a ‘stark increase’ in the first quarter of 2011 compared to the same period the previous year, as follows:
110% increase in employees with emotional health issues
204% increase in queries regarding bullying and harassment.

Quinn Health Care showed:
Irish working women are being hit hard by the recession with 78% struggling to balance the needs of work and family commitments (95% are in the 45-54 age group), 
Some 65% of working women in Ireland feel their stress levels have increased because of work demands since the start of the recession, but half that figure hesitate to ask their boss for support.

Long term stress is known to impact on both physical and emotional health. Work stress is not only confined to the work place, it can spill over into a person’s personal life and relationships. People respond differently to stress and have different coping mechanisms. For some it may be absenteeism especially if they have a certain amount of uncertified sick days. For others it may be working longer hours, working through lunch breaks, going in early and reluctant to go home on time. They feel stressed and are afraid to take sick leave which in turn increases their stress. For others trying to cope with stress it may be increased consumption of food or alcohol or it may even be substance abuse. Some studies have reported an 18% rise in smoking and consumption of alcohol during times of stress and 9% rise in food consumption.

In 2009, Mind, a UK based mental health charity carried out a survey of 2,050 people looking at the impact of the recession on employees’ mental health and it found that:

Half of the participants reported low morale 
1 in 10 had visited their G.P. with work related stress
7% had started antidepressants
5% had seen a counsellor
28% were working longer hours
One third were having to compete against each other

Other factors that can influence work placed stress is poor communication from management. If a manager within an organisation or, indeed, the organisation in general has poor communication skills this can reinforce existing fears and increase tension and stress that employees may be experiencing due to uncertainty and the unknown. Research published in February of this year and carried out by the University of Nottingham, the University of Ulster and the Northern Ireland Civil Service showed that work-related stress has “soared” by 40% and absentee rates by 25% during the recession. It involved over 17,000 civil servants in Northern Ireland and was carried out over a four year period between 2005 and 2009(before and during the recession) The study’s lead author Jonathan Houdmont emphasised the importance of good communication from management. He said “national economic crises can have substantial implications for workers' health and organisational performance”, adding: "The findings suggest that those businesses which seek to reduce work-related stress during austere economic times are likely to experience lower staff absence and greater productivity."

Another down side to working closely with people who are showing signs of stress is that stress can also be contagious. Researchers from the University of Hawaii discovered that stress and anxiety levels can be passed onto each other in the work place - and it spreads just as quickly as a virus. The study suggests that our brains act like sponges and subconsciously soak up emotions, behavioural traits and facial expressions emitted from our co-workers.

Some of the physical and emotional symptoms of stress may be:

Zoning out for hours on end in front of TV, laptop/games
Overeating/under eating
Lack of concentration
Over working
Requiring constant reassurance
Increased pessimism
Prolonged stress can lead to an increase in negative thoughts
Sleeping difficulties - difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep
Lack of interest in sex

Here are some things that you can do to help cope with stress:

First of all check your breathing. Is your breath flowing? If not here is a simple breathing exercise that needs to be practiced several times a day. Inhale, take a deep breath, hold it for a few seconds and then gently exhale, imagining/visualising/feeling that you are releasing all the tension in your body. 

Keeping a journal. Write down all the things that are worrying you. Then separate them into worries that are within your control and things that you can do something about to worries that are out of your control. With the latter it may help to re-frame them.For example, If stuck in a queue or traffic rather than getting stressed out about something that you cannot change use to time to check in with yourself to see how and where you are in yourself.Take the opportunity to practice some breathing exercises. If in the car listen to some music or radio show that will help you relax.

If radio/TV, newspapers feed your worry and anxiety avoid them, change the channel to something more relaxing.
Gratitude- being grateful for all the positive things in your life no matter how small. Make a conscious effort to do this throughout the day.

Exercise - making a point of exercising on most days and doing something that you enjoy. It may be difficult to do but it is important to persevere with this.

Ask questions - checking things out can stop your fears feeding your anxiety.

Connect with people – do not isolate yourself.

GP – visit your GP if the pressure is getting too much. 
It may be helpful to talk to a professional to help give you clarity and to understand your fears e.g. a Therapist

 © Copyright 2012 Anne-Marie Hearne