In an average week I may interact with 10-20 clients in my role as an executive coach and strategic facilitator, and it seems that everyone has been experiencing the same thing; increasing levels of stress. One person I talked to last week admitted being addicted to stress; and then followed by saying “what am I suppose to do when I have nothing to do?”
As I look beyond the efforts of companies to engage employees, develop their leaders, provide service to their customers and create innovative solutions it becomes apparent that all of these well-intended efforts are being held back or even derailed by negative stress. In order to survive and thrive in the 21st century we need to be more aware of the effects of stress on people and how to reverse it.
As Stephen Covey said in Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, companies that push employees harder to increase output, without taking the time to examine and improve the process, create a cycle of diminishing returns. New ideas for improvement happen during reflection and if employees are so harried and taxed, they don’t have the energy or motivation to do this important “thought work”.
According to an article by Dr. Kevin Flemming, more that 60% of work absences last year in the United States were attributed to psychological stress and other related issues. This cost American companies $57 billion.
And if stressed-out employees alienate customers what happens when they aren’t overly stressed? According to a study by Frederick Reichheld and W. Earl Sasser, a 5 percent reduction in customer defection translates into anywhere from a 30 percent to an 85 percent increase in corporate profitability.
So if I step back from my own stress and do this reflective “thought work” Covey talks about, I wonder what part of negative stress is self-imposed? In our efforts to pursue our “unalienable Right to happiness” do we need to re-discover what really makes us happy? Are we trying to find happiness in the wrong places and is our unmet need for happiness the cause for some of our stress? Jacob Needlemen thinks so in his book The American Soul when he asserts we often seek happiness through the acquisition of things. “Materialism is a disease of the mind”, he says, “starved for ideas about our inner and outer world.”
Individually we need to remind ourselves of what truly makes us happy: Probably not cars, furniture and shoes but family, friends, adventure, learning and play. And by spending as little as 20 percent of our time doing what we love to do we reduce the risk of burnout. Having a balanced life also needs as much importance as finishing projects at work.
Companies need to place employee stress on their risk management radar. It is hurting the bottom line, strangling innovation and derailing all the great ideas that come out of strategic planning sessions. Movement forward cannot be achieved without addressing the stress that is holding us back.