independent

Thursday 24 April 2014

Walk and talk your way to happiness at work – then switch off

The only thing we need to fear in the workplace is fear itself, reports Kim Bielenberg

With continued job insecurity and economic uncertainty, it is easy to see how those who have managed to survive in the workplace can be overwhelmed by stress.

Many employees are working harder and longer for less take-home pay.

And the arrival of smartphones means that some never manage to switch off; they are at their bosses' disposal 24 hours a day, 52 weeks of the year.

Workers can take steps to ensure that recession work pressure does not take a toll on their mental health.

More effective time management, a practical approach to problem-solving, and a willingness to say 'no' can play a role in ensuring that we are not running on empty.

Patricia Murray, occupational psychologist with the Health and Safety Authority, says: "You have to step back and analyse what you are doing in the workplace and take responsibility for managing your own life.

"Some employees lie awake at night ruminating about work problems.

"They may even sleep with their phone under the pillow waiting for the work text that is never likely to arrive."

Murray advises employees to deal with problems while they are at work with a quick, practical approach.

"Take a problem-solving approach to a difficult issue. You might think of three possible solutions and reach a conclusion.

"That is likely to be much less stressful than ruminating in an open-ended manner at home with an array of different solutions and no conclusion.

"You might not be dead right all the time, but if you take the practical approach it will cause you less worry."

And if it seems like you are drowning in a sea of troubles at work, go walking.

"Walk fast for 20 minutes and it releases endorphins, which make you feel better," says Murray.

That was the approach taken by Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore during a fractious cabinet meeting recently.

The Taoiseach suspended the meeting and went for a half-hour walk with the Tánaiste. In the meantime tempers cooled.

Murray says: "It is a great help if you talk to someone about your problem at work, whether that is a colleague or a partner.

"If you find that you are exhausted as a result of your work, try a different routine. Take a 30-minute lunch break if you haven't been doing that, and see if that makes a difference."

In the workplace, the most important piece of advice comes from US President Franklin Roosevelt: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

Too many workers walk around petrified that they will lose their job in the morning, but these fears are not always rational and are frequently self-defeating.

Mike Fisher, author of Mindfulness and the Art of Managing Anger, advises employees on stress. He says fear and low self-esteem are among the prime causes.

"If you talk to people about what stresses them out they will tell you that it is time management, fear of redundancy, the challenges of dealing with office politics and not having the skillset to do the job.

"When you look underneath this, you find that low self-esteem is a critical factor.

"If people have low self-esteem they will constantly seek approval of their boss, and may take on too much work as a result."If you always want approval, your boss is more likely to take advantage of you.

"Ultimately, employees have to learn how to say 'no' when they are being given too much work.

"Of course, you have to be flexible, but if your boss is telling you to work late for the fourth night in a row, you have to say you can't.

"You have to be confident in your own abilities and make yourself the priority."

So how can people control their job security fears? "People have to be reassured that most of the time they are not likely to lose their jobs,'' says Mike Fisher.

"Even if they do they're not going to be out on the street.

"Even if your job is under threat, working every hour that God gives will not save it.

"If you continue with your impossible workload, you will eventually start running on empty, and you will only be able to devote a smaller amount of your energy to your work."

So how available should employees be through email and text when they leave the office? Some companies impose strict rules, insisting that workers respond to texts or email within 40 minutes even when they are at home.

Other employers prefer their staff to be disconnected. Volkswagen's German operation recently announced that it was deactivating staff emails on mobile phones half an hour after they leave work in order to combat employee burnout.

Fisher says: "You have to know how to draw boundaries between your work life and your home life.

"You can't be always available.If you are constantly connected you will make yourself ill, because you won't be able to relax."

Workplace stress may also be caused by bullying, a practice that is much more common than people perceive.

According to a survey by the Samaritans, four out of five Irish employees said they had been bullied during their careers.

Dr Gerry McMahon, lecturer in Human Resources at Dublin Institute of Technology, says the victim should make it clear they are being bullied to the perpetrator.

If they don't feel comfortable with that, they should tell someone else.

"You could discuss the matter with a third party and you should record what happened, and ask witnesses to record it.

"The best way of resolving a bullying problem is usually informally.

"If you can get it sorted out without an official complaint it should be a lot less stressful."

Whether stress at work is caused by bullying, heavy workload, or fear, employees should take action to avoid being overwhelmed.

If they sort out the matter they may be surprised to discover that is possible to be happy at work.

Irish Independent

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