Career Advice Expert Advice

Burnout busters

Job insecurity and financial worry caused by a rocky economic environment are taking their toll on employees, who are feeling increasingly more stressed, says a recent global survey.

Of the 16,000 professionals across 80 countries recently polled by Regus, a flexible workspace provider, 48 per cent said their stress levels have risen over the past year. Published in September, the survey shows that the main cause of stress is the workplace, closely followed by clients, managers and personal finances.

China stands out among the world’s top 50 economies, with 75 per cent of those polled reporting increased stress levels. Hong Kong, with 55 per cent, is also above the global average.

“Large corporations like to emphasise worker satisfaction and stress reduction, but they are constantly putting intense pressure on individuals,” says Dr Sharmeen Shroff, a clinical psychologist at Holistic Central.

She lists common causes of worker stress as unfair performance demands – such as having to take on the workloads of those made redundant – the expectation that they should instantly reply to an e-mail wherever they are, and the pressure to constantly update their skill sets. Other factors, such as working in a team which lacks effective communication or conflict-resolution strategies, also take their toll.

Stress needs to be managed as it can lead to a number of physical and mental problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, depression, panic attacks and anxiety.

Miranda Kaur, director and trainer at Practical Workshops, which offers training in life skills, says that when attempting to manage stress levels, there are four areas on which you should concentrate. “These are TPLP – time, people, language and the physiological side,” she says.

For time management, Kaur says an employee should anticipate busy times, such as preparing end-of-month reports or next year’s budget, and prepare by working ahead. They should also know their end goal, as this helps to prioritise, and know the difference between urgent and important.

They should also make use of “dead time”, such as sitting on the bus, to relax or catch up with reading or planning.

Workloads should be reviewed weekly to help in planning ahead. “I don’t mean organising or scheduling. Use structured planning – see what you want to achieve, when and how. Draw up likely scenarios and see how you are going to address the challenges,” Kaur says.

She suggests researching time-management smartphone apps to see if any turn out to be particularly suitable to your job.

For people, Kaur suggests allocating a timeslot for uninterrupted concentration and work which involves no phone calls or e-mails. “If something comes through that is an urgent crisis, you can attend to it. If it is just ‘important’, it can wait,” she says.

Employees should also learn how to delegate and to say “no” when they have to – but always making sure to explain the reason and offer an alternative.

Stress is contagious, so physical distance from the “stressor” can help to calm things down. “If this is not an option, try and use constructive language when speaking to them. Avoid pointing fingers,” Shroff says.

Kaur agrees. “Do not play the blame game. It only aggravates the situation. Just offer solutions to the problem at hand. Depending on the office culture, you can maybe talk about it later and work out how the different parties can support each others’ work better in future.”

It helps to be aware of the language you and others use which indicates the first signs of tension. “People tend to use exaggerated language, such as ‘it will never happen!’, ‘this will never work out!’, or ‘this is a complete waste of time!’,” Kaur says. This should raise the red flag.

Employees should always be ready to talk to clients to try to understand the situation from their perspective. “Remember that the customer is already stressed about something too. If you mirror their stress then there is no way a resolution to a problem can be achieved,” Shroff says.

High dosage of stimulants and depressants, such coffee, sugar and alcohol, are counter-productive.

Kaur says exercise is helpful in reducing stress, especially non-competitive sports. Some foods are also known to reduce stress, such as almonds, oranges, spinach, fish and milk. “Try not to eat things like candy bars – this just replaces one addiction with another,” Kaur says.

She encourages people to keep a log of stressful incidents and start planning ahead for similar ones. She also says that if the day is likely to include a period of low productivity, don’t wait for it – take a small break beforehand, so you’re full of energy to tackle it.