Stressed to death?

We all know stress is a Seriously Bad Thing – and new research has revealed that South Africans are stressing like never before …

I can believe this. Life has changed dramatically in the last few decades. I remember my Dad going to work at 7.45 am, being back by 5.15 pm at the very latest – and he’d come home for lunch each day. He worked overtime once a year, during stock take.

Now working overtime is the norm. Our lives are being neutered by a propensity to work day and night, weekend after weekend.

Unsurprisingly, this has resulted in South Africans stressing themselves stukkend. According to The People Element, which undertakes to help organisations develop “high performing and emotionally intelligent individuals and teams,” workplace stress has never been higher – and is resulting in “extreme unhappiness, violence and sometimes even death”.

“Much of South Africa is experiencing stress in some form,” says Vicky Eriksson, human resources expert at The People Element. “As much as R3 billion a year is being lost to workplace stress – in the form of absenteeism, reduced productivity, staff turnover, workers’ compensation, medical insurance and other stress-related expenses.”

South Africa is not alone – the UN International Labour Organisation has described occupational stress as a “global epidemic” – but it is especially bad here. In a World Health Organisation ranking of suicide rates in 107 countries, South Africa comes in at number 23. The South African Depression and Anxiety Group reports that an average of 200 people attempt suicide on a daily basis, with some 22 of them succeeding – each day.

The People Element’s appropriately-named Karin Wellman confirms that things have worsened of late. “We have found the levels of stress and general unhappiness at work in South Africa to be much higher than we have seen in 15 years.” She warns that stress has a detrimental effect on working relationships and happiness at home, and directly affects the bottom line.

She maintains that 60 percent of lost workdays each year can be attributed to stress. “Around 80 percent of visits to health care providers are due to stress-related conditions – such as sleep problems, depression and irritability, causing higher health care costs. Stressed employees tend to make mistakes and are less creative too.”

What’s the solution? “Everyone needs to work smarter and with greater empathy,” says Eriksson. I don’t think it will be as simple as that, but I don’t claim to know the answers. Maybe I should ask my Dad …

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