Stress and Productivity: Summit TV, South Africa

Summit TV Interview Transcript

The impact of the economic recession on stress levels of South Africans and in particular, the bottom line of companies. I am joined by Executive Director at InnerCents, a corporate training firm, Meiron Lees. He is also the author of this book which is called, D-Stress – Building Resilience in Challenging Times.

Let us first look at the impact of the recession on productivity.

It has a severe affect on productivity at the moment with stress levels going through the roof. Productivity gets affected no doubt. With redundancies happening at the moment, remaining employees are left with the increased workload, so they are working longer, and with that stress levels go up. Most of us don’t know how to manage and reduce our stress levels. Many employees at the moment are finding that their stress levels are very high without the ability to cope with it. What happens then is the error rate starts to increase, when we’re feeling stressed and tired we can’t be as productive as possible. There’s a concept called presenteeism, and that is when somebody’s actually coming to work and sitting at their desk, but they’re not very productive. And that’s really the silent killer of productivity. People are not productive, they’re at work, and the cost is very, very difficult to measure.

What are some of the things that companies are doing? Are they actually aware of this in the first place?

They are, most of them aren’t doing a very good job. Stress does fall under the occupational health and safety regulations, but unfortunately most companies aren’t doing enough to help support their own employees with reducing their stress levels.

What should they be doing?

I think the responsibility is two fold. One is from the employers perspective. Firstly to really encourage your work life balance. Working 14 hours a day is not productive. Having short breaks within the day and some time off actually is a productive thing to do. Many people think contrary. Support people. Socrates once said “know yourself” but I think from a corporate perspective, “know your people”. Find out what’s troubling them, find out what’s keeping them awake at night, and support them. It also requires a changing paradigm in terms of the way we think about productivity and the bottom line in companies. I think the missing link there is a lot of organisations don“t make the link between stress and productivity and most importantly profitability. Stress is a silent killer of profitability because if you look at absenteeism rates in South Africa, 40 per cent of absenteeism is due to stress related causes.

Is stress only observable in workaholics?

No. People feel stress in different ways, some people are quite overt with their behaviour, you can see it written all over their face when they’re stressed. Other people feel it internally and you wouldn’t really know until you have a conversation with them.

We’ve referred to this book you have written. You talk about some of the techniques and the importance of destressing. From a corporate perspective though, what are the most important things that need to be done.

I think from an employers perspective, is to start to encourage two way communication. Share information, what’s happening. There’s nothing worse than an employee not knowing if they’re going to be made redundant. If they’re not going to be made redundant, tell them they’re not. At the moment there’s a big culture of fear in organisations with people not knowing. And even if it’s bad news, rather give the bad news than not share the information at all.

But even then it’s also difficult because an organisation is never in position, they don’t plan long term anymore, they have to implement strategies and plans as they happen.

Sometimes they don’t know what’s going to happen and it’s difficult. It’s knowing what you can and can’t control, and communicate what is known. The other important thing from an employers perspective, is to check with the employees their degree of ability to actually perform the tasks. Often people get stressed because they don’t know how to do the task, so check in on the how to of employees to perform the task adequately.

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