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Are you stressed or just busy

10 February, 2016

In a time when work is borderless and demands on us keep increasing, stress lurks just around the corner. But the gradual transition between work and leisure also means that we need a clearer distinction between being busy and having stress.

At a network event a few weeks ago, I spoke with a CEO of a large Danish and very successful company.

Over a cup of coffee, we discussed strategy and market trends and eventually working environment. The CEO told me that in his company pressure of work was an increasing problem, and op to 19 percent suffered from stress. In my opinion, that was a very high figure. If 19 percent of the employees have stress there is something absurdly wrong in the company, or there is something wrong with the definition of stress.

From previous jobs and from Columbus, I know that between 1-2 percent of employees usually are reported sick due to stress. This means that globally, Columbus has between 12-24 employees on sick leave due to stress, which is still too many people.

During my career, I have been close to stressed employees several times, and I found that stress has a paralyzing effect on people and that it is a very serious diagnosis. It is also a major problem for the company. Stress typically results in long-term absence, which is not only costly but also causes great loss of knowledge and experience for the company. Thus, any business leader must try to avoid stress in the company and make sure that no employees become stressed. This is both in regards to personal and business reasons.

But you also have to distinguish between having stress and being busy. Stress is a disease that on any account should be avoided, while busyness is something that the company at all costs should aim for.

There is nothing worse than not being busy. Neither for the employee, department or company. It’s like air leaking out of a balloon; you lose momentum and a sense of contributing. Of course, there must be time for a bite of cake or a coffee break in the afternoon, however if the busyness disappears things will go wrong.

I believe that being busy helps sustain a high level of activity and morality, which help generate better results. There is nothing wrong with a busy workplace. On the other hand, it is the manager’s job to make sure the employees are not too busy over a longer period of time. This is ensured by having the right resources available and by delegating and managing the work effectively and fairly.

In order to get rid of stress at work, we have to separate stress and busyness. If the employee does not want or is not capable of being busy at work, you must as a manager use one kind of management tool. But that situation is relatively simple and there are countless books written about performance management.

It is my experience that stress rarely occurs only because of work related issues. When an employee becomes sick from stress it is often a combination of professional and private circumstances. Stress typically occurs in combination with a mental imbalance caused by divorce, death, illness, problems with children or parents or major private projects.

When there is an imbalance at home, the frustrations and problems are brought to work, which is understandable. Typically, the situation requires skills that the manager does not possess. Therefore, it is important to get professional help, act fast and make sure the employee’s assignments are given to other employees.

My message to the CEO mentioned earlier was, that you as a manager must be careful not the sweep busyness under the “stress carpet”, because you risk not handling either busyness or stress properly.

Read the column in Danish here

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