Preventive health measures are all the go in today’s health-conscious society. But our great love of work has become an insidious source of illness, depression and even death.
One of the joys of the proverbial “good old days” – a mere 20 years or so ago - was the predictability and relative simplicity of life. Work was work, personal life was personal life and rarely the twain would meet.
Seemingly almost overnight, life has become horribly complex – long working hours, prolonged excessive stress, the blurring of work and personal life boundaries, a continuing acceleration in the rate of change and pace of life and a resulting lack of patience over any demand not met instantly.
The latest global financial crisis added greatly to the stress – as much for those left to keep the business afloat as for those who were made redundant.
Staff wellbeing has indeed become extremely unwell, with workers showing serious symptoms of impending burnout. While such problems are getting plenty of publicity these days, the jury is still out on the extent to which business sees value in doing much about it. Take the issue of work life balance for example. Business asks why they should bear the all the costs and staff get all the benefits?
Ask managers and staff what they think are the order of priorities for working conditions of staff and you will get two very different perceptions. Broadly, managers perceive money to be the top priority while staff tend to focus on balance and personal needs.
Responses from managers and from staff to surveys on what staff And staff responses to surveys of desired working conditions for staff present a very different picture to the responses given by managers.
Much about “the good old days” ended around 1990 when business decided labour was by far its biggest expense. They proceeded forthwith to unload permanent staff by the thousands, in favour of outsourcing and contracting staff.
Workers decided that if business wasn’t going to be responsible for them (golden handshakes on retirement, etc.) workers were going to have to manage their own working life plans and conditions.
While events like the Global Financial Crisis mean business still holds much of the strings, the workers are increasingly flexing their self-management muscles – individually and collectively.
The power and status of the workforce is growing as knowledge, experience and specialist expertise spreads ever further through all levels of the hierarchy. Combine this with the vast store of wisdom and insight held by an increasingly ageing workforce and the issue of staff wellbeing becomes extremely complex.
Underlying all of this, some hitherto very uncomfortable words are creeping into management jargon. Words like emotion, caring, emotional intelligence, humane, balance and me-time, . Forward thinking managers however recognize a future that most of us have all long wanted to see. A workplace where it becomes the norm for people to work together enthusiastically and passionately towards achieving common goals. This can only happen when managers recognize people as 24/7 multi-purpose human beings and not simply 9-5 single-purpose workhorses.
It is now 40 years since Alvin Toffler wrote Future Shock, a term he saw as meaning too much change too quickly. We are now experiencing the greatest social revolution of all time. Toffler rightly predicted that chaos would reign supreme with much treachorous white water rapids to negotiate. He went on to reassure us that the chaos would quickly dissipate and we could glide into the smoother waters of what I would call ‘creative, productive uncertainty’.
Hopefully he will be again proved right.
The extensive publicity of staff wellbeing problems emphasizes the turbulence of the white water rapids. But the growing call for answers is also a welcome indicator of our hope to enjoy the benefits of smoother waters, sooner rather than later.