When I saw this headline in the NY Times last week, I was immediately reminded of something I learned at a conference in Chicago over 20 years ago. I was attending a meeting of the International Stress Management Association (ISMA) and one of the speakers there put it very bluntly: In Europe stress (particularly, job stress) is considered to be the responsibility of the employer. And in the US, job stress is considered to be the responsibility of the employee.
So if you’re a US employer and you want ideas for how to promote better work-life balance, all you need do is look at what European (or Canadian) companies are doing for their employees. Whether it’s 4 weeks of vacation, double paid vacation, (where you not only get paid time off, but you also get a bonus to cover the cost of your vacation) or now in Portugal where there is a law on the books that prevents a boss from calling an employee outside regular working hours, European countries and Canada are on the cutting edge of promoting work-life balance.
In the UK mindfulness training in organizations is mandated by law. In Canada, companies can be held accountable for not attending to known sources of job stress. And yet here in the US we lag behind in creating workplaces where workers can thrive because these kinds of changes must come from within, and always at the whim of management. One of my clients, an Oklahoma-based oil company with a branch in Canada, put this dichotomy on display for me in a very real way: “When you are doing training in Canada, you can talk about job-created stress all you want, but at the home office, she confided, please don’t mention it at all. Just use the term resilience. That puts the onus on the employee.”
But in this overheated economy where employees can leave their employers at a drop of a hat, this cavalier attitude toward helping employees manage their stress and create better work life balance, is finally beginning to crack. One of my more progressive clients who uses our My Stress Tools web platform for promoting mental well-being, told me their internal employee surveys showed that rates of anxiety had almost doubled in the last few years. He feels, as Wellness Director, they can’t afford not to address any and all forms of stress that people are experiencing.
I’ve seen research that suggest that employees will consistently choose a less stressful job over a higher paying more stressful job. And yet so often, US employers fail to see the real opportunity in making their workplaces less stressful from the top down. If you are in an organization where you have high levels of stress, and don’t know where to begin to lower it, here’s an idea for where you can start: Try to identify bottlenecks within your organization.
Short of a toxic boss, nothing stresses out an employee, trying to do his or her job, like bottlenecks to getting it done. Whether you do it through interviews, surveys or open meetings, identifying and eliminating these bottlenecks is a surprisingly low-cost way to lower stress in any organization. Another great starting off point is to distribute a stress survey so you can identify many other sources of stress in your organization. Here’s a link to a free stress survey we created that you can download and distribute to your employees. If you are willing to do something with the information you uncover from this survey, you will be well on the road to addressing the issue of stress and work-life balance in your organization in a very real, very productive way.
Here is link to NY Times Article.