City Sunday

The paradox of stress

The word ”stress” is a paradox and an enigma. Stress is increasingly becoming a dreaded phenomenon, especially for an industry where pressure and stress to increase productivity is incessant and unrelenting. Rajeev Kumar, Vice President HR at NIIT says, “Stress is as constant as a change in our corporate life. And Stress-related health issues are rampant — hypertension/BP; sugar etc. In fact, jokes running around incorporates are that in medical examination reports done at the time of hiring by HR, if someone has no stress-related health issues, it’s a question mark on selection and suitability saying, these guys don’t take the pressure, hence not fit for the job.”

The reality is that continuing stress can lead to significant negative fallouts. Stress can cause burn-outs, lower the productivity of employees, executives and workers in whom the companies have invested for years and who are now unable to take on larger responsibilities. There are frequent cases of executive burn-out or even preference for early retirement, and there is a large percentage of corporate workers who feel older than they should and are tired clones of their aspirational alter egos. The paradox is that stress is a sharp and double-edged sword. Stress can either make you an achiever or stress can burn you out.

The extent of damage is inversely related to the frustration tolerance level (FTL) of the individual. The same level of stress for some could just be an avoidable nuisance factor, or it can have disastrous consequences for those with low FTL. However, if the individual has high FTL and strong N-ach (Need for achievement), stress could be an enabler that releases levels of dopamine and energy that keeps the person going beyond normal limits. Even these high achievers begin to burn out when stressed for prolonged periods. No organisation can afford stress-related slowdown amongst the experienced employees that it has nurtured. Therefore, companies are going the extra mile to understand the stress and reduce it, but it is not easy to find the balance between good stress and bad stress.

Some studies reveal, and it comes as no surprise, that the causes of stress in companies are largely related to growing uncertainty in jobs, the high-pressure environment for performance, workplace bullying by managers and increasing anxiety in personal lives. A study by Optum in 2018 revealed that nearly half the employees in India suffer from some stress. Urbanisation is a major factor in this. Industrialisation and the parallel migration of workers to the bigger cities results in a breakdown of the traditional family support system. The proliferation of nuclear families negatively impacts the work-life balance and enhances stress. There is another view that millennials are at an even higher risk, even suicide, as fallout from breakups in relationships and conflicts in committed relationships.

Lack of exercise and protein-deficient diets are resulting in poor health-related absenteeism. According to ASOOCHAM, this could translate to an equivalent of US$20billion loss for the organised sector alone. (MR, Inputs: Agencies).

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