Why Stress Management programmes don’t work…
It seems that every week there’s yet another report telling us how serious the problem of Stress is becoming – how many working days are lost (anything between 6.5 million and 90 million days depending on whose report you read), how much it costs industry, what percentage of workers experience Stress, and so on. And despite the publicity, nothing seems to be changing. If anything, Stress seems to be becoming even more widespread, and at an alarming rate.
So why are things getting worse instead of better, and why don’t Stress Management programmes seem to work?
From an individual perspective, managing stress is a bit like getting fit. There are people whose idea of getting fit is to walk down to the bookshop, buy a book on fitness and exercise, take it home and read it… and do nothing. Or even worse, not even walk to the bookshop at all but buy it on the Internet! People can only get fit by exercising – getting fit means taking action.
It’s the same with Stress. Some people think the way to manage Stress is to go to a Stress Management workshop. What they don’t realise is that to manage their stress they need to do something different. And why don’t people take any action to manage their stress better? Why do they seem to be stuck in Stress?
There can be many reasons, but one of the most common ones seems to be fear of the consequences, that is, fear of how they will be seen by their employers and colleagues. The message that many organisations give out is that “It’s not OK to be stressed, and it’s certainly not OK to take the steps you need to manage your stress effectively”. It’s rarely stated explicitly, but it’s there in organisational cultures nevertheless.
Another reason is that when people are already stressed, and they then have to think about taking time to exercise or relax, the thought creates more stress. It’s yet another task in an already busy lifestyle, and so people are reluctant to make time for it — even though we know it leads to better health, more effective working and quality of life.
The third reason is that many people make other things more important than their own health and well-being. Bizarre though it may sound, people will put time and effort into meeting their boss’s expectations in preference to looking after their own health.
The reality, of course, is that unless we look after ourselves properly as employees the job will never be done properly anyway. So self-management has to be a priority.
Most stress management courses fail because they are “band-aid” solutions. They try to treat the symptoms instead of the underlying causes. To make Stress Management truly effective needs a fundamental shift in attitudes, both in individuals and employers. Employees must begin to put themselves and their health first. And employers need to make it OK for people to say they are stressed and to take proper care of themselves.
Many companies penalise their staff for arriving at work late. But how many companies do you know who penalise their staff for staying late at the end of the working day? One senior manager at a large IT company was seen recently throwing people out of the building at 6pm, telling them to go home and chill out. He recognised the law of diminishing returns – and realised that if his team were to be effective in their work they needed to have a healthy balance between work and personal life. He not only made it OK for his staff to develop work/life balance – he made it mandatory!
So many companies claim that “people are our most important asset”. If it’s true, why are they still stressed?