What is this type of stress?
Work related, or workplace stress is a psychological reaction an employee may experience when difficult and strenuous situations and complicated and compiling circumstances, experienced during their employment, begin to impact on their confidence, causing instability in their ability to cope. This can stem from several causes, such as from too many tasks and not enough time, a mismatch of abilities, workplace bullying, unforeseen eventualities, and the list goes on.
Just like everyone possesses different tolerances and ways they manage stress, the physical symptoms can also range from person to person, and can include nervousness, agitation, sweating, swearing, frustration, tension, etc. Further to this, and just to clarify, the workplace stress being addressed here refers to detrimental stress caused by and leading to employee dissatisfaction, and not the mild kind that people experience as a positive motivator. Whilst it can be hard to distinguish between the two, given how each person is unique, the detrimental stress can be identified by one simple trait: it costs businesses money in exchange for no gain whatsoever.
Costs of impact
Stress from employment is continuing to rise, year after year. In Australia, in 2008, Medibank Private estimated it to be costing the Australian economy approximately $14.81 billion a year, and, this year, 2012, it was announced on a local news radio show, 2day FM, that this figure has increased to approximately $30 billion!
These detrimental costs are a combined aggregate of a collection of factors that stem directly from workplace stress. These include lower productivity levels, increased absenteeism, compensation claims and high turn over rates. Obviously, this is a problem for both employees and employers alike, as everyone is affected. If one employee is stressed, it can flow on very easily to others, like a virus, as they try to compensate, reason with or comfort the original employee, lowering overall productivity.
Where does it come from?
As mentioned above, there are several factors that can be the original cause of stress, such as high demands, frustrating work conditions, safety risks, ergonomic concerns, unjust expectations, insecurities with future employment, office politics, workplace changes and mergers, etc.
Every workplace is different, and each comes with its own factors which can be difficult to isolate, however it is very important that managers never underestimate workplace stress in their organisations. It is clear from the figures above that it is a rising problem, which means that this issue is continuing to grow. Too frequently, employers and managers cannot identify the stress factors or symptoms within their departments, because they are either unsympathetic, the employee hides it due to embarrassment, or they are too far removed from the problem to acknowledge it.
Whilst it may be an unfortunately reality that some managers and employers don’t really view workplace stress as an issue big enough to cause a blip on their radar (which is the very reason of underestimation being addressed by this article), it is not to say that all of them are not concerned. Most of the time, identifying the problem can be very time consuming and complex, creating an invisible barrier to the issue itself.
Call to action
So, it is all well and good to discuss the costs and physical manifestations of workplace stress, but what can employers do?
Well, the very first thing to do is to not deny that it exists in all workplaces, and further to this, that workplace stress can exist in all different magnitudes: all of which are a problem that need addressing.
As blatantly obvious as that may seem, it is often questionable and always surprising how many employers remain oblivious, or worse, in denial about the potential problems in their very own teams; not from the lack of signals, but because they are under the impression that it won’t or doesn’t exist. Reality check: Remember, those billion dollar workplace stress related figures don’t just appear out of thin air.
Ensuring all employers and managers are aware that employee stress occurs, as a result of the very nature of business, is the first step to solving the issue. Don’t underestimate workplace stress! It is the large proverbial white elephant in the room.
It then comes down to drawing the line with what constitutes actual stress; as mentioned above, every person has a different threshold and coping strategy, so it can be difficult to assess what task or situation is stressful to one and not another. The best solution for this is to open communication channels. This has a two-fold benefit: the employees feel more comfort in raising and discussing these issues with the confidence that the problem will be addressed, and at the same time, employers can obtain first-hand feedback regarding the source and magnitude of stress in their workplace.
Putting things into practise
This knowledge, naturally, will only be useful should actions and conclusions come about, but, again, do not underestimate workplace stress. Employees will only continue to have confidence in the system if actions are taken, and the benefits of showing that management really do care are exponential.
For example, a simple action plan to change frustrating procedures that have been in place and never reviewed for over ten years, so as to alleviate the bottlenecks that are causing your employees to worry about everyday, could end up saving the employees significant amounts of time and energy, helping to solve stress related absenteeism and staff turn over. Understandably, this sounds very simple, but even more shocking is how realistic this kind of situation truly is. Underestimating how little triggers of stress can be alleviated by a simple change is the core issue here.
Take, for example, a situation I was involved in with a previous employer. Very long story short, the marketing and medical review teams were clashing over countless advertising material. The marketing team were producing print materials and the medical team were slowing down the process considerably, due to the sheer amount of content going through the system, as well as other interdepartmental gripes. Stress was running high: Management had a problem that wasn’t being solved, that was directly affecting productivity, frustrating all employees involved causing rifts within teams, and no way to solve it as it wasn’t being communicated in a healthy way (by this, I mean, it wasn’t being brought up in a constructive manner- it was more employees complaining via office politics).
To solve this, management decided to have both teams invited to a conference to vent out all issues, to get everything on the table, and to come up with a solution suggested together by both teams. I think that the entire problem (i.e.: the source of the frustration and stress within both teams) was rectified within a couple of hours, and ended up creating a much more fluid system. It really was that simple.
So the real issue is: underestimating the impact stress can have on businesses. The detrimental costs and numbers are clearly visible, but the lack of translation into realising it may be occurring in your own business, and even worse, the fact that most of the time, the problem is easily solved, is not as clear.
As a freelance writer, you can come into contact with vast amounts of sensitive and confidential information from each client- every organisation has it, and most likely, a writer will need to delve into it. This is a norm, as each client requires their writers to possess the entirety of knowledge necessary to effectively compose material for them, so that the end result is as if it had originated from the organisation itself.
If they didn't provide a third-party writer with the 'whole picture' of information, then the resulting material presented back to them would probably be full of large holes and half-truths, not to mention the fact that, if they decided to use this material, it would appear as if the organisation didn't even know itself.
So, if the client hires a writer for certain material on a specific job, certain information will be trusted upon the writer for the right use and reasons only. This is where the point lies. Commercial freelance writing means that you are only as good as your reputation, and it takes several tasks, jobs and hard yards to find your legs in the corporate world and be successful. Make sure it is not for the wrong reasons.
Therefore, this article is a gentle reminder to all writers out there that are privy to sensitive information- think of it as a refreshing course on the obvious. Discretion for each client is paramount! If you have details on a product launch coming up, and a competitor hires you, make sure you take appropriate steps depending on the situation, whether that means letting each client know, turning down the second job, or, keeping both items completely separate. The fact of the matter is, only a writer in a particular situation can know what is the best option at the given time, but the key is discretion and integrity. Keep these two values at the top of your mind when conducting business, and you will be better off for it.
People talk- the industry talks. Mentioning something in passing, or even changing the names and giving half-truths can blow up into a situation a freelancer, not to mention the client, doesn't particularly want. Even the slightest reputation of being an information leak will end up spreading around and then you can sit and watch as your job offers drop off the face of the Earth.
Do yourself, your clients, and the reputation of the industry a favour, and keep all their details to yourself, and forget them once the job is done. Don't succumb to the human temptation of mentioning details to other clients, especially through your writing. This also includes pitching for work and creating a portfolio: make sure that all items you display are suitable for the public domain, and do not display important trade-secrets, even if the new client is in a completely different field: People talk- the industry talks.
Keep this quick tip in your mind as you write your materials, and you will thank yourself for reading this. In the words of Billy Connolly, "Times May Change, but Standards must remain" and in this situation, there is no exception. Businesses are serious business, and clients expect no less from their trusted writers, so it is important that this is upheld in all we do.
On the 23rd of February, I was invited to the Get Schmart Conference, in Sydney. Basically it encompasses, as they so aptly mentioned, Marketing: the art of strategy, creativity, social media and integration. Having qualifications and working for over five years in the marketing arena in several different industries, I was greatly anticipating what the conference would provide and excited at the opportunity to listen to and hear from the ‘heavy weights’ of the industry.
In all honesty, the sheer thought of an eight hour conference is a bit daunting, as, the reality of the situation is, sitting in a room for that long, absorbing a constant stream of information can be exhaustingly trying on even the most disciplined of people (in fact one of the speakers actually mentioned that adults have an active attention span of only 110 seconds). However, all in all, the conference was engaging, innovative, very relevant, thought provoking and extremely insightful. I fear that may be too many adjectives, but it is the honest truth.
Throughout the conference, I found myself nodding in agreement, considering the application of the information being presented to my own situation, or forming questions to mention during the question and answer sections. These three ideal participant responses are, to be perfectly frank, all too frequently difficult for a marketing conference to achieve, because of the obvious risk of being described as “well that is all good and well for you to say those things in theory up on a podium, but putting it into practice is just not possible, hence this presentation completely useless” is highly prominent.
One thing that I particularly enjoyed was the tweeting and use of twitter during the conference. There were large projector screens set up at the venue, and a hash tag established, so you could tweet information and questions about the conference, in real time. You could even directly address the speaker, which I found a real useful tool. I signed up for twitter that morning and ran my battery completely dry making comments, posing questions, and forming my own conclusions, which other attendees would interact with, replying, retweeting and referencing. It was such a positive contribution to the meeting, as it really encouraged live, simultaneous discussion to run parallel to the speakers, whilst providing a direct example of utilising social media at the same time.
Whilst I won’t go into detail with each individual speaker, overall, their topics blended together well and I felt that each had their own field of expertise to contribute to the overall message, which left me with a beneficial aggregate message upon the conference’s conclusion. By this I mean, for example, social media is absolutely dominating the internet and marketing strategies, but it truly is the proverbial ‘sand slipping through the fingers’ scenario- i.e.: no one truly understands it’s power and scope, especially as it changes so rapidly. The speakers chipped away at the complexity of the beast that is social media, and I found that their insights, real examples and discussions allowed me to piece together and grasp an appreciation of how marketing, as a function, needs to react and take advantage of this phenomenon in order to utilise it effectively and efficiently in a corporate world. Naturally, their messages were heavily boosted by the large, extravert personalities one would expect from a marketing professional, which made the conference, over all, enjoyable and truly educational.
Thank you to PMP Limited for hosting such a great conference, and I look forward to next year.
"Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life"- JK Rowling.
I consider myself to be a writer: I write music, lyrics, novels and articles. Hence why I believe myself to be a creative person, which comes with it's amazing ups and frustrating downs. Often, inspiration needs to be spurred, and so I often turn to successful writers to learn from them and their experiences, in order to focus and enlighten my own.
There was a continually repeated theme I kept noticing amongst those successful, creative beings, and it was the fact that some of their best work came from a time when their life was, in their view, seemingly at its lowest- it appeared to give them the ability to shut out all distractions and focus on making a piece of work that transcended just writing words on a page.
JK Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, is by far, one of the best examples of this. I watched quite a few interviews with the infamous writer, who really epitomises a true 'rag to riches' story. For those who do not know, whilst Rowling began to write the first Harry Potter novel, she was an unemployed, single parent in England in a situation she describes in her Harvard Commencement Speech, 2008, as "poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain without being homeless." What she said next is what struck a chord with me. She highlighted the importance of these low points and failures, saying, "failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded in anything else I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena that I believed I truly belonged. I was set free."
"Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life" summed up her entire argument, and now, mine as well. It seemed to be this struggle that made the escapism of writing all so much more important, and this struggle appears to give the writer's creation more passion. For example, Rowling explains that she always intended to have the books begin with Harry Potter's parents murdered, but she did not dwell on this, making their deaths fairly shallow at the first draft. However, she admits that the loss of her mother to the disease Multiple Sclerosis, six months in to writing the first book, made the death of Harry Potter's parents more real to her, and it was that deeper meaning in death that seemed to make the loss of his parents far more emotional to the reader through her 'emotionally charged' writing.
Another example that further illustrates this is the writer, Stephan Elliott, who, when I met him earlier this year, said that he wrote the film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert during a brush with the law. He said that it was at this point in his life where "he has nothing else to loose" which freed him to really go for gold. In 2004, Elliot was also involved in a skiing accident, and was hospitalised for quite a few months; he accredits this experience with rediscovering his sense of humour, which reflected in several of his works past this date.
This is not at all to say that a good writer needs to experience a traumatising event in order to be successful, but I found it interesting that these two examples (and many more) give light to the possibility that, writing as a method of escapism could possibly be more potent if the author is actually trying to escape from a bad experience in their life.
Unfortunately, as Rowling noted, this rock bottom period of life is far from pleasant, and no one should ever relish in it or romanticise it in any way, which is definitely not my aim with this article. It is simply to highlight the old saying of "Write what you know"; experiences in a writer's life can often 'hit home' with their emotions as they write, triggering a greater foundation of passionate flare and creativity, providing the reader with a more in-depth experience, which they certainly notice as they become absorbed in the content. This, in turn, increases the reader's satisfaction in the story, as the reader becomes favourably lost in this pit of vented emotions intertwined in a plot, as opposed to a shallow tale.