Stress: Your business’ top competitor

When workers are stressed out, the operations are directly affected as they can hardly concentrating.

IN THE previous article, we looked at how stress is actually your body’s survival system and that if managed well, it becomes your number 1 security system.

It is only when stress is not managed well that it becomes detrimental to health. Unmanaged stress does not confine itself to the human body but it finds its way into your business and your relationships as well and in today’s article we will look at how stress impacts your business.

Generally, a successful business is one that has a robust strategy, which has looked intently into its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats popularly known as the SWOT analysis, and has maximised on the positive factors while mitigating the potential risks posed by the negative ones.

Now competition is one of the major threat factors for any business.

Every time I have sought the advice of my mentors in my project, the questions I get to face every time are, “who is your competition?

Who is doing the same thing like you and for who? How different is your product to that of your key competitors?”

If you do not know who is fighting for the same piece of cake that you are eyeing, you might get to the dining table and find the piece gone, just like that.

If you do not know who your competitors are in business, you may have what you believe is the ‘Pro Max’ intervention, but you may find yourself with no takers as competition would have scooped all the high-paying clients.

So many businesses tend to keep an eye on the moves by competition, to make sure they protect their market share and even increase it.

 However, more focus has for years, been placed on the external competitors, yet in the 21 st century there has emerged the most lethal competitor called STRESS.

This competitor is killing the business from within.

Many organisations have the best human capital, the financial resources the award winning strategies but they find themselves failing to meet their targets and they keep wondering what it is they have not done right.

In most cases the answer is STRESS. This competitor has managed to bring many businesses to their knees with ease because no one is paying attention to it as the key contributory factor to their downward spiral in operations.

I regard stress as a competitor in the sense that it competes with the organisation on employee time, energy, attention and focus.

What is work stress?

Work stress can be defined as a pattern of reactions that occurs when workers are presented with work demands not matched to their knowledge, skills or abilities and which challenge their ability to cope (World Health Organisation 2007).

When employees perceive a disparity or imbalance between demands and resources they need to meet the demands, they react either physiologically (fight or fight response: increased heart rate, blood pressure, tense muscles, hyperventilation) or emotionally (fear, anxiety, nervousness, irritability) or cognitively (brain fog, inability to focus, forgetfulness), behaviourally (making mistakes, impulsive behaviour, aggressiveness).

In a state of stress induced by the situation at work, an employee is unable to function normally and effectively.

Causes of work stress

As mentioned above, work stress ensues when employees are presented with work demands and pressures that are not matched with their knowledge, skills, physical tools and resources.

Employees get stressed when their ability to cope with work is challenged and compromised.

Work stress is often a result of poor work organization, meaning, the way jobs and work systems and processes are designed, executed and managed. Stress also intensifies in situations where employees feel they have little or no control over work processes.

Over and above that, employee stress is made worse when employees feel that they have little or no support from their peers and supervisors.

Those employees who are committed and dedicated to their work often feel more stressed out than the laissez-faire employees, who really do not care whether work moves or stalls.

Employees often find huge stress in unsatisfactory working conditions and poor rewards, recognition and remuneration.

In summary work stress can be caused by types of tasks, roles and responsibilities, work relationships, management style, career progression concerns, working conditions, conveniences such as transport and lunch.

 Impact of work stress

Stress can have a significant impact on businesses, both in terms of profitability, management and employee well-being. When the workforce is stressed out, then certainly the operations are directly affected and the bottom suffers.

According to the American Institute of Stress:

Depression and anxiety cost the global economy approximately US$1 trillion in lost productivity.

An estimated one million workers are absent every day because of stress.

Job stress is estimated to cost the US industry more than US$300 billion in losses due to absenteeism, diminished productivity, and accidents.

Over five hours of office work hours are lost weekly to employees thinking about their stressors.

Work-related stress costs US$190 billion in annual healthcare costs in the US.

The UK is not doing any better with €20 billion (US$21,9 billion) in annual healthcare costs.

Furthermore, 2023 studies by the HSE (Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety), showed that around 822 000 people in the UK suffer from work-related stress.

An estimated 449 000 reported that this was caused or made worse by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Around 83%, the  overwhelming majority, of US workers suffer from work-related stress.

Around 42% of employed workers say that their stress levels are currently high or very high. About 57% of United States (US) and Canadian workers feel stress on a daily basis, compared with 43% of people globally. 

Americans’ and Canadians’ rate of daily job-related stress is also up 8% year-over-year.

Work stress is also an issue of growing concern in developing countries due to some foreign induced and indigenous factors.

The rate of development in the first world has had tremendous impact on work in the developing world. The World Health Organisation (2007) reports that due to rapid scientific and technological advancements in the first world, businesses in the  developing world have had to try and catch up with changes in modern production systems in order to compete on the global markets.

As a result stress increased as management and employees have to deal with:

Increased demands of learning new skills;

The need to adopt new ways of working;

The pressure of the demand for higher productivity;

Demands for increased quality of work;

Increased job insecurity and less benefits; and

Less time for co-workers and socialising.

Furthermore, work stress in developing countries is intensified by a number of indigenous factors outside the work environment, such as gender inequalities, poor hygiene and sanitation, parasitic and infectious diseases, poor nutrition, poor living conditions, general poverty, corruption, inadequate transportation systems and poor environmental management of industrial pollution.

In summary unmanaged work stress results in reduced productivity, higher turnover, decreased morale, performance issues, compliance issues, serious health problems and consequently huge losses and threats to business survival.

Remedy to work stress

Awareness is the first big step towards addressing the work stress factor to business productivity and profitability.

The board, executives and management all need to come to an agreement to pay more attention to this emerging, radical competitor. The aspect of stress management ought to be included in the business strategies and budgets.

This will be followed by the involvement of experts to bring awareness on the subject as well as recommending effective ways of dealing with work related stress.

 This may not be a one size fits all approach, hence the need to involve the experts to establish what works best for each industry or profession or level or location and other determining factors.

Stress management techniques and practices ought to become part of the organisational structure.

  • Mhaka is a self-development coach and wellness consultant, who focuses on mental health awareness and mind fitness training. She is the executive director of BeMindFit, an author and a speaker. These weekly New Horizon articles, published in the Zimbabwe Independent, are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, an independent consultant, managing consultant of Zawale Consultants (Pvt) Ltd, past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society and past president of the Chartered Governance & Accountancy Institute in Zimbabwe (CGI Zimbabwe). — [email protected] or mobile: +263 772 382 852.


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