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mental health mondays [rewind] :: burn baby burn

this was initially a labour day themed post a couple of years ago, but i figured that, with a lot of businesses in the home stretch to their year end, with only nine weeks left to make sales numbers, set budgets, determining how close to [or far from] your business is on major issues like inventory, etc. there can be a lot of stress at this time. so here's a little piece about the state of stress, with links for you to evaluate your own stress level.

but the main reason i'm reposting this is because next week, i want to do a follow-up/ second part looking at techniques that can and have been employed to deal with workplace stress.  

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a friend on facebook recently shared this article about how our thinking on the advances of the modern labour may not be quite so substantial as we're lead to believe. in fact, when labourers first began to organize and demand that employers change their policies regarding hours worked, minimum holidays and safety standards, what they were actually endeavouring to do was reclaim rights that had been guaranteed to most workers before the industrial revolution. so when you hear talk of how far things have come, keep in mind that the starting point has been arbitrarily chosen to fit that narrative. look a little further back and you might find that labourers worked very hard, but often for only part of the year, or worked long days because they had a substantial break in the middle to consume their lunch.

the article linked above itself includes a link to this study, showing that one in three americans are chronically overworked. it's hardly unique in its findings [and increasingly applies to countries besides america as a mania for austerity and workplace martyrdom spreads through the world like a strain of virulent diarrhea]. many scientists have pointed to the costs to the health system and to productivity because of the increasing pressure to work harder, not smarter, costs that include sick days or sick leave, insurance payouts and turnover. but here's the million dollar question for labour day: if it's such a massive, well-researched, well-understood problem, why is noone doing anything about it?

the one in three figure is a significantly larger proportion than workers exposed to asbestos who became  sick and governments have stepped in to force companies to set aside funds for their victims and to ban the material in order to prevent future illnesses. is this just another case of a mental disorder being judged as inferior because it lacks physical proof?

well yes. and no. in fact, burnout does present with physical symptoms, which can include hypertension, insomnia, heart disease and more. so chronic stress actually has a leg up on other mental disorders, in that it can be easier to prove. [at the very least, someone with those problems would be counselled to reduce their stress as part of a treatment program, even if it couldn't be identified as the primary cause.] the issue is not with proving the effect, but with assigning responsibility. i say "responsibility" rather than "blame", because i fully believe that a majority of managers and workplace supervisors don't want to cause stress- it makes their lives more difficult- but that the constant pressure to perform better, to bring in more money, to save on costs and to innovate is so ingrained in the western industrial mindset that it's pretty challenging to think of outside solutions. furthermore, our records of what life has been like since the industrial revolution are considerably more detailed than records of peasant life say 600 years ago, which can make it difficult to tell how things were managed before the era of longer work days and severely restricted vacations.

what complicates things further is that most moderate-to-large corporations are trapped in a perpetual panic cycle, having their managerial direction put under scrutiny every three months in the form of quarterly reports to investors and/ or directors. this mitigates against the possibility of larger, long-term planning. the benefits of reducing workplace stress may not be seen over such a short term, which makes them a difficult sell, especially for companies faced with declining or stagnant profits.

finally, most of the information on how to deal with workplace burnout focuses on actions that can be taken by the employee. which might be helpful for one individual at a time, but there's little available guidance for companies even if they've come to the decision that they do want to make changes for the better. and if you're starting a business, there's even less information on how not to cause employee burnout in the first place. so immediately, the problem is being treated as something outside the norm, a freak possibility that a company might encounter, even though statistics don't bear that out.

those who have gone through burnout or work-related periods of extreme stress can tell you that the pressure it exerts on mind and body can be like a toxin. the solution, then, i'm convinced, is to treat it as one. best if corporate leaders step forward to make changes themselves, but, in the absence of any short-term incentive to do so, i personally don't see that as likely. which leaves us with the possibility of government intervention, always problematic, but proven effective.

or public insurrection.

want to test your own burnout levels? here's a quiz from psychology today. it's long enough to be somewhat in depth and separates your results into areas where you're doing fine, areas where there are some signs of problems and areas where you need to pay serious attention. you'll need to pay for the in depth analysis, but the test and the summarised results i've described are free and do not require registration. if you're feeling stressed for time, there's a simpler, faster test [although not professionally vetted] that you can take here.

more like space friend martin rouge sent me a link to the service industry version of the psychology today burnout test. given that the service industry has the highest rates of burnout, that makes total sense.

so those of you in the service industry can go here.

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