July 30, 2012

Could Your Job Be Killing You?

Studies suggest that Heart attacks are up by 20% on Monday mornings and are most likely to take place between the hours of 4:00 and 10:00 a.m. on Mondays!  It is no surprise there’s a work and job related connection, but what exactly is that connection? Tom Rath and Jim Harter of the Gallup organization try to answer that question in their book, Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements.
“The extreme variation between a good weekend and a bad weekday might explain why heart attacks are more likely to occur on Mondays. This suggests a rough transition from Sunday to Monday that takes a physical toll. So when we transition from a leisurely Sunday, the least stressful day of the week, to Monday morning in a workplace where we are not engaged, it might damage our bodies in the process.”
So what exactly does this mean?
It means that your level of engagement with your work determines your levels happiness at work and even alters your blood and brain chemistry. In a Gallup study, involving 168 randomly sampled people who had to endure heart rate monitoring and daily tests of their saliva (to measure their levels of the stress hormone, cortisol), scientists discovered that employees with low levels of engagement were relatively unhappy throughout the day compared to highly engaged employees. For employees with low engagement levels, happiness increased gradually until quitting time, but even at their happiest, they merely reached the baseline happiness score of more engaged employees.  And not surprisingly, engaged employees were found to have similar happiness levels on working AND non-working days. In other words, they enjoyed their weekdays as much as their weekends!
Is having a good boss just as important as having a good doctor?

According to research, people report the time they spend with their boss as the worst part of their day.  But that’s not all: In a Swedish study of 3,000 workers, those who thought their managers to be the least competent had a 24% higher risk of serious heart problems. For workers who worked with that same manager for 4 years or more, the risk shot up to 39%.  In addition, according to Rarth and Harter: The most disengaged group of workers we have ever studied are those who have a manager who is simply not paying attention. If your manager ignores you, there is a 40% chance that you will be actively disengaged or filled with hostility about your job. If your manager is at least paying attention — even if he is focusing on your weaknesses — the chances of your being actively disengaged go down to 22%. But if your manager is primarily focusing on your strengths, the chance of you being disengaged is just 1%, or 1 in 100.
Actually, we don’t need research studies to tell us that being disengaged or at odds with your work can cause health problems. Stress is something you yourself can feel every day on your way to work; at the weekly department meeting; at the end of the month. Stress is not inherently bad. A certain level of stress is required for you to be energized and engaged with your work. The problem is when you’re close to the stress tipping point and your bloodstream is bathed in nasty stress hormones like cortisol which, instead of facilitating fight or flight, just sit there, slowly corroding your insides.

So what can you do?

If you are a manager:

Start with paying more attention to your actions and be mindful of the stresses you put on your people. Make sure you have 10 pleasant and positive interactions with each team member before that potentially unpleasant interaction (that may sometimes be necessary).
If you have just engaged your employee(s) in heavy bouts of exertion, tell them to go home early or give them a little time off. Let them have a chance to breathe and relax each day. Take them out for a 10 minute walk each day and model healthy behavior for them. Give them a say in how they do their job by setting clear objectives for them and then get out of their way (a.k.a. don’t micro-manage). Praise them frequently, give them details, and do it in public. Don’t make work so serious: encourage laughter and make things more fun.  Encourage an interruption-free environment (or at least designate 1 or 2 hours of the day for focused, interruption-free work). They don’t need 10 meeting a day to be updated so make meetings few and make them interesting.  Make sure you always explain WHY. Why does the company exist? Why does the department exist? Why is their task necessary and important? Note: “To make money” is not a complete answer to the question “Why?”
If you are a worker:
Don’t tolerate unhealthy stress levels at work. Take action!  Don’t stay quiet, talk to your manager about your stress-related concerns. Focus on your desire to be more productive, not less. Stress kills productivity. Develop healthy rituals like taking a 10 minute walk in the morning and afternoon. Take a 5-10 minute break after every 90-120 minutes of highly focused work. Go to the gym and balance your workouts with cardio and strength building. Eat healthy and energizing foods. Foster friendships and close relationships at work because when it comes down to it you see your co-workers more than your family or at least the same amount. Don’t take your work SO seriously by remembering that you are NOT your work. Get more sleep each night.  Engage in anonymous acts of kindness at work.  Develop your gratitude muscles and be thankful for everything you do have. Don’t indulge in complaining, you have the power and response-ability to take decisive action.

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