Posted by: healingtheworkplace | January 7, 2013

We Have Entered The Super Stress Era

Last week I told you about Bruce O’Hara who wrote the book “Put Work in Its Place”. The book was written in 1988 at a time when stress and work life balance were just appearing on our radar. Bruce argued that by being able to restructure or reduce our work we could also reduce our stress and achieve work life balance.

What Bruce couldn’t foresee were all the other factors that contribute to stress in the 21st century workplace.

Since 1988 there have been repeated studies of workplace stress and in fact, an entire billion dollar industry has sprung up to help individuals and organizations cope.

Despite all of this effort, things have continued to worsen on the stress front. According to JWT Trends, a marketing firm, stress is now one of the top 10 trends to watch in 2013:

The Super Stress Era is characterized by stress mounting around the globe and that governments, employers and brands alike will need to ramp up efforts to help prevent and reduce it. At the same time that stressors are multiplying, stress is getting more widely recognized as a serious medical concern, with the World Health Organization calling it the worst health epidemic of the 21st century.

The million dollar question is this: “Why is stress on the rise despite of what we have learned since 1988?”

Could it be the result of social media and technology that makes us accessible 24/7? Could it be that people don’t know how to set boundaries between their personal lives and their work lives? Could it be that, in the workplace we are still blaming the victim instead of looking at the bigger picture?

I wrote about this in past blog posts but I will mention it again here. It is a fact that we all react to stress differently. What stresses me will not bother someone else. Take rush hour traffic for instance. I used to get super stressed driving around in the traffic and then over time I learned how to deal with it. I give myself more time to get to appointments, I don’t tail gate, I let people merge in front of my (good karma). In short, I slow down and take my time and it works.

The problem of rush hour traffic hasn’t changed but my reaction to it has. This is the premise of most workplace stress reduction programs. Teach the individual how to respond through lifestyle changes (diet, exercise, meditation) and the problem is solved.

But unlike traffic which is annoying but not something I have to live with 8 – 10 hours a day, stressors in the workplace may not be so easy to ignore. What do you think?



  1. The UMR also included a “commuter stress index” [ PDF ]. We wouldn’t put too much stock in this number as a psychological measure — it’s actually just another way of quantifying how bad rush hour really is. But it’s definitely true that being stuck every day in a sluggish line of can’t-drive assclowns wears on you. Using “stress index” as shorthand for “sheer brain-horror of rush hour driving index” just makes sense.

  2. Sometimes detours work and sometimes detours do not work when you are trying to get out of a traffic jam. Detours can put you on surface streets that take you so far out of your way that they end up adding significant time and stress to your trip. This is especially true if you don’t know where you are going. If you hear about an alternative route on the radio, weigh the time and effort to follow the detour rather than wait out the traffic jam.

    • So true!

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