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We don’t have to be constantly stressed and suffering burnout

Blair McPherson - former Director, Author and Blogger

Looking back it’s clear I didn’t cope well with stress. I didn’t even recognised I was stressed. I don’t know to what I attributed the frequent headaches  so sever I came home from work and went straight to bed, or the development of a pronounced  stutter, something I had not experienced before or since. When I changed job the headaches and stutter went away. But I still ended up taking early retirement from a job I didn’t find particularly stressful following a quadruple heart bypass!

My high blood pressure went undetected until I eventually went to the doctors with no specific symptoms except having spent most of a holiday in Portugal sleeping and too tired to do anything including walking down a flight of steeps to the beach, it was getting back up to the hotel that was the problem. Tests revealed blocked archeries and high blood pressure a lethal combination.

I worked excessively long hours but so did my boss. I took my full holiday entitlement but found it difficult to turn off, my mind constantly returned to work issues. My wife, who also had a demanding job, says taking early retirement probably saved my life. However she also says that I still haven’t left work because I feel this compulsion to write articles about it. One thing we both agree on is that our lives have dramatically changed since taking early retirement this however is as much to do with our grand children as it is not working.

Mind you if we were still working we wouldn’t  have time for the grandchildren. And that’s the real issue here I liked my job, I liked the people I worked with( well most of them) I liked the status and enjoyed the sense of purpose and meaning the job gave me. No one forced me to put in those long hours or to let work dominate my life but clearly I needed help to see the effect on my health and family. Unfortunately for me the organisation had an invested interest in a culture of overwork.

Organisation shouldn’t leave it till the employee goes off with stress related health problems before they do something. Nor should they leave it to individual line managers to , “provide help and support”. How about a Healthy Employee program. The organisation offers every employee over 50 six monthly cholesterol and blood pressure tests.

It was whilst I worked for a national organisation that my headaches and stutter developed, I suspect this was linked to the ridicules amount of mileage I did every week. Travelling up and down the busy motorways often desperate not to be late for important meetings was very stressful. Why did no one query my mileage claims from the point of view of was this healthy?

I always took my full allocation on annual leave but I know colleagues who struggled to fit it in. The policy was take it or lose it, surely the failure to take the full amount of annual leave should be viewed as a health indicator. One of the issues about taking annual leave was the amount of desk clearing that had to be done before and the prospect of returning to two weeks worth of emails, requests for reports that due your absence had moved from important to important and urgent and a queue of people wanting to talk to you about something that won’t wait. Problems that wouldn’t  exists if the organisation had not done away with deputy posts.

How about restoring the idea of the lunch hour rather than this idea that people eat at their workstation because we are too busy to take a break. Finally how about more consideration from line managers. I worked for a boss who insisted we held our weekly senior management team meeting first thing on a Monday morning. The effect of this was Sunday evenings were spent reading reports. He never took his full annual leave saying he didn’t like holidays but worse he would ring the office everyday he was away wanting to speak to a senior manager ,” to see if anything was happening”. But even this was better than his habit of dropping onto the office whilst on holiday! Not a good example.

Stress and burn out is bad for the individual and bad for the organisation they work for. Early intervention would help but the real problem is an organisation culture of over work.

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