Blow out before Life burns out (Part 2)

Today we took a long walk partly along a river and partly through snow covered fields, forests and picturesque villages. It was freezing cold, about -10°C but I was dressed right for the weather because even my toes were warm during the walk. The serenity of our surroundings was disrupted by the ringing of a mobile phone. It was Mr. M’s and it was a call from someone at work. This brings me back to yesterday’s topic. Who is responsible for making our lives less stressful?

In the previous blog, I wrote about self-preservation. In the first instance, we are responsible for our own happiness and health. No matter what the circumstances are, we have the freewill to decide and do what is right for ourselves. I am not saying that it is an easy decision to make but it is one only we can make for ourselves. Our body is constantly communicating with us. As babies we are attuned to these signs and instinctive do what we can to get rid of whatever is bothering us. As babies there are only a limited number of things we can independently do; it takes the form of puking, burping, and farting regardless of who is present. But as adults we learn to ignore the signs and even learn to accept is as a normal part of being an adult. In my previous position, I was constantly falling ill. Nothing serious but lots of little ailments bugged me. Whenever I had holidays, I was sure to fall ill during the first couple of days. During the one year backpacking through not very hygienic places, we fell ill only once. We were checking into a hotel in Langkawi and the receptionist was coughing and sniffing all the time. I even joked about how he was going to make us sick. Well he did and we were knocked out for a week and so was he because he disappeared from the front desk for about a week too. But apart from that physically we felt better than we had in a long time. Mentally we were also in a good form. Freed from the constraints of society and daily routine, we came up with creative ideas for the future. Especially Mr.M was in his element. Like a hot air balloon he took off building castles in the air.

However no man is a lonely isle, even if it sometimes feels like it. In the second instance our family and friends are responsible too. Let us go back to the example of the baby. I can imagine that sitting or lying in a diaper full of excrement is not pleasurable. Unfortunately babies cannot change their own diapers but their instinct wants to get rid of the icky smell and/ or feeling. So what do they do? They cry out loud. Then someone comes along, smells what is bothering the baby and changes the diaper. Likewise there might be times we are not able to change a situation on our own. In such times, our family and friends have the responsibility to help us make the right decisions.

Human beings are social creatures and sometimes even having one other person by one’s side makes it easier to go down the road less trodden. One ex-colleague of mine told me that she would love to travel the world too but there is no way her partner would go along. End of story. If one of the partners in a relationship doesn’t see the need to change their overstressed lifestyle, in my opinion it would be impossible to make the change for one’s self. The result I foresee in such situations is that either they both suffer from a breakdown and are forced to reassess the situation or the relationship ends because one of them refuses to continue with the as-is situation.

Most of us earn a living by working for someone else. (I am working on being part of the “US” as soon as possible.) Therefore in the third instance, employers and managers have the responsibility to make sure that they support an employee in maintaining a balance; between stress and relaxation, between work and life. After all, when employees are no longer as productive as they could be because of stress at the workplace, the employer is affected too. In fact it becomes a question of operating economically, effectively and efficiently.

While preparing for my IPMA examination, I came across an interesting question on the topic of stress management. It goes something like this:
A project team member aims to get respect and recognition from fellow colleagues by taking on extra tasks and working 12 hour days. He even sacrifices his weekends for work. How should the project manager react in this situation?

A)    The project manager should use him as an example to the rest of the team and motivate them to be as hardworking as he is.
B)    The project manager should let the situation go on as long as it doesn’t have a negative impact on the project.
C)    The project manager should think about the effect this behaviour has on the private life of the team member.
D)    The project manager should forbid the team member from working more than 9 hours a day.

Although answer C depicts the responsible reaction, in reality most would resort to answer B. In my opinion this is because a person in authority thinks that it is not his place to worry about the private lives of colleagues. After all as adults, each is able to decide for themselves. Furthermore even managers are answerable to someone in a higher position and are often under pressure from above too. Therefore the person or people at the very top are needed to promote a work environment, which is both conducive to and supports the mental and physical health of their employees. Therefore I welcome the move by Volkswagen to stop the transmission of e-mails to the Blackberrys of some of their employees (BBC NEWS Technology, 2011). It is a clear message at the corporate level that one is not expected to work during off work hours. I hope more companies will follow this example.

My point is not to get rid of stress. That is impossible because stress is a personal reaction to a situation where the person no longer feels in control of or is able to overcome. Rather I am for a healthy work life, where the body has the chance to undo and recover from the negative impacts of stress. This also means when on holiday not to be bothered with work, as it happened in the case of Mr. M.

BBC NEWS Technology. (2011, December 23). BBC. Retrieved February 08, 2012, from

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