Success but at what cost?

A letter to the Straits Times forum:
A letter to the Straits Times Forum, 29 August 2013
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Who needs sleep anyway?

There’s been quite a bit of coverage on work-life imbalance recently, (“Long hours the norm in finance”, Straits Times, 28 August 2013; “Long work hours entrenched in Asia banks”, CNBC, 28 August 2013; “Money never stops for Singapore finance workers who regularly work over-time”, efinancial Careers SG, 28 August 2013).

Given this and extant survey findings on the typical work week — for everyone, not just those in finance — it’s really not surprising that high stress and overwork are well-articulated key phrases often heard among the incoherent mumbling of local employees. Work demands have been identified as key stressors for locals across industry, from nursing, teaching, engineering and law, to banking, finance, insurance and IT.

Systemic interventions which provide evidence-based psychological training at the workplace have been found to be helpful to both employee and supervisor. So are online educational resources. Effective coping strategies (“8 ways to achieve better work-life balance, Forbes, 18 April 2013) are key in securing positive outcomes in terms of employee mental wellbeing.

But one has to ask the question, is it really all worth it, the 50+ hour work week? And how long can one sustain that lifestyle? Who needs sleep anyway? At least someone thinks that we should “say ‘no’ to extreme work culture” (Opinion CNN, 26 August 2013).

Bosses play key role in staff’s mental wellness

Voices | Today, 28 August 2013
bosses play key role in staff's mental wellness Read on >>

More life, less work

It appears that Singaporeans desire a slower pace of life (Straits Times, “Majority of Singaporeans want a slower pace of life”, 26 August 2013).

That Singaporeans want a more comfortable pace of life, less stress, and more family time (Today, “Singaporeans want ‘compassionate meritocracy’”, 26 August 2013) is a repeal not infrequently heard from other sources such as job surveys. A poll by JobCentral in 2012 found more than 60% of Singapore workers complaining about heavy workload and work stress. And it’s a repeating motif in the other job surveys conducted on Singapore respondents.

Accepting that 12- to 15-hour work weeks and working weekends are the expected work conditions for employees in industries with great performance pressure and elevated levels of stress, and that 40- to 50-hour or over 50-hour work weeks can be considered the norm (see a 2012 Hudson report), is not likely to spell for positive mental outcomes. It does not come as a surprise then to learn from the same report that the burnout rate in Singapore is somewhat higher than that in the region. Clearly there are practical ways to cope with stress. We’re well aware that eating healthily, having a physically active life, taking time out to relax, and investing in social and emotional support are all effective strategies to cope with stress.

But that’s easier said that done. Knowing that we should eat well and exercise is one thing. Doing it after the emotional drama which just unfolded in the last few continguous long shifts at work, isn’t quite so easy. When your body wants to recover by just hibernating the entire weekend away, who’s got the energy to cook a nice wholesome meal with buckwheat noodles in miso and then bounce down the park connector on in-line skates or bike, let alone walk around the neighbourhood playground with your exuberantly buoyant kids. Braving the crowd at the supermarket on the weekend or marching up to a lazy Saturday brunch takes energy which somehow you won’t have. Sign up for yoga class? Who would entertain such a ludicrous idea.

These are indeed adaptive coping strategies which we could put in place if we wanted to. But we could be sabotaging ourselves with maladaptive coping strategies at work. Training interventions aimed at teaching employees effective communication and to discern adaptive from maladaptive coping strategies for the workplace, could be helpful for employees experiencing performance pressure at the workplace.

And that’s all fine when life’s rosy at the home front. But coping with work demands and sandwich-generation caregiving responsibilities, as well as the unexpected twists and turns that appear on life’s meandering footpath, can make things a bit challenging even for emotionally resilient individuals. Seeking advice from someone trained to help manage personal crises could help bridge that little step away from burnout and towards recovery.

Engaged employees are productive ones

Working towards a healthy workplace

Healthy employees, happy employer

“…Recent studies have shown that having happy, healthy, and engaged employees is good for a company’s bottom line. A recent Gallup study reports that the annual per-person cost of lost productivity due to sick days among the least happy and least engaged workers is upward of USD28,000. In contrast, the sick-day lost-productivity cost among the happiest and most engaged workers: USD $840 a year (Rath & Harter, 2010)….” Read more >>

From an article in Headhunt: Issue 133| July 25, 2013