Why should we worry about workplace stress levels?
After working in Australian business for over 25 years, I have never seen stress levels higher than they are today. According to the a recent federal government report, Australians work an average 42.56 hours per week and are the 5th highest out of 29 countries reviewed. A report by Medibank showed that depression and anxiety disorders account for 34% of lost productivity, and recent analysis by Comcare revealed that the average cost per stress leave is $250,000. It is the pink elephant in the room. There are financial as well as moral reasons to be concerned.
I have reviewed hundreds of websites over the years but these are my top 10 (in no particular order) for helping to lead a more thriving life. I have chosen sites that provide information and resources that address some of root causes of this harmful stress.
Declaration – I receive no financial rewards for these recommendations.
1. Greater Good – http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/ – The science of a meaningful life
It is my belief (and shared by my psychiatrist) that the root cause of much mental distress, is not so much mental illness, but a crisis of meaning.
This wonderful site from the University of California was founded in 2001 with the mission to scour the fields of psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of wellbeing. There are great articles, videos, and podcasts, on the specialty areas of gratitude, altruism, compassion, empathy, forgiveness, happiness, and mindfulness. It teaches practical skills to foster a thriving, resilient, and compassionate society.
2. Gallup Strengths Center – www.GallupStrengthsCenter.com
My experience of working for 15 years in recruitment and outplacement confirms the fact that at least 50% of people are working in the wrong role. Compared to those who do not focus on what they do best, people who have an opportunity to use their strengths on a daily basis are 6 time more likely to be engaged in their jobs, and 3 times more likely to report an excellent quality of life (Rath 2007). This site allows anyone to pay $9.95 to find out their top 5 strengths (out of a possible 34). The resulting report explains how you can build those strengths. A good investment.
3. Get the world moving – www.gettheworldmoving.com
Having a brisk 30 minute walk (or equivalent) improves your mood 2, 4,8, and 12 hours later (Mayo Clinic 2008). One hundred years ago the average Australian walked 13 km per day – now it is just 3.5 km per day. This Australian group encourages employees to join groups of 7 and walk 10,000 steps per day each, through wearing a pedometer and recording their results into a smart phone. A core element of the success is that it incorporates rituals and comradery. Last year 185,000 people participated, from 1200 organisations, in 98 countries, and walked an average 13,329 steps per day, and lost a combined 90 tonnes in weight. They have been remarkably successful at changing behaviour on a large scale. For those that are seeking free option for better physical health – see www.SparkPeople.com
4. Just a minute – www.Just-A-Minute.org – It takes just a minute to transform your world
With everyone from the US Marines to senior executives trying to learn how to embrace mindfulness, there must be something in it. Mindfulness is the capacity to focus on the present and not be immobilised by fear of the future or regret of the past. It is also about switching off a racing mind and unwinding. Ironically even though it is considered a new approach, its roots are 2500 years old from the Buddhist philosophy. This wonderful free website, with downloadable mp3 recordings, shows how by just taking one minute each hour, you can change the way you experience the world.
5. Probono Australia – www.ProbonoAustralia.com.au – for those who want a better world
People that volunteer feel stronger, more energetic, and are more motivated at work, after helping others in even the smallest way (Stoddart, Men’s Health 2009). There is also a direct link between altruistic behaviour and longevity (Putnam, Bowling Alone 2000). This website helps connect those who yearn for the greater good. To find volunteer roles also try – www.GoVolunteer.com.au
6. Relationships Australia – www.Relationships.org.au – a problem shared is a problem halved
People who have 3-4 very close friendships are healthier, have higher wellbeing, and are more engaged in their jobs (Rath 2006). When people were asked to list pleasant activities that improve their mood for the day the most often mentioned were “being with happy people” “Having people show an interest in what I say” and “being with friends” (Lewinsohn et al 1982). Although this service is primarily set up for partners/spouses – it has some great principles and advice on what makes a positive relationship and how best to manage conflict.
7. Black Dog Institute – www.BlackDogInstitute.org.au – Everyone deserves peace of mind
When I surveyed 4064 people who had experienced an episode of depression, bipolar, or an anxiety disorder, their biggest regret is that they didn’t get a rigorous diagnosis earlier. Highlights include self-assessment tests, excellent consumer education programs for depression and bipolar, very practical downloadable help sheets, and the Mood Assessment Program (MAP) – which helps your GP make a more rigorous diagnosis and prepare the right treatment plan.
8. Beacon – www.Beacon.anu.edu.au – mental health website QA
This excellent initiative from ANU provides answers to the question – “How do you sort the mental health wheat from the chaff on the internet?” The ANU provides a panel of experts to determine whose information and programs are proven to make a difference, and rate the sites accordingly. Categories include Alcohol, Bipolar disorder, Carers, Depression, Eating distress (body image, anorexia, bulimia), anxiety disorder , Nutrition, Panic disorder, Phobias, Physical health, Positive psychology, Post traumatic stress, Psychosis, Relationship issues, Sleep/insomnia, Stress, Substance abuse, Suicidal ideation, and many others.
9. R U OK? Day – www.ruokay.com
In the 2011 R U OK? at Work survey we asked people who had experienced harmful stress in the workplace, what was the most effective way to address this. The most effective strategy (followed by “exercise more”) was to “talk with someone at work about it”. This is only possible when colleagues are prepared to ask “Are you OK?” to someone who is struggling and the person who is stressed is comfortable saying “I’m not OK”. We have hundreds of stories where this has occurred, by organisations participating in the day and accessing the free resources and videos on the site.
10. Money Smart – www.MoneySmart.gov.au – simple guidance you can trust
Material wealth is not the best predictor of Financial Wellbeing – it is financial security – knowing that you have enough to pay for your desired lifestyle and are prepared for unexpected events – this is 3 times more important than income alone (Rath, Wellbeing 2010). A lot of work stress is caused by financial strain: eg. The potential of losing your job, spending more than you earn, unexpected expenses, investment scams, receiving bills all at once, etc. This federal government site approved by ASIC provides good simple advice on important areas like: budgeting, borrowing and credit, superannuation, investing and scams.
Graeme Cowan is a resilience and mental health speaker, consultant, author, and change leadership coach, who helps people lead a more robust and thriving life by learning how to master their mood. Download a copy of his speaking / workshop topics and testimonials from here.