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Tuesday, 20 August 2013 12:15

Choose your office colours wisely

Choose your office colours wisely

The colours you choose for your offices have an enormous impact on your clients and employees; it could influence the way visitors perceive your business, and how your workforce performs.


Visual ergonomics, the science of developing a colour scheme that is most suited for the task at hand in the office, employee lounge or factory workroom, is based on matching colour responses to expected behaviours and attitudes in an environment.


The psychology of colour has been researched extensively, and decorators and advertisers have used this powerful tool to affect and influence us subconsciously for years. Colour is now also used to generate certain feelings, moods and behaviour in employees. The appropriate use of colour does not only maximise productivity levels and minimise fatigue, but it also stimulates collaboration, creativity and cooperation.

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Published in Wellness & Ergonomics
Wednesday, 28 November 2012 12:09

Stop stress in its tracks

Stop stress in its tracks

Research has also shown that the most successful individuals- the Type A personalities and perfectionists amongst us- will be more susceptible to stress than others, which probably comes as no surprise. Brian Anderson, Managing Director of Dale Carnegie Training South Africa, says: “It is next to impossible to avoid stress entirely. We can eat the right foods; we can get our eight hours sleep a night; we can take our yoga classes- but when stressful situations rear their ugly heads, even the most well-rested, green juice-guzzling, gymbag-toting individual may be at a loss as to how to cope with the problem.”


We all know the harmful toll that stress can take on our health, but in today’s fast-paced world of meetings, deadlines and around-the-clock pressure, how do we effectively manage this stress? Dale Carnegie, an American writer and lecturer on topics such as self-improvement, salesmanship, corporate training and public speaking, swore by a set of stress-management principles in his famous book, “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living”. These principles assist in the management of stress and are still relevant today; 100 years after Carnegie first began teaching in 1912.


1. Live in day-tight compartments

You have had a terrible day. A critical deal has fallen through. Your internet won’t work. In short, good old Murphy dropped by and everything that can go wrong has. Now go home, and forget about it entirely. Easier said than done? “Living in day-tight compartments is challenging but it is a habit we can cultivate. If we take life one day at a time and not worry about the next day, week or month’s commitments and concerns, we are a small step away from leading a better life. Worrying never improved any situation,” says Anderson.


2. Decide just how much anxiety a thing is worth and then refuse to give it more

You have just completed putting together your pitch in preparation for a meeting that you have with a potential new client the next day. It was a challenging brief but you put in the hours and you are proud of the finished product. You go to bed, intending to get a good night’s rest so you can be on peak form for your big pitch the following day, and then the inner dialogue starts: What have you forgotten? Should you have included that? Will it be good enough? “It is normal that you will be worried, but decide on a “healthy” level of anxiety and an applicable “stress period”, and then refuse to give it any more thought. Allow yourself 15 minutes to go over everything in your head, and then turn off that mental laptop and go to sleep knowing you have given it your all,” explains Anderson.


3. Coping with a difficult situation

  • Ask yourself: What is the worst that can possibly happen?
  • Prepare to accept the worst
  • Try to improve on the worst

Client X is unhappy with the new software you have installed for him. After throwing around expletives that would make Eminem blush and threatening to fire your company, he slams down the phone. Ask yourself, what is the worst that can happen? Answer: He could fire us. Then accept that as a reality. Lastly, try to improve on the worst: pick up the phone tomorrow when he has cooled down, explain your perspective and offer an alternative. If nothing else, he will appreciate your effort.


4. Cultivate a mental attitude that will bring you peace and happiness

Optimistic, positive people are far better equipped to deal with stress, and the reason for this is that they are more inclined to see opportunity in their losses. So Client X has told you he no longer requires your services? Fine- that gives you capacity to find new business with a client who appreciates the work you do…and who is less inclined towards profanity. Positive people are not luckier than the rest of us- they just understand that they can’t control what life throws at them, but they can control how they react to it.


“These simple tools can be applied to every situation and will enable us to manage stress effectively,” concludes Anderson.

Published in Wellness & Ergonomics
Thursday, 22 November 2012 09:05

Embracing and resolving differences

Embracing and resolving differences

Conflict is an inevitable and potentially valuable part of human existence. Yet most of us are ill-equipped to deal constructively with differences, whether in the personal, political or organisational context. For example, a 2009 UK survey of over 600 senior business people revealed that only 37 % regarded themselves as being adequately trained to cope with business conflict. Just how prevalent conflict is, is demonstrated by another UK survey in 2008 which found that the average UK employee spends over two hours a week dealing with conflict, which meant in total more than 370 million working days were lost in the UK the previous year alone. Middle managers in organisations experience most role stress.

Stress leads to conflict, which leads to stress. A recent WHO study found that of the 1.6m people on average who die per year as a result of violence, 55% were as a result of suicides. Given high levels of conflict in South Africa generally but also in the typical SA workplace, chances are that the situation is, at best, similar here. In fact, our experience working with many organisations in both the private and public sectors suggests that many organisations are indeed in distress. Low levels of trust, uncooperativeness, high levels of staff turnover and low productivity abound.

Given a world that is full of conflict and a human race that tries to resolve it without the necessary skills to do so, it is no wonder that we seem to struggle along from one conflict situation to the next without seemingly progressing to a point where we can resolve our differences peacefully, quickly and cost effectively.

A general lack of conflict resolution skills is not the only cause. A big contributor is our view of conflict is something that must be avoided. Because of this, it is no wonder that when we see conflict we either fail to deal with the issue, or we go into attack mode, using whatever power or legal remedies is available to us. Link this to a general unwillingness to listen to those who have different views to our own, and the way many of our so-called ‘service delivery protests’ develop and turn out starts making sense: instead of pro-actively seeking joint solutions, the police are called in or recourse is taken to the courts to stop the protests. These only provide short-term relief, however.

If and when the people concerned are listened to, relationships are already at a low ebb, making the search for constructive and cooperative solutions difficult and sometimes even impossible. Yet, as one of the early pioneers of conflict resolution, Mary Parker Follett, once said: “It is possible to conceive conflict as not necessarily a wasteful outbreak of incompatibilities, but a normal process by which socially valuable differences register themselves for the enrichment of all concerned”.

One challenge therefore is to begin to see conflict not only as inevitable but also as a potential opportunity to resolve differences, find common ground and strengthen relationships. Within organisations this translates into becoming conflict wise, i.e. harnessing the power of conflict to promote understanding, cooperation and growth.

In Jim Collins’ best-selling book, Good to Great, he recalls how the 11 “great” organisations (they had each delivered cumulative returns at least 3 times greater than the market over a 15-year period) all displayed a similar approach to dealing with conflict: “All the good-to-great companies had a penchant for intense dialogue. Phrases like ‘loud debate’, ‘heated discussions’ and ‘healthy conflict’ peppered the articles and interview transcripts from all the companies”. A 2003 UK survey of top management teams also found that the more productive ones treated conflicts as opportunities for collaboration to achieve the best solution for the organisation as a whole.

Another obstacle is the mind set with which we usually approach differences: we assume that our interests are necessarily in conflict with those of people we contend with and therefore fail to exploit the common ground and collaborative opportunities that most often do exist and instead take up opposing positions to engage in a tit-for-tat battle for supremacy.

Take the ‘Spear’ issue, for instance: the debate almost immediately started off with opposing, extreme demands, one for protection of individual dignity and the other for protection of freedom of expression. The ‘frame’ going into the debate was one of opposing and irreconcilable differences that could only be resolved through the use of power (sometimes violence) or the decision of a judge. Eventually a solution of sorts was found. Yet, despite the subsequent political hype about a resolution having been found, the damage had been done not only to relationships and reputations but also to our young democracy and its institutions. Instead of approaching our differences from a narrow winner-takes-all mind set where the goal is victory and not agreement, we have a choice to view differences in the way Parker-Follett suggested at the turn of the previous century.

Poor leadership or outdated leadership models also contribute to our inability to effectively deal with differences. Instead of inclusive leadership styles that would allow decision-makers the chance to hear others’ concerns, viewpoints and suggestions before making a decision that affects them, our politicians and captains of industry promote the outdated idea of ‘decisive’ (i.e. exclusionary, power-based) leadership. Business schools are sometimes to blame as well because of the kind of profit-driven rather than a stakeholder relationship model of leadership they promote. As a recent article in the California Management Review notes: “The emphasis on analysis has produced a generation of MBA’s who are critters with lopsided brains, icy hearts and shrunken souls”.

There are no doubt many other contributing factors, some of which we have little or no control over. However, we do have control over things like our willingness to listen and not just hear; to move away from apathy to action; to stop being victims and instead become masters of our own destiny; and, most of all, over the attitudes that we bring into those difficult conversations.

It is perhaps apposite to end off with this powerful reminder from Parker-Follett, written shortly before her death as war clouds started gathering yet again over Europe: “We have thought of peace as passive and war as the active way of living. The opposite is true. War is not the most strenuous life. It is a kind of rest cure compared to the task of reconciling our differences... From War to Peace is not from the strenuous to the easy existence; it is from the futile to the effective, from the stagnant to the active, from the destructive to the creative way of life. The world will be regenerated by the people who rise above these passive ways and heroically seek, by whatever hardship, by whatever toil, the methods by which people can agree.”

Prof Jordaan is head of the Africa Centre for Dispute Settlement (ACDS) at Stellenbosch University. The Centre forms part of the University’s HOPE Project, a campus-wide initiative through which the institution uses its teaching, research and community interaction expertise to seek sustainable solutions for pressing challenges in South Africa and the rest of the continent.

High Degrees of Stress Threaten Workplace Productivity

Stress is increasingly becoming the most problematic factor within the workplace. Increased living and working pressures are causing heightened symptoms in employees suffering from stress. The worldwide economic troubles as well as increased costs of daily living are having an impact on businesses as employees fail to function optimally, resulting in poor performance and lost time. Manpower South Africa and clinical psychologist Dr Giada Del Fabbro discuss how stress levels are impacting on South African corporate productivity.


“Extreme stress can drastically alter a persons behaviour, health and performance. For many though, the impact can be significantly minimised through the right attitude and approach to dealing with stress. This is however becoming such a prominent problem in the workplace that many employers are now needing to find ways to assist their employees in managing stress in order to keep their businesses operating effectively,” says Lyndy van den Barselaar, managing director for Manpower South Africa.


“Stress severely decreases the psychological resources and coping skills of an individual, so you are less able to manage your emotions, deal with pressure and more likely to act out destructively. Problem solving and decision-making skills are impaired. Stress further impacts the immune system meaning that a person is more likely to get ill and exhibit prolonged recovery periods, leading to lower productivity.


Increased conflict between employees is one sign of a stressful working environment, but it also negatively affects work-place performance and results in increased absenteeism, to name just a few common symptoms.


States Dr Del Fabbro, “Less common or noticeable symptoms include those individual psychological mechanisms based on escapism, where lifestyle habits undergo changes. This can include the abuse of illegal substances, even within the workplace environment, an increase in entitlement and resentment towards senior staff to compensate for the feelings of stress. It may also include an increase in risk taking behaviours in the form of office affairs, theft and fraud, physical confrontations and changes in grooming habits.”


“In response to stress, people may become more immature and child like in their responses, which may result in spiteful acts such as car damage, bullying, viruses, and social media hacking. In certain vulnerable personalities, there are pre-existing and ongoing psychological problems that may result in extreme behaviour such as violence with the intent to kill a fellow employee or hurt the business,” says Dr Giada Del Fabbro, A Clinical Psychologist.


All individuals experience stress of different types from different levels and in different aspects of life. However each individual also deals with these stresses in unique and individual ways. Some are better than others and for some, who have very poor stress management strategies, even the smallest incidents in their lives can result in large doses of performance effecting stress.


“In most cases HR departments and businesses are realising that prevention is better than cure and implementing the right channels and actions to curb and lessen stress on employees can lead to heightened performance and reduced downtime. It’s estimated that 40% of employee absenteeism is attributable to stress and this results in millions in lost revenue each year for businesses. It is estimated that over 500 million rand is lost each year from absenteeism and loss of productivity due to stress in the workplace,” explains van den Bareselaar.


Since 1946 The World Health Organisation has defined health as not only the absence of disease but a state of complete physical mental and social well-being. In 1986, it included that health be viewed as a resource for everyday life, not the object of living. The South African federation of Mental Health has stated that the majority of adults spend 50% to 80% of their waking hours at the workplace, and just under 70% of employees will experience stress severe enough to inhibit coping with their day-to-day duties.


Numerous factors are currently leading to heightened stress levels, both around the world and here in South Africa. With global economic woes threatening job security, continual increases in costs pushing already strained budgets even further, businesses cutting back on staff counts because of the rising costs of business overheads and an increase in social stresses brought on by political insecurity, employees are feeling more pressures from within and without the workplace than ever before.


“Everybody experiences some form of stress in their daily lives and it’s important to find ways to reduce stress levels. Some of these strategies are quite simple and easy to implement, some require a simple mind-set change as to how individuals perceive stress. For employers it’s important to remember that allowing their employees to partake in actions that reduce stress can actually improve employee performance. Remember the power of time for employees, it is often more persuasive than money in improving performance or creating gratitude.”


“It’s important that employees remember that things are not always as bad as they appear and that they take time to relax and forget their troubles for a while with friends or family. Like Kurt Vonnegut says ‘Enjoy the little things in life, for one day you'll look back and realize they were big things,” says Dr Del Fabbro.


“In addition, Human Resource Departments, together with line managers, should play a far greater role in assisting employees with managing stress, and should be trained to identify the early stages of stress so as to ensure employees get the correct treatment and support to offset the probability of under performance, absenteeism, increased emotional tensions, and violent behaviour,” concludes van den Bareselaar.


Signs to look for that may suggest succumbing to stress include:

  • Frequent illness
  • Constantly tired
  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Lack of concentration
  • Fidgeting
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Break down of relationships
  • Suicidal tendencies


Some strategies for combating stress in the workplace:

  • Leisure time – Take time to relax enjoy a hobby or do some exercise.
  • Positive relationships – Friends and family will lighten the burden of everyday stresses.
  • Social Interaction – Getting out with friends and socialising is a great cure for stress.
  • Diet and exercise – Eating healthily and getting regular cardiovascular exercise will positively affect your hormones and chemistry of your body.
  • Time management – Time management is crucial to combat the feeling of never getting enough done on time.
  • Don’t take life so seriously – Stop to smell the roses sometimes and put things into perspective.
  • Talk – your HR department and your line manager should be there to help you, so take the time to talk to them about what is troubling you. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to them, contact a counsellor or Life Line.
Published in Wellness & Ergonomics
Friday, 05 October 2012 11:07

Heading for burnout

Heading for burnout

Across the world workers are getting more and more stressed. Instead of regaining their pre-downturn peace of mind and tranquillity, workers globally report that, two years on, their stress levels are up and rising. How can this possibly be? And what new destabilising forces are at play to cause this increase?stress heading for burn out


The answer is complex and coloured with a host of local factors that range from Eurozone instability, to difficulties in managing the speed of change in economies where obsolete hierarchical structures frustrate youth and entrepreneurship, to the age-old struggle which sees women in emerging economies engaged in reconciling traditional housekeeping roles with the demands of the contemporary workplace.


And stress is an insidious enemy affecting sufferers with a range of problems from sleepless nights to more serious conditions such as high blood pressure, heart conditions, diabetes, asthma and skin ailments, but ultimately, stress can also affect a company’s bottom line. As stress related conditions, reportedly accounting for between 75% and 90% of doctor’s visits,[1] turn into sick days or, worse, into chronic conditions, businesses are likely to see their productivity drop dramatically. In particular, businesses risk losing some of their best staff to burnout as the demands on these high achievers grow unchecked and long periods of constant stress deplete them of motivation and interest.


A number of triggers are driving up stress globally, finds the latest research by Regus surveying over 16,000 professionals across more than 80 countries, with the result that half of workers declare that they are more stressed than last year. Any escalation in stress should be regarded as highly negative and dangerous, particularly as the global economy is indeed emerging from a difficult patch. Over the past four years many workers will have experienced forced changes in career, personal financial difficulties and second-hand stress from the tense surrounding environment. Any more stress could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

My stress has risen in past year


The research highlights that in China (75%) and Germany (58%), where a very large proportion of respondents have experienced rising stress levels, workers are close to snapping point. It may be that signs of a slowdown in the Chinese economy have impacted German outlook more than other countries given that Germany is the only European country with a trade surplus with China, but even at the other extreme of the scale, over a third of workers in Australia and the Netherlands were likely to have experienced growing stress over the past year.


In order to tackle stress at the root, the main triggers need to be identified. Interestingly, respondents revealed that two of the three main sources of stress were professional rather than personal. These were: their job (59%) and customers (37%). Personal causes of stress were highlighted by only under a fifth of respondent with the exception of personal finances (44%).


Jobs are getting workers down in Mexico and China where over 70% of respondents reported that their job was a major stress trigger. In Europe, French and German workers were the most likely to report that their job was a cause of anxiety, and even in Australia, where workers were less likely to blame their job for stressing them, almost half agreed.


Relationships with customers were also an important stress-trigger. It is likely that in an unstable economy currency fluctuation and late payment, reportedly representing 30% of all invoices in 2011 according to Atradius, increased tensions in customer relationships, affecting both the workers directly involved in chasing payments and managing cash-flow and others who simply perceived instability in their work environment. Problems with customers were particularly important to workers in emerging economies where exponential growth requires rapid and continued injection of funds.

customers have been major cause of stress


But there is a light at the end of the tunnel; although the workplace is the main source of stress it is also the place where important stress-busting changes can be made. 63% of respondents report that flexible working practices are a stress-reducer, highlighting that businesses that wish to position themselves at the forefront of improving workers’ lives have a simple solution readily at hand.

I beleive frexi time reduces stress


By allowing workers the freedom to manage their own working hours or location, businesses can relieve worker stress but also take an active part in making the working environment more family friendly. More than half of respondents (58%) confirm that flexible working is more family friendly and the benefits go hand-in-hand with stress reduction; working parents who are able to choose when and where they work can reduce the strain of reconciling work and family life, cutting stress and spending more time with their loved ones.


With two fifths of respondents reporting that flexible working is cheaper than fixed office working and the vast majority confirming that it improves productivity (77%), businesses cannot fail to take note of the win-win solution offered by flexible working; healthier more productive staff, at a lower cost.

Published in Wellness & Ergonomics
Wednesday, 12 September 2012 15:08

Under pressure – Stressed workforce is ready to crack

Under pressure – Stressed workforce is ready to crack

South African workers are getting more stressed, reveals latest research by workspace provider Regus. The survey, canvassing the opinions of over 16,000 professionals across the globe, found that over half (52%) of South African worker say their stress levels have risen over the past year.

A number of national factors such as the increase in fuel price and inflation rates as well as continuing instability in the world economy are thought to have fuelled this growing pressure and respondents confirm that most stress triggers are of a professional rather than personal nature, with their finances, job and customers topping the list of causes.

The research also focused on possible solutions and found that two thirds (63%) of South African respondents identify flexible working as a way of cutting stress.

Key findings are:-

  • Main causes of stress are: personal finances (62%), work (55%) and customers (48%);
  • 63% of respondents say flexible working reduces stress;
  • More than half (61%) of respondents think flexible working is more family- friendly;
  • With 47% of respondents saying that flexible working is also cheaper than fixed location working and 77% that it improves productivity it would seem that helping staff to de-stress is also highly cost-effective;
  • Globally, small business workers were more likely to be stressed by customers (42%) than large business workers (27%), but were less vexed by management (20%) than their counterparts in larger firms (40%);

Kirsten Morgendaal, Area Director of Regus comments: “Without a doubt stressed-out workers are unhappy and unhealthy workers too, so businesses that want to help their staff lead more rewarding lives cannot fail to analyse and tackle levels of stress within their organisation. Yet the heavy toll of stress falls not only on workers, but also on businesses   as they that find their staff is unable to perform as required, needs more sick leave and is less efficient. Reports state that R3 billion a year is being lost to workplace stress in South Africa.

“Confirming previous Regus research showing that 58% of workers feel healthier directly as a result of flexible working, respondents clearly identify flexible working as one possible solution to their high stress levels.  In addition to this they also report flexibility is more family friendly, helping improve their overall work-life balance and well-being. Add to this that flexible working is believed to improve productivity and to cost less than traditional office working and the case for helping employees to de-stress by increasing flexibility becomes substantial.”

“Levels of stress continue to increase across the world with workers getting closer and closer to ‘burnout’. In the short term this means losing valuable workers and dealing with lower productivity as staff battle it out with stress related health problems, insomnia and exhaustion, but the long term effects of this pressure are still difficult to predict and could be disastrous.”

Published in Wellness & Ergonomics

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