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Tackling work-related stress
Rituparna Chatterjee | June 22, 2006
How are companies tackling rapidly rising work-related stress levels?
Bloodshot-eyed men resembling somnambulists sit glued to their machines, working away frantically, much like machines themselves.
This may seem a rip-off from a blockbuster, but such scenes are very much in vogue in most offices.
Yet this madly-dedicated workforce isn't as productive, as it seems. No wonder, organisations are quickly pulling up their socks, trying to calm down their stressed employees.
"One of the main reasons for stress is that youngsters have a different idea about the job, and realise the job is very different, once they've joined," says Soumen Basu, executive chairman of HR consultancy, Manpower.
Basu's view is most relevant to the BPO industry, where the average employee is often, a fresher, straight out of college, and has to work on tiring night shifts.
Then, the infotech sector too, hires a lot of freshers as well as faces attrition levels, that could be as high as 20 per cent. This explains why IT players like Infosys, that has over 50,000 employees, try hard to maintain an informal culture at the workplace.
"Besides other factors, lack of a social life plays a major role in causing stress," says Bikramjit Maitra, vice-president and head, HR, Infosys Technologies.
The organisation's Health Assessment and Lifestyle Enrichment (HALE) initiative helps Infoscions evaluate their physical and psychological well-being and lifestyle and get remedial intervention. When faced with personal or work-related crises, Infoscions can avail of hotline services.
But you don't need to be an Infoscion to access hotline helplines. After exploring picnics, adventure sports and spiritual exercises as stress-busters, many other organisations are also now offering hotline services to help troubled employees.
Take cola major PepsiCo's Speak Up hotline where employees are encouraged to report unprofessional and stress-causing behaviour like harassment.
Then, in its South India branches, PepsiCo has tied up with Apollo Hospitals to hold stress awareness programmes for its employees, wherein employees are informed about the impact of stress on health. Apart from that, PepsiCo makes it mandatory for all employees to wear out their quota of annual leave.
The Rs 3,000 crore (Rs 30 billion) ICICI Prudential Life Insurance is another example of an organisation that makes it mandatory for its 10,000 employees across 225 offices, to finish their earned leave quota for the year. No employee can carry over more than 15 days of earned leave, over to the next year.
The leave taken considers only working days and excludes holidays and Sundays. Plus, all employees get unlimited sick leave.
Despite these measures, a key stress-causing factor is attrition that increases workload on the current staff, which has to shoulder the burden of the missing employees. "This is a major demotivator. It stresses employees and makes their productivity dip," contends Basu.
ICICI Prudential Life Insurance has found a way to tackle the issue. The company advertises vacancies on its intranet and existing employees can apply for that function.
For example, a sales employee can shift to HR, if he fits the bill. This helps reduce some of the burden, until the fresh stock of employees comes in.
"Companies should ensure performance expectations are realistic. We try to design expectations in a manner, so as not to stretch the person too much," says Judhajit Das, head, HR, ICICI Prudential Life Insurance.
"Work pressure is highest on the CEO, but his performance is evaluated on a long-term basis, while that of a sales executive is reviewed almost weekly." Even then, the amount of stress taken is individualistic.
"Organisations can only provide stress-busting tools. It's up to the individual to utilise them. When one starts disliking one's job and sees it as just a job and not as an extension of one's life, that's when stress really begins to set in," contends Hema Ravichandar, a HR consultant who was previously with Infosys.
Will employees continue to stay glued to their machines at unearthly hours?