Vacation backlog – Part 1
5 June 2016

We all get stressed. We can recognize the racing heart, the tense posture and the feeling that everything is spinning out of control. Most people can take a fairly good guess at what is attributing to their stress… Now PEPworldwide can prove what the causes are.

PEPworldwide, the global leader in performance efficiency and effectiveness solutions, conducted a study among several thousand knowledge workers, to pinpoint exactly what causes workplace stress. Running across a period of two years and considering both those in management and at employee level, the results of this research are informative and will be instrumental in reducing workplace stress in our modern business world.

The key findings, explored further below, highlighted day-to-day inefficiencies that directly caused these workers’ stress. Debunking the myth that some people are just more predisposed to stress, as victims to their personalities or nature, PEPworldwide’s emphasis on stress, as correlated to inefficiency, points to a behavioral cause.

The good news is that behaviors can be changed. In teaching knowledge workers more productive ways of working, they can be empowered to significantly reduce their stress levels.

But first, let’s take a closer look at the findings…

Not surprisingly, people experience a feeling of stress when they lose control over their workload and the demands placed upon them. In all aspects of life, stress is oftentimes caused by a lack of control and it’s no wonder; it’s a scary feeling. In the workplace, however, there are specific triggers or contributors to this ‘out of control’ feeling.

Primarily, the triggers of stress have been found to be:
• Procrastination
• An expectation of working longer than standard, contracted hours
• Too much time spent in meetings
• An overcrowded inbox
• Piles of papers unrelated to the task currently being done
• Backlogs of tasks that should have been finished
• And, being derailed from tasks or plans because of more urgent jobs

Of all of the above factors, a daily expectation of working longer hours was the biggest cause of stress, with stress levels increasing as the amount of extra hours of work went up. Although sometimes the odd extra hour is necessary, workers ideally should be spending only the hours allocated to do their job. For almost 40% of those studied, there was a need to work upwards of an extra hour each day to keep up with their workload; a cause of moderate to high stress levels in 76% of participants.

Unfortunately, with the advent of ever-new technology and the increasing number of distractions and interruptions that this causes, many knowledge workers are not functioning at their most efficient. 57.7% of study participants had more than 50 emails in their inbox and most (76.4%) stated that this was causing moderate to very high levels of stress.

When productivity is raised, through effectiveness training like the PEP program, and a focus on specific, key efficiencies, workers are able to reduce the time they spend working by at least an hour each week. Following the PEP program, the amount of participants in the study that were working more than extra hour each day, had dropped to only 30%

Extra hours at work is not the only trigger though, that can be changed. New behavioral habits that focus around maximizing efficiency and effectiveness at work, every day, will reduce the experience of workplace stress caused by all of the contributors listed above. For example, a reduction in emails in the inbox reduces the experience of stress by almost 20%, while cutting down the piles of papers and desktop clutter brings stress levels down by almost 15%.

While best intentions and a few generic time-management tips are helpful, they are often not enough to realize long-term productivity improvements. The ways that we work have become ingrained over time. To experience a significant reduction in workplace stress, workers need to engage in highly relevant and tailored training that fosters sustainable behavioral patterns that really change the way they work, for the better, forever.

We’ve long thought that certain things cause people to experience stress at work, but now we have the proof. The realization that stress is directly related to inefficiencies in the way workers operate, day-to-day, is the first step to changing behaviors and boosting productivity, thereby reducing the experience of workplace stress.

Mark Rigby, PEPworldwide New Zealand

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