Stressed-out Britain

Posted 21 November 2011 by

OPP’s recent research into stress found that more than a fifth (21%) of UK workers regularly think about quitting their job and almost 30% find their work life stressful.

Our study of more than 1,000 UK employees also asked respondents to rate their preferred forms of stress relief, with watching films or TV (66%) and surfing the internet (49%) coming out on top, well ahead of talking to friends or family (40%).

This finding certainly raised a few eyebrows here at OPP, but is it really that shocking? Does it allude to our unsociability as a nation? Or is it just an inevitable consequence of our increasingly busy lives?

It seems that, as a nation, we may shunning our family and friends in favour of more solitary pursuits, or at least those that require less exertion of effort. Social interactions are often unpredictable and require an input of effort on both sides to maintain a fulfilling conversation. For many people, after a stressful day at work, socialising with others may be perceived as requiring too much effort or being too unpredictable to be relied upon as an effective stress reliever.

Particularly given the increasingly hectic nature of our jobs and day to day lives - many of which require a large degree of social contact - TV and films may offer a form of escapism from these stresses. Soap operas and reality shows, in particular, can be a source of comfort to many, with ‘car crash TV’ offering reassurance and a sense of perspective on the difficulties we may be experiencing in our lives. We are being required to communicate more and more in our working lives. This is largely down to the increasing use of teamwork in organizations, as a result of the growth of international trade and advances in new ways of working, such as virtual teams. Stress in general has become a massive problem in the workplace, with CIPD research indicating that stress is likely to become the most dangerous risk to business in the twenty-first century. The impact of the recession and constant market changes are requiring employees to be increasingly flexible, responsive to change, and alert to potential threats to business. With this in mind, it seems unsurprising that, for many, stress relief may well take the form of simply 'not having to communicate.’

However, with ‘surfing the net’ being the second most popular stress reliever among our respondents, people may be using the internet as an alternative to the more traditional forms of communication. It would be wrong for us to assume that surfing the net necessarily represents a solitary pursuit. For many people, communicating in this way may simply represent a less threatening and less tiring form of social interaction. It offers a number of barriers between the communicator and the recipient, with many forms of online communication allowing a reflection period for the communicator, rather than demanding an instant response in a conversation. Online communication also allows the opportunity for individuals to take on another character, or at least manage the impression they create. For people experiencing stress, it may be particularly important to feel in control of the picture they choose to portray to others.

As stress is becoming an increasingly prominent issue in the lives of so many, it may not be surprising that we are turning to less demanding pursuits as an alternative to the unpredictability of social contact. Organisations can learn from these messages by recognizing that many employees need opportunities for rest periods or ‘down time’ during their working day. Providing ‘quiet zones’ where employees can go during lunch hours or breaks to escape the demands of the office environment may prove popular with many. Similarly, gym facilities can offer both the provision of physical exercise as a stress reliever and the opportunity for a period of quiet reflection or ‘mental escape’ after a busy day. The importance of providing a healthy work-life balance is still a key message from the stress literature, and one that our research findings strongly support.

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