There are a lot of very important issues vying for the spotlight currently, not least of which are the approach of Tropical Storm Isaac and work on the recovery of the local economy following a promised IMF injection of nearly US$300 million. However, there are still more issues that impact this country, some of which are not widely discussed, but which need to be if Barbadian society is to progress. One such topic is stress.
In years gone by, many educated people discounted even the existence of stress, far less relating its presence to any behavioural signs in people. While there are still some who reject the idea, most have come to agree that stress is very real and can have serious effects on our lives.
This was the premise behind the recent forum on Stress In The Workplace, hosted by the Barbados Physical Therapy Association to mark Physical Therapy Week. Vice President of that association, Dr. Tarah Towler, warned those present not to take stress lightly, saying that in the workplace it can manifest in physical illness and ailments like back pains and shoulder pains, which appear unexplained and which can linger and be slow to respond to therapy unless the environment is improved. She urged employers to do something at the HR level through wellness programmes for employees that could help
reduce the level of sickness occurring, some of it attributed to stress, anxiety and mental stress.
Dr. Towler hit the nail on the head. Too often the focus on health is on non-communicable diseases, which are behind a high percentage of deaths each year and impact heavily on this country’s health care bill. However, Barbados has a Ministry of Health and Wellness, and so the focus on overall wellness – including mental health – must not be overlooked. As such, workplaces, where thousands spend most hours of the day, should be stress-free areas, or at the very least assist in achieving stress-relief for workers. This would reduce the level of absenteeism due to sickness – which affects productivity – and the burden on local healthcare costs.
So how could this be achieved? Firstly, managers should set clear goals for team members; encourage conscious mindfulness (not just mindless repetition); offer flexibility in the work environment; encourage active movement (going out for lunch, exercise during lunch breaks, taking walks); encourage recognition for achievements at work, and likewise remove employees who seek to demoralise others; offer salary incentives; improve efficiencies to reduce excessive workloads; provide opportunities for advancement; ensure tasks are engaging and challenging; and encourage peer support. In terms of the employee, steps can include adding personal touches to your work space (like plants); keeping the space clean and organised; learning to ignore or handle interruptions; communicating better; avoiding negativity and time wastage; adapting to changes; incorporating relaxation exercises into your work day; and leaving all work-related matters at work (home should be your haven).
These suggestions should go a long way to improving the work environment for many, creating a better quality of life.