Understanding Stress and a Prescription for Workplace Health: New Zealand Companies Have Work to Do to Become `Healthy' Employers. Too Many Managers Suffer the Ill-Effects of Workplace Stress and Other Unhealthy Work/lifestyle Habits. What Can Be Done to Curb the Epidemic of Work-Induced Ill-Health? (Executive Health)

Article excerpt

Goodhealth, someone to love and enjoying what you do are the three prerequisites for career success and fulfilment a Harvard Business School professor told last year's Deloitte/Management magazine Top 200 Executive of the Year John Goulter after he completed an advanced executive programme at the illustrious academic institution.

The feel-good advice is a far cry from the `work long, hard and tough' axioms for success and happiness that many subscribed to for much of the previous century. Yet the professor's wisdom was somewhat prophetic if you consider the emphasis now on work/life balance, life coaching, family-friendly workplace policies and other initiatives designed to maximise personal fulfilment.

For some New Zealand executives and their employees for whom years of stress has taken its toll on their health, work/life balance is a yet-to-be-realised ideal. Any work satisfaction they once experienced has waned through exhaustion, burnout and a general sense of having no control over their lives.

Internationally, this is a common scenario. The landscape of occupational health in the United States for instance--the economy from which New Zealand takes many leads--has deteriorated with worker stress reaching a critical point. American workers are now working longer and harder than at any other time in the past two decades just to maintain their standard of living. The predictable result, according to experts who took part in the Work, Stress and Health `99 conference, is a workforce more at risk than ever of psychological, physical and behavioural health problems.

With so much emphasis on the work/life balance imperative here in New Zealand in recent years, surely we offer a healthier working environment than our United States counterparts? Not so--in fact we're probably about the same.

TMP Worldwide conducts a range of regular online topical surveys in New Zealand, with a recent one focusing on workplace conditions. The survey found work to be encroaching increasingly on the personal lives of New Zealand workers.

According to TMP the results showed that New Zealand is following the global work trend."Businesses here have become far more competitive. Many have cut costs through such strategies as removing layers of management. Consequently employees are having to do a lot more and in their own time," noted general manager TMP Worldwide New Zealand, Denis Horner.

Many New Zealand companies continue their short-term, reactive policies, cutting costs for short-term gain which frequently means job cutting. The resulting environment of uncertainty creates further pressure for executives and staff to maintain an edge over their colleagues, perhaps through working longer hours and making themselves available to their employer at all times. One potential outcome is deteriorating staff health and well-being.

However the news is not all bad. Executive director of the Equal Employment Opportunities Trust (EEO) Trudie McNaughton acknowledges that there are companies at both ends of the employee-welfare spectrum in New Zealand. However she believes many New Zealand companies are now taking steps to create healthy work environments for their staff.

"Some good law firms, for instance, are attempting now to avoid the long-hours culture," she noted. "There are many examples amongst our annual EEO Trust Work and Life Awards participants of work practices introduced to address staff welfare. The good ones [companies] seem to be getting better, while some others are as yet not making progress."

So we have some way to go in achieving healthy workplaces, but how do we fare when employees succumb to health problems? Nothing to boast about here either it seems. In New Zealand illness demands no special consideration in the workplace. On the contrary, the rewards are reserved for those who surmount their physical limitations and prove that illness is no handicap to workplace achievement. …