The perfect stress storm

2012-04-14 09:28

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired. Not tired as in, “I had a late night” tired, but deep, bone-weary tired – and it’s only April. For the past month, I’ve discovered I’m not alone. At every meeting I attend, the introductory chitchat is always the same. Everyone is hyperbusy, running on empty and exhausted.

When I ask, “Doesn’t it feel like it’s already October?”, I always get a weary nod of agreement. What’s happening? My theory is we’re in the midst of a perfect storm, the vortex of which is being created by two streams: the protracted economic downturn and technology.

For many businesses, the 2008 recession really only hit home after the World Cup euphoria had dissipated. South Africa was shielded from the brunt of the economic crisis by the Soccer World Cup. We were building infrastructure that had been budgeted for long before the crisis hit. We lost jobs, but not on the scale of the US and the UK.

It is really the recession’s long tail that has whipped us hard and deep, and like the rest of the world, we are bracing ourselves for more lashings.

So when the work comes in, we take it. Now is not the time to say no to anything, and therein lies the first layer of this perfect storm. Everyone is accepting whatever comes their way – even if they are already busy.

The economic uncertainty has ensured that no job is too small, and overdelivery is the name of the game, which brings me to the next layer: value for money.

Everyone knows that the budgets people played around with pre-2008 are now just things of myth. Ask any service provider. Budgets across all industries have been slashed, so people now expect more value for money, and if they feel they’re not getting it, they move on – thus the mantra: “overdelivery”.

The quest for client satisfaction has shifted to client retention. Many companies have not replaced retrenched staff. I hear so many stories of companies not filling a position and the other employees having to pick up the slack – not for a month or two, but for six months to a year. This means that many people are literally working two jobs while being paid for one.

Concerns about the skyrocketing cost of living – and it’s only going to get worse – adds yet another layer. The additional stress is just not what we need right now.

When we add the effect of technology to these layers, things really get frantic. Technology is the double-edged sword of our times: a blessing and a curse.

The speed at which communication operates today leaves no room for contemplative thought. We are being forced to make quicker decisions (sometimes with disastrous consequences, which add to the stress). And if we don’t, we are punished by a backlog of emails and admin. You really can’t win.

Smart phones just add insult to injury. It may be a growing trend that work-life boundaries are becoming blurred, but there are very real mental, physical and emotional dangers if we lose the inability to switch off.

While smart phones allow us to work wherever we are, it is a devil’s pact. No one told you when you signed up for an email account that you could never, ever get off the treadmill.

The other day I was in a post office queue. Usually the laboured pace of post office workers would infuriate me.

But I realised I was happy to stand still. My burnt-out brain was finding solace in a dreaded post office. Later that day, someone said this year feels as if we have to run a marathon just to stay in the same place.

The question is: do you have the stamina for an ultramarathon, and if April feels like October, what will we feel like in November?

» Chang is the founder of Flux Trends. Visit www.fluxtrends.com

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