Corporate SA should really stress about stress

2011-04-30 14:43

He had it all – a car, a house in the suburbs, a loving family and a job as a senior bank manager.

But things came crashing down because of stress.

“I was getting negative and constantly sick. I would get these bouts of colds and lost my appetite for sex. I avoided social events and was constantly so exhausted that the only thing I wanted to do when I got home was crash into bed,” says Richard Hawkey (39), the South African author of A Life Less Lived.

Hawkey says he attended many courses and workshops on work-related matters, but work-related stress was never even mentioned.

Corporate South Africa doesn’t treat work-related stress with the seriousness it deserves, says Zurayda Shaik, an independent industrial psychologist.

While local figures on the prevalence of burnout are not available, Shaik says there has been a notable increase in work-related stress as South African corporations try to catch up with the rest of the world as a result of the political and economic changes the country has undergone in recent years.

Shaik says most big local corporations have employee wellness programmes but they lag behind their overseas counterparts in dealing with work-related stress and burnout. Overseas companies offer well-structured programmes to deal with stress in the form of workshops, stress management courses and allocating life coaches and mentors to employees.

“In South Africa we have to fight hard for people to go on such courses,” says Shaik.

Not surprisingly, Shaik says work-related stress, particularly in the corporate sector, is more prevalent among people who hold higher management positions.

As for the most stressful jobs, she says it would be difficult to determine “because the truth is every job is stressful and people react differently to different things”.

However, Hawkey says the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder is more prevalent in professions where people are constantly exposed to trauma, such as police work, emergency and medical services, and journalism.

“The problem is that people refuse to acknowledge that they have a problem because of the stigma attached to stress and mental illness in general,” he says.

In Hawkey’s case, he consulted a general practitioner after a nightmare holiday with his family. He was prescribed anti-depressants after being diagnosed with burnout and mild clinical depression.

At first, things got worse as he reacted badly to the medication.

“I was no longer feeling angry. Instead, I was feeling sad and suffered bouts of anxiety. Everything seemed like a mountain to climb.”

But after undergoing cognitive behavioural therapy, Hawkey decided to turn over a new leaf.

He quit his job and discovered his passion for writing.

And he is on a mission to destigmatise stress and to encourage people to take action against it.

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