Like spending Christmas on the beach and considering thongs as acceptable footwear, the “she’ll be right” mindset has long been a part of the Australian attitude to tackling life’s ups and downs.
However, this mentality leaves many Australians struggling with stress and burn-out in the workplace.
Worryingly, recent research from PwC found employee anxiety was highest in the financial services industry, with one in three suffering anxiety during a given year.
Often, employees who suffer from high levels of stress in the workplace feel the need to continually perform at high levels to keep up with the expectations of their boss, says Dr Simon Kinsella, Clinical Psychologist at Corporate and Personal Consulting.
“I had a client last year who had achieved 150% of his annual budget by March. He was exhausted and suicidal, because he believed there was the expectation that he should continue at that level,” he says.
Not only is burn-out damaging to staff, it can have a negative impact on the organisation’s bottom line.
“There’s an immediate cost in loss of productivity, loss of sales and there’s a longer-term cost in terms of insurance and workers comp claims,” Kinsella says.
“There’s also a flow-on effect to colleagues, as people usually work as teams, so it impacts the productivity of the team if an individual goes down.”
Click on the infographic above to learn more about how stress affects the insurance workforce.
Seeds of destruction
By their nature, many managers are independent and driven.
Unfortunately, some struggle to realise their staff may operate differently in the workplace.
Some managers can be quite aggressive and achievement-oriented with little emotional intelligence, Kinsella says.
However, in many organisations little education is available around stress and the emotional element of managing heavy workloads, so it is not unusual for managers to overlook indicators in their staff at times.
Some of the symptoms of burn-out include increased irritability and anger, a lack of motivation and little balance between personal and work life. In some extreme cases, this can lead to depression or a nervous breakdown.
A burnt-out individual may also have trouble remembering things at work and begin making more mistakes, impacting the quality of his or her work.
The staff member may also be taking increased or longer sick leave.
Putting out the fire
Anne-Marie Orrock, Managing Director at Corporate Canary HR Consulting, warns that those who experience burn-out are often the ‘all-star players’ on the team, so it can be difficult for managers to spot stress in them.
“Quite often, managers don’t manage them until there’s a real crisis and they’re scratching their heads and wondering, ‘What’s going on with this person? They used to be so great at their job and now they’re not performing anymore’,” she says.
Keep tabs on your high performers to ensure they are coping at work and taking holidays, so they have make time for their personal lives.
While some employees enjoy the adrenaline of working at high levels, others may be motivated by other factors, so ensure you manage your staff accordingly.
Meanwhile, if one of your staff is burnt-out, it is essential that you make it clear that you support him or her and make appropriate arrangements for them to take time off to rest.
“Support is incredibly important. It’s that communication that makes an immense difference to how people re-engage with work,” Corporate and Personal Consulting’s Dr Simon Kinsella advises, adding that managers may want to check in with the staff member while they’re away to see how they are tracking and discuss the right time for him or her to return.
You can put your hand up if you need some time off. You can’t keep pushing it to breaking point.
Weight of the world
Leaders and managers are also susceptible to burn-out. Corporate Canary’s Anne-Marie Orrock emphasises the importance of conducting activities outside the office to relieve the stress, such as eating properly, taking time off and enjoying spending time with friends and family.
In the workplace, managers should be able to delegate some of their duties to others and set boundaries around their workload.
A critical part of the recovery process is also creating a long-term strategy to ensure burn-out does not take pace again.
Many managers make the mistake of feeling fit and healthy, only to return to the ever-spinning corporate wheel, Orrock warns.
Emjay Insurance Brokers’ Mario Cuenca has felt the heavy burden of work in the past and he says managers must be able to recognise things will function without them.
“If you’ve passed on the knowledge and accountability to your staff and you trust the people that work with you, you should be able to take some time off here and there,” he says.
“You should be in tune with your own inner workings, so you can put your hand up if you need some time off. You can’t keep pushing it to breaking point.”
Lay the groundwork
At Paul Donnelly Insurance Brokers, the team enjoys an annual getaway, where everyone heads to the NSW Central Coast for an overnight holiday.
“It’s nice to step away from a structured office environment and let our hair down. I think it adds a nice vibe to our company and it gives people something to look forward to,” Director Cara Donnelly says.
“These social events show staff that we appreciate them. They’re enticed to put in that little bit extra effort in the office because they feel more valued.”
Emjay Insurance Brokers’ Mario Cuenca says it’s important to properly educate staff about managing stressful periods in the company.
“It can be quite intense [at Emjay]. Like any broking firm, there are deadlines and we have clients who have high expectations. I’m big on ensuring that knowledge is shared, so training is of high priority,” he says.
Cuenca says the most important ingredient for a happy workplace culture is having empathy or staff.
“There are times when it gets a bit testy and you need to work through those processes. It’s not like you walk in here and everyone’s throwing around rose petals. It’s like a family – you get on well, but there are times when you give each other the shits,” he says.
“Some workplaces get into the situation where they start treating people like battery hens. But we’re free-range chickens – we’re not battery hens.”