All work…?

“Don’t mind me if you’re snowed under with work,” I said to a pal once at the beginning of a chat.

“I’ll leave you to get on with it.”

“Oh no. It’s fine. I can’t work all day can I ?” he said.

“It’s good to have some distraction.”

He notches up 72-80 or more hours a week, making DT man seem a positive sloven with his 60 hour week.

But all work and no play makes Jack a very dull boy indeed. Not only that, it stresses Jack out and wreaks havoc with relationships and family, according to the two psychologists at Cheltenham Science Festival, Professor Cary Cooper and Professor Doug Carroll.

Which is why play, whether it’s a laugh, a romp, lounging in front of Wimbledon on the TV, fast bike rides or slow dinners are essential balancing mechanisms for the hard working.

Looking around the audience at the ‘Performance Under Pressure – Stressed Out?!’ talk, it became evident that I was surrounded by dynamic, thrusting, knee-trembling (but not in a good way) achievers who eat-sleep-drink work.

“Hands up who works over 41 hours a week?” Nearly every hand went up.

“Hands up who works over 50 hours a week?” A good two-thirds of the audience stuck their hands in the air. Yup. This was a convention of workaholics.

I half-expected psychologist Cary Cooper to shake his jazz hands at us and shout like a gospel preacher “And LO brothers and sisters…. YOU SHALL be SAVED!!! HALLELUJAH!!!” Cue beaming chubby faces of gospel choir singing “Oh Happy Day” followed by Bing Crosby in a dog-collar singing “The Bells of St Marys.” At which point I would burst into tears because that, for reasons I can’t remember, was a terribly sad and sentimental film.

Slightly disappointingly, they talked sensibly about stress being the leading cause of sickness absence and the fact that in the UK we work the longest hours in the developed world. Β I do 37 at the standard job plus easily another five – nine hours writing. There’s also a phenomenon known as presenteeism – people who are not really fit to be at work but feel they shouldn’t stay away. I thought of the morning recently where I stood up and typed on my raised keyboard because, well… because I was in too much back pain to sit down, we were short-staffed and stuff needed to be done.

The profs made the point that stress in itself is fine but not when it exceeds your ability to cope.

The critical relationship at work is the one with your boss. Does the boss motivate you or deplete your mental capital? Praise counts for a lot. The more dissatisfied you are with your job, the more likely you will get sick.

According to the scientists, there is solid evidence that if you consistently work more than 41 hours a week, you will get ill.

Prof Carroll talked about the way chronic and acute stress measurably affects our immunity – making us more susceptible to infectious disease. The bereaved, for instance had a much poorer anti-body response to ‘flu jabs than the non-bereaved. Married people had the best response of all and people who were most satisfied with their spouses did best of all.

In contrast, a month after receiving the pneumonia jab, 20% of care-givers – one of the most stressful occupations – were not protected and six months afterwards half of the caregivers hadn’t made enough antibodies to be protected. Remarkable and shocking in terms of people believing they are protected when perhaps they are not.

The message was that consistently working long hours IS damaging to health, the immune system and the family.

The trick is to identify the source your problem in the workplace whether it’s a bullying boss or the long-hours culture and find a solution which has the most benefit and the least cost. The mere act of taking action and feeling more in control will ease stress, according to Cary Cooper. Not taking action will make you ill.

Cary Cooper made the point that if you work sixty hours a week you may think you’re performing well, but for every five hours over a forty hour week worked, there is a significant decrement.

Bad news for shift workers too. Shift patterns mess up one’s biology big-time.

But stress can be mitigated by other factors. Being your own boss and having autonomy over your own working day is one of the healthiest ways to work long hours (good news for DT man) and according to Cary Cooper, scientists who had studied stress in the workplace were agreed there was one crucial thing that could make a difference – being nice to your fellow man.

I liked Doug Carroll’s encouraging message best. I’ve been unwittingly practising it for years.

“Laughter boosts the immune system,” he said.

“So when things are getting really bad, just take the piss.”


About janh1

Part-time hedonist.
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11 Responses to All work…?

  1. IsobelandCat says:

    Enjoyed this, especially the last comment!
    One of the things I really enjoy about having more than one job, is that when the stress starts to bite and lower my morale in one area, I have something else that nurtures me. And the hobbies of course.
    Did they say anything about animals being good stress busters? I reckon Cat has worked his magic on a number of stressed people as well as on me.
    In one of my jobs, the words ‘work life balance’ can really inflame my boss, who has been known to send emails to us at three thirty in the morning.

  2. Really interesting food for thought. I think that your personality type (Myers Briggs et al) and cultural background can influence how you manage stress too.

    • janh1 says:

      Hi Sophie. Ah Myers Briggs! A couple of teachers I used to know made me do that test once. Can’t for the life of me remember how it turned out.

      I prefer to think of personalities in terms of Winnie the Pooh. I am probably the insufferable bastard child of Tigger and Kanga.

      Actually Sophie, I think the most valid points they made were about feeling in control of at least a part of your work world – and the humour thing. Both of those are powerful factors which mitigate the energy-sapping relentlessness of long working hours.

      • I’ve completed too many personality tests but would have to do further research to comment on the Winnie the Pooh personality type wheel πŸ˜€

        I can’t remember my Myers Briggs Type off pat but it was virtually the polar opposite of western management style, which, as it becomes more prevalent, will only accept that Type as acceptable. Sad really. My lack of gravitas has been commented upon (by my director who believes that gravitas is a good thing). I am unlikely to change.

  3. janh1 says:

    Nurturing is a good word, Isobel. That’s exactly how I feel with the writing. I just need it as you no doubt do with your mosaic work.

    3.30am is nuts. But I too have emailed people at that time during insomniac spells.

    No they didn’t mention animals as relaxants but there’s no doubt that they are. I’m sitting in the study now where Rolls, my springer spaniel would lie across my feet, snoring and occasionally farting. True contentment. πŸ™‚

  4. janh1 says:

    Hi again Sophie. So there is a definitive Western management style that a particular Myers-Briggs type fits precisely? Interesting.

    I wonder what that is? Course you can’t take the test officially without paying for it, can you so maybe I will never know if I’m that type.

    Very much doubt it. I don’t think I have much gravitas either. I could pretend. But I’ve got to that age where I don’t see the point in pretending any more. Anyway, I prefer warmth to gravitas any day.

  5. A quick Google against ‘western management myers briggs type’ came up with this link comparing Japanese and US/UK results:

    Another link showed that INTJ was overwhelmingly prevalent in the US Military. I’m an ISFP. I frequently think I’m swimming against the tide πŸ˜€

    • janh1 says:

      Yes, you are Isobel πŸ™‚ but swimming thoughtfully and sensitively.

      Turns out I’m ENFJ. I remember now my teacher pals saying I was ideal teacher material and I thought it was all cobblers because teaching was what I felt to be the most difficult career path of all.

      Isobel, if you’re reading this, you might try a quick stab at the Myers Briggs thing here…? compunction, obviously. The proper MB test is far longer so not sure how much creedence, if any, to attach to this little questionnaire.

  6. The full report is quite detailed to show how extreme your preferences are. I did a two day course for my results to be explained. It didn’t need that but it was a good skive πŸ˜€

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