What a difference a day makes

Roisin
Woolnough finds out what four HR practitioners learned from a one-day stress
management course

As
the workplace stress and work-life balance debate continues to grow, so do the
number of courses designed to improve them. HR consultancy Cubiks runs a course
called ‘The Business and Lifestyle’ programme. Aimed at senior corporates in
particular, the aim is to help people understand how to achieve optimum
performance levels at work while maintaining a healthy work-life balance by
taking a holistic view of their health and behaviour.

Cubiks
recently ran a one-day event for HR professionals, looking at how they could
minimise their own stress levels and those of their companys’ staff through a
mixture of stress management, exercise, diet and sleep. Delegates contributed
to discussions about the legal implications of stress and how to manage work
and home life, and also took part in exercise and yoga sessions.

David
Seddon, an occupational psychologist who spent 33 years working in HR at
PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) and IBM, ran the sessions on how to manage stress
and the importance of sleep.

“I
got interested in the issue of stress because of my own stress,” he says. “As
an HR director, you are constantly dealing with the more difficult problems –
people’s careers, their aspirations, hopes and fears. If you’re good at your
job, you have a strong sense of conscience about that. You feel for the impact
you’re having, and it’s not always positive.”

Even
when an HR professional has years of experience to draw upon, Seddon says some
tasks just don’t get any easier. “I have had to make people who I’ve known for
years redundant or fire them,” he says. “It is a horrible thing to have to do,
and it used to give me sleepless nights.”

Not
only did Seddon find his job quite emotionally draining, but he also had to
deal with the added pressures of a fast-paced working environment,
international travel and trying to balance his home and work life.

When
Seddon introduced a course on stress at PWC, he says it achieved the highest
take-up levels of any the company had ever run. A survey Cubiks conducted late
last year found that stress levels are on the rise. One in four people from the
240 organisations polled felt their stress levels at work were either high or
very high. Almost half expected their stress levels to increase over the next
12 months. Only a third said stress was recognised as an issue in the
workplace.

Personnel
Today has interviewed four senior level HR professionals about why they
attended the course, and what they got out of it.

Tessa
Lemon, HR manager at The Audit Commission, an independent body that ensures
public money is spent effectively

Why
did you go on the course?

We’re
doing quite a lot on work-life balance here. We send people on various stress
awareness courses, and I wanted to see what other options were open to staff by
way of training and awareness. I wasn’t going for myself.

What
did you gain from the course?

What
I quite liked was its holistic approach. I thought it was fairly realistic.
They recognised that most people can’t have the perfect diet or exercise
regime. I also thought they had quite a good awareness of the business
pressures and issues.

Do
you think today’s working environment is becoming more stressful?

We
did some surveys in our company, and HR people actually came out as the
healthiest and least stressed, so we were quite pleased with ourselves. That
said, it’s no mystery that everybody is more stressed than they used to be –
working long hours, the strains of commuting and looking after families.

Will
you be implementing any of the things you learned on the course?

I
have thought about using it in a more modular form – smaller sessions fitted
into other team days.

Geraldine
O’Sullivan, HR director at Crawford and Company loss adjusters

Why
did you go on the course?

The
reason it gained my attention is because the work-life balance theme is so
prominent at the moment. There can be some reluctance to go on such courses
internally, so I wanted to see what this course could give us.

What
did you gain from the course?

Courses
like that make you take a step back and look at how you do things. I’m
conscious of my own stress and try to keep it to a manageable level. I do think
a good work-life balance aids with dealing with work pressures.

Do
you think today’s working environment is getting more stressful?

I
think there are two particularly stressful things about HR. A lot of the issues
we deal with can be seen to be negative, particularly in times of economic
difficulty. It can be difficult to overcome that. No matter how many times you
go through redundancy processes and rationalisation, it doesn’t make it an
easier thing to do.

Also,
in a lot of companies, we are now part of the senior management team, so it’s
always extremely busy. A lot is expected from us in supporting the business, so
workloads and timescales are an issue. I think people in HR are working harder
than ever.

Will
you be implementing any of the things you learned on the course?

What
a lot of companies focus on less is senior management, so I think it might be something
we could use for our senior management. I would give them a perspective on what
they should be doing to manage home and work effectively.

Paul
Robinson, HR director at international law firm Watson, Farley and Williams

Why
did you go on the course?

Obviously,
the issue of stress and work-life balance is very high profile. Last year, we
were voted the best firm to work for in the Legal Business Assistant Survey,
but when we looked at some of the comments in more detail, some of them
suggested that work-life balance could have been better.

What
did you gain from the course?

I
thought the nutrition stuff in particular was very interesting and informative.
It is something we have talked about here since. For example, I am going to
raise whether or not we should have fruit rather than sweets and biscuits at
meetings.

Do
you think today’s working environment is becoming more stressful?

As
an HR professional, the stress comes from dealing with issues that arise from
other people. For me, it arises form the fact that lawyers are fairly demanding
individuals and a lot is demanded of them. You have to try to deal with people
in the way you would like to be dealt with.

Also,
it’s a very difficult market for attracting and retaining people, so that takes
a lot of time and effort.

Will
you be implementing any of the things you learned on the course?

This
course seemed very practical, although I’m not sure that delivering it in the
format we saw here would be the best way of doing it. I would do it as a series
of events.

We
might try and put in place something that would make people more aware of the
environment they work in, so that they can cope with it better. It is about
making incremental changes in how they lives their lives both in and outside of
work that will help them cope better with their environment.

Paul
Stubbs: head of training and development at global investment management firm
Baring Asset Management

Why
did you go on the course?

The
thing that attracted me was the overall subject of work-life balance. It is an
interesting topic for people in the city in the 21st century, so I went on the
course as a way of investigating the subject.

What
did you gain from the course?

I
was very interested in the nutrition stuff on the course and found it very
helpful. We run a series of management development programmes, and for one of
them we have been discussing the possibility of introducing a nutritionist.
Making people aware of the nutritional element of what we eat and the impact it
has on us may be of benefit to our people.

Do
you think today’s working environment is becoming more stressful?

We
are very interested in managers being able to identify stress in other people
so that they can flag it up early and maybe alert the HR department. We already
run a session on what causes stress and have stress indicators, but we want to
look at training possibilities for managers to identify stress, to aid them in
managing their staff.

Will
you be implementing any of the things you learned on the course?

We
may take elements from it. I am very interested in the nutrition stuff and we
may introduce it, maybe as an open workshop for people to attend if they
choose.

Seddon’s
top tips for minimising stress


Exercise for at least 10 minutes every day


Get a good balance between your work, your home and you


Eat three good, balanced meals a day


Drink a litre and a half of water a day – stress is a diuretic


Limit alcohol to two glasses a night


Get enough sleep


Maintain your personal relationships


Take at least 15 days of consecutive leave a year


Try to keep your working hours to no more than nine a day


Try no to take your worries home with you

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