I was shocked when I read that US workplaces may be responsible for 120,000 excess deaths per year, making the workplace the 5th leading cause of death in the country. Can you believe it?
Loneliness, Stress, and Depression: What the Problem Looks LikeStatistics show the impact of loneliness, stress, and depression (which I lovingly refer to as LSD because together they are as severe as the drug) in American workplaces. More than 80% of workers admit feeling stressed, 40% admit feeling lonely, and another 9.5% report depression. These stats are all the more concerning given that they are what people willingly admit to, and sometimes it’s just easier to pretend you don’t care than to admit it’s killing you. We also know that these conditions tend to be recurring, meaning that if you’ve been there once, your risk of finding yourself in that situation a second time increases. These numbers are likely to swell, since younger generations are more stressed than their elders.
To make things worse, LSD impacts not only the mental and emotional health of its victims, but also their physical health. I’ve seen numerous doctors cite that loneliness is as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes per day. Unmanaged stress increases the risk of heart disease by 40%, of heart attack by 25% and of stroke by 50%. Work stress specifically is responsible for 10% of strokes. People with depression are four times as likely to have a heart attack than those who don’t have a history of the illness. The World Health Organization deems depression to be the leading cause of disability around the world.
That’s why many public health authorities now call LSD one of the most urgent social crises of our time.
If we could add up all the losses each year in the US alone due to LSD and invest it into something more productive, we could give roughly $28,000 to each veteran, each homeless person, each new cancer patient, and each single parent in the country. Wouldn’t that be awesome?For World Heart Day, Share the News
As we approach World Heart Day (September 29th), I want to encourage you to share the news above, as a way to build greater awareness. We can’t fix a problem before admitting that we have one. To help you do so, I just launched a 90-second video summarizing some of the most concerning stress-related statistics within the context of a regular guy doing a regular job, having a not-so-regular day where his stress gets the better of him. The video appears at the bottom of this article. Please watch and share it.
Now what do we do about it?
OK, enough about the problem. Now let’s move on to solutions. Wellness and HR professionals of all kinds, concerned peers and positive psychology enthusiasts have a duty to do our part in addressing the issue. Sure, a lot of the stress our peers feel is due to factors far beyond our control, but rather than stopping ourselves by contemplating what we can’t do, I’d like to invite us to take charge of what we can do.
Hundreds of studies tell us things that would help. Here are some suggestions almost anyone can apply very easily, even on a budget. I often describe those in my keynotes and workshops, and participants have found them to be really helpful. I hope you do, too!
Draw a table on which the X-axis represents your closest work peers, and the Y-axis represents positivity-inducing behaviors. For example, you could ask about their reality, offer gratitude, offer support, promote career development. As the week progresses, give yourself one checkmark each time you perform one of these behaviors with one individual. At the end of each week, take note of which behaviors you’ve performed most consistently, and which ones you may have forgotten. Notice also which individuals have received more positivity, and ask yourself if those who weren’t frequent beneficiaries need more attention or support.
- Do I Know You?
Draw a table on which the X-axis represents your closest work peers and the Y-axis represents things we typically know about our close friends. For example, are they married, do they have children, spouse name, children’s names and ages, pet name and kind, siblings’ names and ages, parents’ names and whether they are still alive, birthday, anniversary, favorite holiday, do they go to church, do they have a favorite charity/cause? Try to fill in as many boxes on the grid as possible each week. This activity serves to create more meaningful conversations and interactions with our peers.
Provide each member of your team with one card for each other member of the team. Thus, for a team of 10 people, each team member gets 9 cards. Each card is marked with the name of another team member. Ask each participant to complete the following two statements on each card: “What I most appreciate/value about you/your contribution to our team is…” and “Here’s what I know you can do to help our team become extraordinary:” Distribute each card to the appropriate team member, and ask them to write a paragraph summarizing what they learned, and how they plan to maintain self-accountability to deliver their best contribution on a consistent basis. (Adapted from Kim Cameron’s book, Practicing Positive Leadership.)
Contribution Attestation (team activity)
- Active Constructive Responding
When someone shares difficult news with us, we often give that person our undivided attention, empathy, and support. But when they share good news, we tend to brush them off with a simple “awesome, good for you, so glad to hear it!” Yet, research shows that how we respond to good news is an even better predictor of the long-term health of our relationship than how we respond to bad news. Of all the possible response styles, active constructive responding is clearly the best relationship builder.
Sometimes, when you are worried about a friend, a husband, a wife, a brother or a co-worker, it’s easier to send them a link to a video than to tell them what’s on your mind. If you know someone who’s working too hard and carrying a high level of stress, consider asking them to watch the 90-second video above as a helpful and kind warning. LSD can strike anyone, even you.
Cameron, K. (2013). Practicing Positive Leadership: Tools and Techniques That Create Extraordinary Results. Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
Gable, S., Gonzaga, G. C., & Strachman, A. (2006). Will You Be There for Me When Things Go Right? Supportive Responsesto Positive Event Disclosures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91(5), 904-917.
Murthy, V. (2017). Work and the loneliness epidemic: Reducing isolation at work is good for business. Harvard Business Review.
Pfeffer, J. (2018). Dying for a Paycheck: How Modern Management Harms Employee Health and Company Performance―and What We Can Do About It. New York: Harper Business.
One Mind Initiative at Work (2018). The Cost of Depression in the Workplace – Part 1: The Research. Thrive Global.
Saad, L. (2017). Eight in ten Americans afflicted by stress. Gallup.
Schwabel, D. (2017). Vivek Murthy: How to solve the work loneliness epidemic: An interview. Forbes Online.
Worline, M. & Dutton, J. (2017). Awakening Compassion at Work: The Quiet Power That Elevates People and Organizations. Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
Heart Photo by Alexandru Acea on Unsplash
Interactions at work photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash