With the majority of the employed UAE population made up of expatriates from around the world, the country can be a highly competitive place to work. When you take into account the widespread stigma about mental health issues in the Middle East, it can be difficult to talk about feeling overwhelmed or extremely stressed out at the office.

Discussing stress openly at work can be difficult in this region

“The factors make open discussions about mental health a lot more difficult,” says Dr Saliha Afridi, Managing Director and Clinical Psychologist at The Lighthouse Centre for Wellbeing. “Due to a lack of understanding about the topic in the region, there is still a lot of fear from employees that if they don’t step up to the plate or survive the stress then they will be deemed unfit for the work at hand and lose their job. Not every company will accept these types of conversations from its employees. But if these conversations are going to take place, first a major shift in the mindset of the company must take place.”

Not every company will accept these types of conversations from its employees. But if these conversations are going to take place, first a major shift in the mindset of the company must take place.

– Dr Saliha Afridi, Managing Director and Clinical Psychologist, The Lighthouse Centre for Wellbeing

We’ve recently looked at the tell-tale signs of stress, the harms of an always-connected work culture and how to build value-adding workplace wellness programmes. Now, we’ll look at how employees can bring up the subject of stress at the office, what signs management need to look out for and measures companies can take to handle the problem from the top.

Team stress signals

Karan Bhasin, Head of Sales and Solutions at OC Tanner, a consultancy specialised in developing strategic employee recognition and reward initiatives, outlines a few questions managers need to ask themselves about team members:

• Is your team member staying back late?

• Are they hesitant and appearing to lack confidence?

• Do they often turn up unprepared for meetings?

• Are they able to take breaks when they need to?

• Do you not approve leave requests as part of the company’s culture?

• Has there been a sudden dip in productivity?

Is your team member hesitant and appearing to lack confidence?

– Karan Bhasin, Head of Sales and Solutions at OC Tanner

In terms of causal factors of stress, Yazad Dalal, Head of Strategy, Oracle HCM Cloud – Europe, Middle East and Africa at Oracle, cites fear of being laid off; increased overtime due to staff cutbacks; pressure to perform to meet rising expectations without an increase in job satisfaction; pressure to work at one’s optimum level at all times; and a lack of control over how you do your work.

Fear of being laid off; increased overtime due to staff cutbacks; pressure to perform to meet rising expectations without an increase in job satisfaction; pressure to work at one’s optimum level at all times; and a lack of control over how you do your work.

– Yazad Dalal, Head of Strategy, Oracle HCM Cloud – Europe, Middle East and Africa, Oracle

Both Bhasin and Dalal were speakers at the recent Human Resources Summit & Expo 2019, which brought together more than 5,000 professionals for the region’s largest HR and people management event.

Dalal’s point was something also raised by Nir Eyal, behavioural scientist and bestselling author of Hooked and Indistractable: “When we look at what causes anxiety and depression disorder in the workplace – and this draws from academic literature from two researchers, Candy and Stansfield – we find that when there’s a high amount of expectation with a low amount of control in an office environment, this is the type of workplace that is associated with anxiety.”

When we look at what causes anxiety and depression disorder in the workplace… we find that when there’s a high amount of expectation with a low amount of control in an office environment, this is the type of workplace that is associated with anxiety.

– Nir Eyal, Behavioural Scientist and Author

How to bring up the subject

“If you are not able to manage the work stress, I would first recommend looking at personal habits and improving those before approaching the HR,” explains Dr Afridi. “No one will take you seriously if you do not have a good, healthy routine in place and are complaining about workload and workplace stress.

“You should also consider whether the job is the right fit for you and for the life that you want for yourself. Not every job or every company culture is for everyone and it takes a level of self-awareness and self-compassion to be able to step out of a job that is requiring way more from you then you are able to give at that time. This is not failing or surrendering, this is accepting yourself and your work style.”

What can companies do?

Gulneet Chadha, a freelance HR consultant with nearly 224,000 LinkedIn followers, points to a Forbes report from earlier this year that said overall employee stress levels have risen nearly 20 per cent over the past three decades. “Companies need to understand that stress stifles creativity, perception and cognitive function, which impacts the business and bottom line. So instead of looking at it from a negative perspective, organisations need to have measures to manage not just employees but also the stress they go through.”

Companies need to understand that stress stifles creativity, perception and cognitive function, which impacts the business and bottom line.

– Gulneet Chadha, Freelance HR Consultant

For Dubai-based career advisor Sohaib Hasan, it’s important that companies frequently review job descriptions and the work scope of each employee. “An employee signs an agreement and is sent to one department, where the manager adds additional responsibility and the employee would continue to struggle to sustain the job and to protect the face value. There comes a point where the employee would eventually break down and all efforts and goals are collapsed. If an organisation cannot manage the stress part for its employees, they would definitely not be able to manage their employees for better productivity.”

If an organisation cannot manage the stress part for its employees, they would definitely not be able to manage their employees for better productivity.

– Sohaib Hasan, Career Advisor

Amena Baig, CEO of HR outsourcing firm Legacy Emirates Group, says, “It is very easy for the employee to not to acknowledge that he or she needs help, is stressed or unable to handle their job. This acknowledgement leads them to believe that they are a failure and are threatened that he/she may lose their job. Perceptions start from the very top. It is the leadership in the company that has a duty to challenge this perception.”

It is very easy for the employee to not to acknowledge that he or she needs help, is stressed or unable to handle their job. This acknowledgement leads them to believe that they are a failure and are threatened that he/she may lose their job. The leadership in the company has a duty to challenge this perception.

– Amena Baig, CEO, Legacy Emirates Group

Isil Ata, Head of Human Resources, Cigna Insurance Middle East, explains, “It is important for employees to feel comfortable about bringing their true selves to work. This brings up the important topic of inclusion at the workplace where humanity and compassion become foundational as everyone embraces diversity in their organisations – where coming with your full self, mental challenges and all to work is welcomed and celebrated. Otherwise, all the wellness programmes, including mental health initiatives, will not make the difference needed to overcome stress.”

“It is important for employees to feel comfortable about bringing their true selves to work.”

Stress Portrait

Last month, Cigna’s Stress Care initiative was launched to help raise awareness about the long-term impact of stress, and help reduce its prevalence in the UAE. Visitors to the Mall of the Emirates were able to see their live stress readings visualized in stunning colours through a Stress Portrait, thanks to Cigna’s collaboration with digital artist Sean Sullivan.

Passersby had their brain waves, heart rate and skin response measured to produce the portraits. After that, they were invited to develop their own Stress PLAN – identifying a Period of time to unwind, a Location that is stress-reducing, an Activity to enjoy and the Name of a person they can talk to.

To develop your own Stress Portrait and PLAN, click here.

Cigna’s white paper, Building a Whole Person Health Approach to Chronic Stress at Work, can be downloaded free from here.

This article originally appeared on https://gulfnews.com/lifestyle/health-fitness/is-your-job-too-stressful-heres-how-to-talk-to-your-boss-about-it-1.1574670694727

The article was created in collaboration with HRSE (HR Summit & Expo), the event officially supported by The HR Observer.