Overstress is a Killer: Coping Strategies

by Dr. Atiq ur Rehman and Asif Ahmed

A few days back, Mahboob a 37-year-old employee, died of heart attack in a company in Bangladesh. His colleagues suggest that he was suffering from acute level of stress. We hear such news more frequently these days.

Corporate world of today is becoming increasingly more complex and more stressful. Millions of people are suffering from this problem around the world. Many continue living in hell. Many don’t find energy and stamina to live in such situation – some of them get into a trap of physical and psychological complexities, and some even commit suicide. In a way, workplaces in many organizations are becoming lethal for employees.

Are you also suffering from stress? You may feel little relieved to know that you are not alone. A large majority of corporate employees are suffering from this problem. Since you are not alone, so take a pause for a moment, accept the stress as a reality and start thinking about solutions.

This article explores answer to two questions: How is the corporate culture promoting stress and what are the coping options available with the employees? 

How is corporate culture producing stress for employees?

Major reasons of high stress in the corporate world are:

  • Career advancement: Career advancement opportunities are fewer than the candidates. Out of 10 employees, if one manages to win promotion, the other nine are likely to accumulate more stress on their heads.
  • Fear of job loss. In the corporate world, almost everyone is permanently carrying the burden of fear of job loss. The fear tends to increase as you grow along the career ladder. If you are at junior position, it is easier for you to get a new job, hence fear of job loss might be higher but stress is relatively on lower side, other factors remaining same. However, if you are at senior position, you have fewer job opportunities for you in the market. Hence, feeling of job insecurity and level of stress are likely to be very high at senior level positions.
  • Performance pressures are increasing due to variety of reasons – most notably the growing competition among the corporate entities (they are in a battle to survive and grow), every manager is in a race to deliver more than his/her predecessors and colleagues, and so on. Unfortunately, pressure to deliver trickles down from top to down. Moreover, such pressure usually tends to travel in a style of chain reaction – that is once started, it is hard to stop.
  • Long working hours: Unrealistic targets given to employees are continually pushing limits of working hours and adding to the stress of employees.
  • Forced distribution method is also proving to be a killer. Even if you are good performer, still you can earn a poor rating. A senior manager rated a good performer as a below average employee. When the employee complained, the manager replied, “last year I gave you high rating and below average to Ahmed, and this year I need to compensate him, so I do not have a choice to maintain a bell curve”.
  • Layoffs: Many companies are facing situation of turmoil. In order to survive in the market, they have to continually increase efficiency. Easiest way of increasing efficiency is to layoff employees. It immediately raises feelings of job insecurity in the organization. In Addition, work of the employees who are laid off, shifts to the shoulders of surviving employees. Hence, more workload coupled with increased feeling of job insecurity pushes the barometer of stress upward.
  • Many companies arrange outdoor activities to help their employees to mitigate their stress. However, in reality, it is proving counter-productive in many cases. Such activities are often scheduled on off-days/off times – it means eating away time of their families, which sparks conflicts back at homes.
  • Abusive supervision – if your boss happens to be abusive, it would prove to be a killer. It has become a norm that high performers are abusive in nature. Abusive supervisors often give the example of Steve Job that he could work miracles only because he was tough, rough and abusive with his team members. Such arguments are increasingly becoming popular and making abusive supervision as a norm.
  • Life style. Huge disparities in salaries of employees exist in the corporate world. Eventually, life style also varies in the same proportion. It fosters an environment of fierce competition, jealousy and dirty politics. In a way, you are put on a path to chase something which is not catchable and sustainable. Hence, it is becoming increasingly difficult challenge for all employees to catch up the changes in the life style of people around them.
  • Family expectations. Family expectations are also rising but means available with the corporate employees to meet those expectations are shrinking. Any disturbance in family life adds to the intensity of stress.
  • Social media is promoting a fake world. Unfortunately, social media is full of fake things and reflections but they are often taken on their face value by the viewers. When your wife looks at some pictures of a family of your friend – who are on some foreign trip or a party or on a recreation or on a shopping tour – apparently enjoying time. Immediately question pops up in the mind of your family members “ham kab jaen gay” or “amra kobey jabo” (i.e. when will we go). Entertainment industry is adding fuel to the fire by adding to the lists of desires. Desires are multiplying but resources are not matching with the growth of desires. Eventually, stress is rising.

What are the coping options available with the employees?

Following are suggested coping strategies:

  • Defend your fighting force. You need to take strong measures to defend your strategic asset (i.e. mind) from any external or internal attack. Good news is you can do it. You have to pamper your mind. You have to nurture it, feed it and grow it. Rehearsals and exercises can help you in making your mind powerful. For examples, you have to realize that your negative thoughts are in fact partners of your enemies. Hence, do not let them reside in your mind for longer duration. Both physical and mental exercises can help minds become stronger. Meditation and yoga exercises are helpful.
  • Be proactive no reactive in nature: Self-esteem is more important than external pump and show. Don’t react instantaneously to any situation. Let the dust settle down then think about action. You have to keep in mind that it is human tendency to overstate the effect of negative things.
  • Self-talk: Talk with yourself. Analyse situations and try to kill unrealistic expectations, find out ways to improve upon the situation. There is always some room for improvement. 
  • Faith systemBe a good believer. It will enable you to 1) cool your mind; 2) increase your contentment; 3) keep a check on your desires; and 4) keep hope alive even in difficult circumstances.
  • Find out good mentors. Keep away from cynical/negative people as much as possible.
  • Last but not least, hope is your best defence line. Build it and strengthen it.


By Atiq ur Rehman, Asif Ahmed, Syed Masroor Hussain and Hira Toheed

(Source of Image: https://goo.gl/images/ttxcsM)

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