Managing stress in the workplace: the role of human resources

In 2020, the outbreak of the covid-19 pandemic posed a real challenge to the world of work.

The measures taken to contain the spread of the virus – the lockdown during the first phase of the epidemic and the subsequent social distancing policies – had a decisive impact on companies and public administrations, which encouraged the spread of smart working, where possible, to preserve the continuity of work. 

In our country, it is estimated that almost 9 million of public and private sector workers – which corresponds to just under 40% of the employed – have worked in “remote” mode: however, it is necessary to remember that the application of smart working in Italy predates the pandemic and is regulated by Law No. 81 of 22 May 2017. 

Digital innovation in the world of work will only be able to definitively represent the driving force behind a dimension of growth, this time more mature, if it is able to ensure a good quality of working life, also from a psychological point of view. Indeed, work plays a central role in the identity of most individuals, as a source of recognition and social integration.

The centrality of the human factor in organisations

From this point of view, the pandemic has given rise to a new cultural sensitivity, which is imposing a revolution in the organisation of work through the promotion of the centrality of the ‘human factor’ and initiatives aimed at ensuring the mental health of employees, all strategic levers for the creation of a ‘shared value’ in the long term.  

On the subject of mental wellbeing in the workplace, we spoke with Fabio Pisi Vitagliano, Professor  in Master in Human Resources Management at the Rome Business School, who said:

“The mental wellbeing of workers is an extremely important topic. In my opinion, this issue must be addressed with a maieutic approach: as Socrates and Plato taught us. We have to look at the individual in his complexity if we want to ensure a balance between physical, spiritual and emotional well-being. All workplaces are natural gathering places and top-down actions, if correctly oriented, can implement effective actions that will promote the above balance and positively influence the behaviour of individuals. Happy people positively influence the context in which they interact.”

Pandemic Fatigue 

Good mental health is fundamental to overall health. Several factors can influence it throughout life, one of which is certainly, as mentioned, work-related.  

In fact, job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction should be considered as aspects of a single concept, rather than as two separate concepts.  It is quite clear, from this point of view, that a pragmatic need – the search for economic stability – is flanked by an ideal aspiration of self-expression and professional growth. 

Over the last two years there has been a growing awareness that work-related stress has undesirable consequences for the health of individuals and consequently also for the health of the organizations to which they belong.  

In fact, the continuation of the pandemic has produced significant signs of fatigue defined by the WHO, the World Health Organization, as pandemic fatigue, i.e. the accumulation of stress linked to the lack of human contact, which in addition to having a negative impact on the private dimension, is also affecting the economic and organizational spheres.

While smart working has, on the one hand, increased the possibility of reconciling work and life times, on the other, it has also led to the emergence of critical issues that can have an impact on relations between colleagues. In some cases, employees have even become disaffected with their own “remote” employment because they have interpreted it as a detriment to their own role, or sometimes perceived it as a distance from events and therefore an impediment to “governing”, in direct contact, the activities necessary to achieve their own specific results.

Each of us has a survival system. The post-pandemic cultural revolution must lead us to overcome the concept of professional struggle in the workplace. It is necessary to create a context in which people can have deep connections and allow the brain to communicate between rational and emotional thinking to overcome detachment reactions that are often physiologically consequent to situations that can be experienced as hostile.”

Yoga and meditation programmes 

Attention for one’s collaborators, a heritage of Anglo-Saxon organisations, is also spreading in Italian corporate culture.   

With this in mind, organizations are starting to implement all those actions aimed at overcoming the smart working burnout syndrome, i.e. that form of exhaustion caused by a condition of chronic stress in the working environment, not managed correctly, in which an imbalance is perceived between professional demands and needs and available resources and which leads to an overly onerous work commitment due to the impossibility of detaching oneself from the computer, reducing one’s extra-work time. 

Burnout should not be underestimated by considering its important symptoms: the demoralisation and negativity introduced can sometimes lead to other disorders that are very complex to deal with

All organizations that invest in activities with a strong positive impact on employees, such as meditation programmes, will get great feedback in terms of improving the organizational climate and productivity, because they will demonstrate how much management cares about employee satisfaction. Yoga can also be an important moment to share because this discipline, erroneously considered mostly as a way to overcome physical problemshas the spiritual function of combining body and soul, as can be seen from its etymology, which means union. Nothing is more important for an organization than the promotion of individual self-efficacy, the sense of belonging to a community to strengthen the involvement of all its elements. There will also be a positive impact on productivity because investing in human capital boosts performance.”

Role of HR

With the end of the pandemic, new forms of production seem to be gradually taking shape: many companies and public administrations will adopt a mix of remote and in-presence services. Of course, the development of what we can define as the new corporate ecosystem will not only aim at managing the Post Covid transition, but at creating a new dimension of normality.  

In this scenario Human Resources play a major role. The new paradigms place at the centre of corporate action the active dialogue between the different levels, in order to understand in which direction the needs of the employees were oriented during and after the pandemic. The trend is to move beyond standardised approaches and towards a personalised approach, because each individual responds to stimuli in a different way. In short, investing in the mental wellbeing of employees will enable organisations to have a more productive workforce and, just as importantly, retain and attract top talent.

There are many companies engaged in projects to co-create contexts where people can express their spiritual side, where mental well-being is a priority. The change is happening slowly, but the path is heading in the direction of a constant dialogue between employees and managers, especially top managers, which favours the creation of an environment where, at every level, people can first recognise, then express and finally realise their deepest aspirations, through their work.  

This will allow one to live one’s work with full satisfaction, with creativity even with lightness. The same fullness of feeling as when one is in love. When, in a working context, the coherence of choices and the sharing of them between management and employees is perceived, the squaring of the circle has been achieved. Workers live in serenity in a comfortable place and their performance is better, as are the companies’ overall results.” 


FABIO PISI VITAGLIANO 

Fabio Pisi Vitagliano is a COCREA executive coach, facilitator and professor with about twenty years of experience gained at major companies operating in the telecommunications, training, non-profit and consulting sectors, in Italy and abroad.His mission is to support organisations in achieving their results through the self-realisation of people, and to help people achieve their goals and the full expression of their potential, in their professional and private lives.He applies a transformational approach that enables clients to become more aware of their automatic, unconscious survival mechanisms, and to combine the intelligence of the mind and the intelligence of the heart to bring about lasting mindset and behavioural changes.

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